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BCAA and leucine: branch chain amino acids

This time we will talk about BCAA; branch chain amino acids

Let’s start then with some historical facts concerning another popular and safe supplement that is found on the market. We will also analyze the criticism some have made during recent years.

In the 80s branch chain amino acids have been used for the first time intravenously to treat hepatic coma and later in Italy the same formula was created for oral administration.

This formula contains leucine, isoleucine and valine, ratio 2:1:1; there are more quantities of leucine because it’s the most important muscular amino acid that “regulates the protein synthesis”.

BCAA and liver

BCAA’s are absolutely harmless when it comes to liver function, they actually promote benefits when trying to increase protein synthesis to increase and recover muscular mass efficiently.

When leucine levels are high in the blood even muscle levels are high, this indicates a quick and easy passage from the portal circulation.

Can this affect the kidneys?

If taken correctly no, on the contrary they can protect kidneys from excessive catabolic stress that is produced during certain types of training (high frequency and intensity, long training sessions).

That is why during exercise the amino acid oxidation achieved in order to produce energy helps in eliminating great quantities of nitrogen (like urea) with urine. This brings a compulsory loss of water.

This is why high amino acid catabolism brings an increase of liquid demand on behalf of the body.

Main BCAA functions are:

  1. prevenzione del catabolismo muscolare;
  2. decrease of central fatigue;
  3. muscle reconstruction and increase of protein synthesis;
  4. metabolic messengers on the lipidic metabolism (they increase the consumption of fats during exercise).

Considering amino acids are many let’s clarify what a study found in relation to SLA connected to the increased effect on football players.

BCAAs have been investigated, specifically isoleucine and valine because it seams they act on the nerve cells (motoneurons) “simulating” SLA effects.

In reality this study follows other studies that demonstrated how BCAAs have been useful for SLA and other chronic degenerative pathologies, as explained in these two references:

  • Testa D, Caraceni T, Fetoni V. “Branched-chain amino acids in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis”. J Neurol. 1989.
  • Tandan R, Bromberg MB, Forshew D, et al. “A controlled trial of amino acid therapy in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: I. Clinical, functional, and maximum isometric torque data”. Neurology 1996.

This instead is the only reference I was able to find concerning a study on the neuron excitability after administering BCAAs on murine models.

  • Pieri, M., Carunchio, I., Curcio, L., Mercuri, N. B. and Zona, C., 2009. Increased persistent sodium current determines cortical hyperexcitability in a genetic model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Exp Neurol. 215, 368, 379 (ipereccitabilità corticale, riscontrata nei neuroni corticali dopo l’esposizione ai BCAA, è stata precedentemente riportata nel modello transgenico murino di SLA, G93A).

Ke Forma has also developed a formula enriched with leucine (4:1:1) to give even more emphasis to its specific properties connected to the indirect activation of protein synthesis thanks to the activation of an enzyme called P70S6K which directly brings in to action the mTOR system, responsible for muscle growth and recovery.

To date, we still consider the use of BCAAs safe up to 2 g for every 10 kg of body weight during training days, divided before and after training and according to the type of workout and objective the person wants to attain.

I’s advisable to interrupt the treatment after 2 months opting for whey hydrolyzed proteins for post training recovery (see the article on proteins) or creatine and other synergic amino acids during pre workout (see the article on CGT explosion).

Summary of the safe BCAA intake methods during intense muscle training (endurance, mixed, strength, hypertrophy).

  • 0.5 – 1g/10 Kg weight before exercising + 0.5 – 1 g/10 Kg weight after exercising.


  • 10 – 20 g/die during the week preceding the race;
  • 2-3 g/10 Kg weight before the competition + 2-3 g/10 Kg after the competition.

During the first recovery week after a competition (endurance, ultra endurance, ecentric components):

  • 10 – 20 g/die BCAA: before and after training or combined with meals.

Negro M., Conti G., Marzatico F: Nutrizione e Sport. EdiErmes, Milano 2007

Dott. Lorenzo Bergami

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