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If you follow enough workout warriors on social media, you’re probably familiar with a common genre — the video clip of someone customizing their own pre- or post-workout supplement formula. Some of these efforts are misguided, but others are genuinely enlightened, particularly when it comes to pre-workout formulations.
In these short clips, you might see a suitably well-trained individual creating their own pre-workout formula from scratch or starting with a standard-issue pre-workout and augmenting it with extra ingredients, such as arginine-AKG, creatine monohydrate, beta alanine, glutamine, and/or BCAAs.
There's a good reason for this. While many people believe that garden-variety pre-workout formulas contain all the necessary ingredients to support both training performance and recovery, the truth is a little more complex. Manufacturers will often tout a lengthy laundry list of ingredients in their pre-workout formulas, but then microdose these ingredients so meagerly that they offer no real performance benefit. Or they will simply omit some highly useful co-factors entirely.
In fact, some of the category's biggest sellers contain little more than stimulant content in various forms. (For a true all-in-one pre-workout formula that contains individual performance co-factors in science-based dosages sufficient to facilitate enhanced power, endurance and intensity, look no further than BioQuest's Fusion Force.)
One particular under-supplied ingredient in most pre-workout formulas is branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs. This is unfortunate because BCAAs not only provide a ready source of fuel your muscles can tap into to postpone fatigue and maintain work output, they also help support muscle recovery after high-intensity training.
Powering Productivity Before, During and After Your Workout
BCAAs -- the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine -- are considered essential because, unlike non-essential amino acids, your body cannot make them. You need to get them from your diet. They are also unique in that they are metabolized directly by muscle tissue during high-impact exercise. Of the three BCAAs, leucine offers the most performance and recovery benefit.
When you begin to exercise, your muscles tap into muscle glycogen (a stored form of carbohydrates) for fuel, but this stored energy doesn't last very long. When these are diminished, your muscles will turn to blood glucose to keep going. (This is where isoleucine and valine, which help support blood sugar levels, both play an important role.) Blood glucose is derived from carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates and fats fuel the majority of your energy needs at the outset of exercise, but as your exercise interval lengthens, your body will scavenge proteins from existing muscle tissue. BCAAs make up a great proportion of the total amino acid content in skeletal muscle and are readily catabolized during exercise. Indeed, BCAAs may provide as much as 20% of your body's energy needs in the course of your workout.
When your high-intensity workout is completed, you've inflicted considerable damage to muscle tissue. This damage must be repaired and your body will endeavor to add more muscle mass to survive future bouts of exercise-induced stress. The availability of leucine is absolutely crucial during this post-exercise juncture, as it is the trigger for the protein synthesis that is the engine for muscle recovery and growth.
Clearly then, BCAA supplementation -- especially leucine -- would appear to offer valuable benefits for highly active people. Science supports this notion. In a study published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine in 2017, researchers sought to evaluate the effect of a 12-week leucine-rich amino acid supplementation in combination with moderate training. In the study, 48 healthy subjects exercised for 30 minutes three times per week and received either a leucine-rich amino acid supplementation or a placebo. Before and after supplementation, subjects performed an exhaustive eccentric exercise protocol. Maximal concentric strength and safety assessments were performed before exercise and after 3, 24, 48 and 72 hours.
The researchers found that the supplementation with leucine resulted in reduced loss of strength at zero and 3 hours after downhill walking compared with the placebo. They concluded that the "principle findings show that leucine-rich amino acid supplementation can counteract the negative effects of eccentric exercise. The treatment resulted in a reduction of exercise-induced strength loss." (1 Reule CA, et al)
BCAAs also offer a prominent benefit in the form of post-workout recovery. In another study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, highly trained resistance athletes were provided 20 grams of BCAAs per day for seven days before and four days after completing a damaging bout of exercise. The ratio of the provided BCAAs was 2:1:1 (leucine: isoleucine: valine).
A number of variables were measured including changes in force production, markers of muscle damage in the blood, muscle soreness, vertical jump performance, and thigh and calf circumference. The damage bout caused significant changes in nearly all variables. In particular, changes in creatine kinase (a marker of damage found in the blood) were significantly improved when BCAAs were ingested when compared to placebo. In addition, the recovery of the ability to produce maximal force was also improved to a greater extent in the BCAA group. The authors of the study concluded that providing BCAAs before and after damaging exercise can reduce the recovery time. (2 Howatson, Hoad et al.)
Supplementing with BCAAs
When adding BCAAs to your supplement regimen, sufficient dosing is critically important. As we've said, most pre-workout formulas simply don't supply BCAAs in amounts that provide performance or recovery benefits. The solution to this problem is simple. Just add additional BCAAs to your pre-workout drink taken 30 to 45 minutes before training and then add some more to the water bottle or shake cup you take out onto the gym floor with you.
Of course, proper sourcing of precious BCAAs is also important. ProSource has always led the way when it comes to ingredient purity, potency and power, and that is true for BCAAs as well.
ProSource's Mega BCAA, available in both powder and capsule formats, contains vastly superior, premium-grade aminos, provided in the preferred ratio of 2:1:1 leucine, isoleucine and valine. And it provides them in an 8-gram per serving dosage designed to fully energize, protect and build muscle tissue. Like all ProSource sports nutrition supplements, Mega BCAA Powder and Capsules are made with the absolute highest quality ingredients available industry-wide to ensure maximum purity, potency and results!
1 Reule CA, Scholz C, Schoen C, et al. Reduced muscular fatigue after a 12-week leucine-rich amino acid supplementation combined with moderate training in elderly: a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2017.
2 Howatson, G., M. Hoad, et al. (2012). "Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 9(1): 20.
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