Nutrients and Active Compounds

BCAA in endurance sports

Par Nicolas Aubineau — bcaa - 4 minutes de lecture

When BCAA doesn’t rhyme only with weight training

bcaaLargely recognized in the world of bodybuilders and weight training in general documentations about BCAA (or amino acids ramified) can be read in many specialized magazine or articles on the web.


Virtues highlighted are anabolic steroids, anti-catabolic-weight gain, muscular definition. Their positive effect doesn’t stop to this list of specific activities. Indeed, BCAA have a positive effect in other physiological levels like energy saving, central nervous fatigue, and anabolism balance (construction) / catabolism (destruction of muscular tissues more precisely) … key notion in the world of ultra-endurance (ultra-marathon, 100 km, 24 h , raid, ultra-trail, triathlon , long distance, Ironman, marathon of the sand ) but not only….


What about endurance sports?

Food is a key factor during a long effort, not only to perform well but to feel better during the race. I can read here and there that the most important nutriments during a race are carbohydrates (Carbohydrate, fructose dextrose maltodextrin to only quote the most important) salt (Sodium essentially and other minerals (Magnesium potassium calcium and vitamins B..C..D..E ).


There are many and particularly we can list Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). Many research teams specialized in sports science really are interested about the consumption of BCAA during a long-term exercise. We name BCAA essential amino acid because the system doesn’t know how to synthetize it. So, it must be brought into the organism in sufficient amount through our food. BCAA are mainly 3: leucine, isoleucine and valine.


BCAA : what is it worth for during an effort

BCAA are amino acids, which structurally speaking compose roughly a third of the proteins of the muscle skeleton. In addition to their function as a “building material”, they appear in various important biological processes during an effort, mainly three:

  • During a long-distance race, the body uses the BCAA of the muscles to produce some energy, from causing degradation of the architecture of the muscles. It has been proved that using some BCAA during an exercise helps reducing this degradation
  • Using BCAA during an effort can help saving the muscular glycogen. It is important to outline the fact that an important diminution of this “fuel” can cause fatigue and could make you quit the activity. Thus, any strategy aiming to help you save the glycogen during an effort will be worth trying to improve sport performance.
  • BCAA intake during a long-lasting effort can be useful for it acts on what we name the central fatigue. In other words, using BCAA during this type of effort can help diminish the “nervous fatigue”. Consequently, whilst keeping a certain degree of excitement during the effort, BCAA intakes will help improve the performance and the well-being spread during a race. Many studies have been made on the subject


As a conclusion

Many interesting nutrients exist, other than carbohydrate, to be used during a physical exercise. BCAAs are an excellent example among them. It must be kept in mind that their intake during a long-time exercise

  • Allows to reduce the degradation of active muscles
  • Helps minimizing the degradation of glycogen stocks
  • Helps diminishing the effect of central nervous fatigue


As for the dosage used, to be effective, BCAA intake per hour should be a gram per hour to have an effect and the hourly protein intake should be a minimum of 5 gr. on long lasting sporting events. This intake can be made by sports drinks or recovery drinks; eating bars, gels, tablets etc…or by eating naturally full of protein food such as cheese, dry meat, ham sea weeds, (spirulina), protein fruits (nuts, almonds) and mashed vegetables associated with.


Then all these elements will have to be added according to a food intake plan for effort that will be specific to each athlete according to their taste preferences, disciplines and competitions.


Sports Dietitian Nutritionnist


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