The major reasons that we want to explore BCAA’s for runners is the muscle building and repair effects…but there’s more you need to understand before just throwing another supplement in your cart.
What are the benefits of amino acids? What’s the difference between branch chain and essential amino acids (it definitely matters)? And of course is it any different than the protein powder you’ve already got stashed away for your next post workout smoothie?
As always, I will state that supplementation is NEVER required.
But for many runners it’s hard to get in enough protein to meet the demands of our activity levels and this offers a low calorie option that is easy to implement with some pretty awesome science behind the benefits.
BCAA’s For Runners
Branch chain amino acids are essential nutrients found in food that the body utilizes to breakdown protein, which in turn results in muscle growth, reduction of muscle soreness, metabolism, balancing hormones and the list goes on.
- 20 amino acids
- 11 the body can produce
- 9 essential amino acids that must be acquired through food or supplementation
- 3 are considered branch chain amino acids
- leucine is the MOST important amino acid
On study showed that those utilizing BCAAs over water had 22% more muscle synthesis (the process of your body recovering and growing from breakdown).
What you REALLY need to know is that they also compared the results to those using an essential amino acid and that group had 50% more muscle synthesis than the BCAA’s group.
When it comes to trying to build muscle we need all the help we can get as endurance athletes because our constant fuel burn makes that more difficult.
So not only are we helping our legs to recover and feel stronger for the next run, but using them around strength training is even more important.
Which is why I prefer having you focus on getting in EAA’s because we might as well get in all the benefits possible!
Benefits of BCAA’s for Runners
For all of my ladies running after menopause, please pay extra attention to the leucine content in your supplement. We know now that it is the most important for the muscle building effect, which we need extra help with as hormones decline.
It matters for EVERYONE, but especially as we age.
According to a number of different studies BCAA supplements or more accurately from new studies EAA benefits include:
BCAA’s Can Prevent Muscle Loss
While most lifters are focused on building muscle, after a long run my primary concern is that you don’t lose any muscle.
Early in your base building portion of training, it’s ideal to be focused on lifting heavier and utilizing your amino acid supplement to help you increase muscle mass. That’s going to make you faster, more injury proof and help with endurance.
But as you get in to marathon training, we are largely working to maintain muscle mass through smart fueling and these can help that process.
THIS is why many also look to BCAA’s for weight loss. They help with lean muscle mass and we know that’s key.
BCAA’s Reduce Fatigue Perceptions
Running is hard. There I said it.
But a big part of the hard is coming from our brain and if we’re dehydrated, eating low carb or just having a bad day then everything about the run can feel more challenging.
Utilizing amino acids can result in a potential reduction in perceived effort levels due to changes in brain chemicals like dopamine. This is inline with why people utilize our own endocanabiniod system with CBD!
Reduce Muscle Soreness
Nothing is worse than having to walk down the stairs backwards after a big race or just going way too hard on a run. If you’ve done either, then that might be a fabulous time to snag your Thorne, your water and get to drinking.
Consistency in training is our biggest pathway to success.
So if we can kick start the recovery process and avoid DOMS all at the same time, winning all around.
Best BCAA Supplements?
Due to my preference to steer you to the highest quality and most worth your time, I’ve got a list of essential amino acid supplements that I’ve tried and personally like.
All of these can be mixed with water and sipped just like an electrolyte drink. They taste very similar and don’t need to be mixed in to a smoothie or something else unless you want to.
- Vital Proteins Performance Recovery (yup the updgraded version of their collagen powder, not the protein powder)
- Thorne Essential Amino Acids
- Kion Amino Essentials
I prefer powders over pills because a pill has to be broken down. Which delays the access of the nutrients to the body.
Of course, you can find amino acids in many foods as previously noted:
- Eggs, dairy
- Lentils, chickpeas
- Cashews, almonds
It’s called a supplement to help boost your food choices, not replace. So as always BCAA’s for runners are a supplement!!
Think of it like a bonus!
When should I take a BCAA?
In the following, what you’re taking really does matter! And more is not better.
10-15 grams of EAA’s is plenty, anything additional looks like sugar to the body and we know how that’s treated. (in other words, 1 serving is plenty)
BCAA’s are metabolized in the muscles. Which means they can act like a carbohydrate source and therefore serve as energy pre-run. While an EAA won’t have that same boosting effect.
For some they dislike that BCAA’s are treated more like a carbohydrate and thus stick just to the EAA’s during and post workout.
BCAA’s pre run
Drinking them prior to your run can help in a few ways:
- often treated like carbs in the body providing a good energy source
- potential reduction in perceived effort levels due to changes in brain chemicals like dopamine
- kick starting the recovery process by having fuel in your system
- easy way to enforce hydration pre-run because the sweetness encourages you to keep drinking
BCAA’s during a run
The benefits of drinking them during a run will be very similar to those of taking them before you start, but with a few additions:
- presence of the amino acid valine and/or isoleucine could actually prevent some muscle breakdown, which means faster recovery
- tryptophan (yup same as the Thanksgiving turkey) can help with some pain suppression, so maybe you can push harder in that track session
BCAA’s post workout
The most common time you’ll hear about BCAA supplementation is the post workout drink. Which is because that’s largely how weight lifters have always utilized it.
- increase the release of human growth hormone for muscle repair and growth
- quicker return of total strength
While I’m pointing out individual amino acids and their benefits, they all work together! You can’t just find a leucine supplement and ignore the others.
Should I take a BCAA or Protein?
For planted based runners, an essential amino acid is more valuable than most of the protein powder options because they often miss some of the EAA’s.
Other reasons you might swap protein for them:
- they provide that pre-run energy
- they need less breakdown by the body to be utilized (usually in your system within 20-30 minutes!)
- no worries about lactose or soy or other allergens
- preferred taste of something sweet over the powder
- no additional calories if weight loss is a focus
- Since we know Leucine is the primary driver of our muscle growth, it’s important to understand that different types of protein have different amounts.
This chart from My Sport Science helps show how different foods have different amounts.
Hopefully this not only helped with your BCAA’s for runners questions, but maybe even convinced you that there might be a way to level up even more.
Looking for more sports nutrition? Checkout these articles:
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