Cycling test shows BCAA supplementation improves performance parameters

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Illustration;  not photo of actual test.  Getty Images
Illustration; not photo of actual test. Getty Images

Related tags Sports nutrition Sports nutrition products Amino acid BCAA

A commercially available BCAA supplement improved performance parameters in a nine week placebo-controlled study using a high intensity cycling model.

The study, done by researchers associated with several academic institutions in Italy, was published this week in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition​. The study included 32 subjects and extended over nine weeks.

The study material was a commercially available BCAA (branched chain amino acids) sports nutrition product made by Milan-based Dompè Farmaceutici Spa.  The product, which is branded as Friliver Performance FP, includes the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, along with the amino acid alanine and carbohydrate in the form of maltodextrin. 

BCAA efficacy picture still somewhat unclear

The authors noted that BCAA supplementation remains somewhat controversial.  BCAA formulations have been much studied, with some studies showing a performance benefit. But numerous confounding factors cloud the issue, they said.

“[D}ue to the great heterogeneity of the experimental protocols and formulations used, the results of these studies are not always unequivocal; hence, the actual efficacy of BCAA – used alone or combined with other components - remains a much debated issue,”​ the authors wrote.

The research team recruited 20 men and 12 women who were university students as subjects.  The average age was 22 years for the men and 21 for the women.  While all were healthy and slender (average BMI of 22 for the men and 21 for the women), none were regular exercisers.  One of the exclusion criteria was having done no more than one 60 minute brisk walking or slow jogging session per week in the three months leading up the trial.  The researchers confirmed this low level of fitness with baseline VO2 Max (maximum oxygen uptake) measurements.

Validated exercise protocol

For the exercise load, the researchers used a cycling ergometer test that had been validated in a 2012 study​ published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine​.  The high intensity baseline and study-end sessions consisted of a 20 minute warmup, then 90 second sprints separated by 3 minute rest periods with a stepped intensity period to exhaustion finishing the session, which lasted slightly more than an hour. 

On the two experimental days the subjects arrived two hours early in a fasting state and consumed a standard breakfast which included taking the BCAA supplement or a placebo.  Blood was drawn at arrival and just before starting the cycling test.  There were three blood draws after the test: one immediately upon completion, one at four hours and the final one at 24 hours after finishing the test.

In the weeks in between, the test subjects performed three weekly training sessions that started out at slightly less than an hour and ramped up to slightly more than an hour.  The tests used a warmup followed by intervals model commonly used in spin classes. Before each training session the subjects ingested the BCAA product or a placebo.  The subjects did not ingest either product on rest days.

As expected, the researchers found that both groups improved in their peformance in terms of reported perceived exertion (RPE) as well as absolute performance measures, the group using the BCAA product (referred to as FP) improved more.

“The major finding of this study is that a single intake of FP is capable of attenuating RPE, and that its prolonged 9w consumption according to manufacturer’s recommendations not only augments RPE-attenuating capacity, but also improves TTE ​(total time to exhaustion) and TRIMP ​(training impulse, a standardized measure of training load somewhat akin to a watt or a calorie) which both reflect the capacity to sustain training loads,”​ the authors concluded.

Source​: JISSN
17, Article number: 6 (2020)
Effects of a commercially available branched-chain amino acid-alanine-carbohydrate-based sports supplement on perceived exertion and performance in high intensity endurance cycling tests
Authors: Gervasi M, et al.

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