Sports Supplements: The Turth About BCCAs
by Joey Olivo

You're into training, as an athlete or a fitness enthusiast. Every day you walk into the gym and want the most out of your experience. Every magazine on the rack touts numerous supplements for your consumption claiming promises you dreamed could exist. Do you believe everything you read? Intra-workout supplementation is not a new topic in the fitness and sports world. Many endurance athletes have been taking supplements during their long bouts of training to help give them a boost and help them to finish strong for many years. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's) are a recent topic up to much debate. Is this a supplement you should be taking to enhance your workout recovery? Does this supplement have any value or will your wallet feel like slapping you for wasting your money on a useless powder? Here's the truth!

BCAAs are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products and legumes. They include three amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. "Branched-chain" refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. The reason BCAAs are of primary concern for athletes and fitness enthusiasts is that these make up a third (33%) of the muscle protein and have many different functions to assist those who train in their lifetime quest to become physically better looking and much stronger.

According to research leucine is the one amino acid that appears to offer the biggest physiological benefit compared to the other two. Leucine has been found to be an important source of calories, and is superior to dextrose as a fuel source. Leucine also stimulates insulin release, stimulating protein synthesis and inhibits protein breakdown. Isoleucine promotes muscle recovery, regulates the blood-sugar levels, stimulates GH release, plays a role in wound healing, assists in the formation of hemoglobin and is strongly involved in the formation of blood-clots. Valine produces energy when your body is under severe stress, such as trauma, surgery, liver failure, infection, fever, starvation, muscle training and weight lifting. Similar to the rest of BCAAs, valine is metabolized mainly by muscles and is involved in their preservation and construction.

Do any BCAA have side-effects? So far, there has been minimal research conducted, none of them done well enough to give a solid scientifically proven answer. What we do know is BCAAs affect everyone differently. The majority of subjects in the research so far have shown no negative effects to the body of normal users. Only patients with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig's disease have shown any negative effects when treated with BCAAs. There was an increase in their mortality rate. For normal users however, BCAAs appear to completely safe. If you have any of the previously mentioned diseases definitely check with your doctor before consuming BCAAs as an extra supplement.

Though BCAAs are not necessary for the average trainee, they have some benefit during certain periods of training. This article is geared toward the athlete and bodybuilder. There are three situations I suggest using BCAAs as a supplement: 1) During a focused period of very low calorie intake and rapid fat loss. 2) During an intense athletic training period -- when weight maintenance is difficult. This is common in ectomorphic athletes traveling on the road or engaging in very intense or very high volume training blocks. This is more for MMA fighters, Wrestlers, Endurance Athletes, etc. 3) If you are a vegan or vegetarian that does not regularly consume high quality protein sources.

Typical dose for each of these situations while under a training phase would typically be: Dosage should be 5-10 grams 2-4x per day every day (dose and frequency depending on body mass). Make sure to take 1 serving during training and another after. The other doses should fall in between meals. BCAAs have a place for some athletes in certain circumstances that need the extra nutritional boost during their training sessions.

Since you can get all the BCAAs you need from a well balanced diet that includes a sufficient amounts of high quality protein coming from meat and legumes, then supplemental BCAAs are not necessary for the average fitness enthusiast. There is a ton of marketing information about the benefits of free-form BCAA when there's no objective evidence of their benefit over the pre-existing BCAAs in whole foods. People forget that BCAAs are abundant in many foods in nature, especially animal proteins.

I base all of my beliefs and recommendations on scientific and real world evidence of training athletes not just marketing hype. My advice - if you're a bodybuilder or endurance athlete then you probably already know where BCAA's fit into your regimen. Otherwise, as a general fitness enthusiast, you must get on a specific nutrition and training plan to actually reap the benefits of this supplement.

Joey Olivo is a Small Group Strength Coach at Synergy Fitness Franklin Square as well as Renegade Gym in Watchung New Jersey. He has worked with various athletes from high school to collegiate level, as well as various general population clients. His passion is strength and developing the strong attitude to go with your strong body for all men and women.

Read his Blog at, and definitely find him on facebook at For questions or if you would like to set up a speaking engagement, or personal consultation, or attend one of his unique high energy small group classes, contact him at