Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCCAs): Are they Preferred Fuel Over Carbohydrates?

Should you replace your sports drink with BCAA’s?

I find that many swimmers who approach me, especially those who have been swimming elite or are usually part of group 2 and above, consume branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) during training sessions than simple sports drinks.

And well, BCAA’s have their perks but whether they are the preferred fuel over carbohydrates? May be not!

Here’s why!

  1. BCAA’s are a group of 3 amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine). These are essential amino acids, which means that our body cannot produce them by itself and we need to provide for them through our diet.
  2. The rich sources of BCAA’s are usually all complete proteins such as poultry, meat, eggs, dairy, soy, quinoa etc.
  3. They play a huge role in muscle protein synthesis as well as recovery. They have been studied to switch on a pathway for muscle building or anabolism.
  4. They also play a significant role in energy metabolism especially when body stores of carbohydrates are insufficient or limited. Therefore, for long duration workouts mainly that cross the 2 hour and above mark, these amino acids can become important sources of fuel just before body fat starts breaking down.
  5. However, carbohydrates have and shall always continue to be body’s preferred source of fuel. Replacing sports drinks with BCAA is a sign of poor energy economy. BCAA’s as mentioned earlier can be fantastic sources for recovery and hence could be consumed post training instead. Using BCAA for 2 hour long workouts over simple carbohydrates is an expensive deal!
  6. BCAA’s hence should be consumed during workout only if the workouts are longer than 2 hours and should be ideally consumed with a sports drink. For workouts that are about an hour long but are extremely high intense, you may consider adding BCAA’s during workout to preserve muscle mass and enhance recovery. For muscle soreness and poor recovery post training, BCAA’s work wonderfully post rather than during training!

Author: Mihira A R Khopkar

B.Sc. Dietetics, M.Sc. Sports Nutrition


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SwimIndia does not guarantee results of any sort, before making any changes to your diet plans, please consult an expert.

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