BCAA for triathletes

Feb 25, 2019 11:32:53 AM
3 min read

Branched Chain Amino Acids for triathlon

You might have heard of Branched Chain Amino Acids, or in short BCAA's. They are especially popular in bodybuilding, but they have various benefits for triathletes too.

Let's have a closer look at what they are and how you can benefit from them!

What are BCAA's?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Consider them like like Lego blocks, making up a protein molecule. Out of the 20 amino acids in your body's protein, 9 are called essential: this means your body needs to get these 9 amino acids form your diet. These amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Of these amino acids, 3 are called Branched Chain Amino Acids: they all have a very particular chemical structure, as they all have 'branches' containing carbon and hydrogen. 

LeucineThese 3 amino acids are called:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine 


Together, these 3 amino acids make up about 1/3 of the amino acids in your muscles.

What do BCAA's do?

BCAA's have a myriad of functions in the human body, but let's look at the most interesting ones for the triathlete:

  • Leucine: this is an amino acid of great importance for anyone interested in athletic performance and muscle building. Leucine by itself can stimulate muscle synthesis. Simply put : it triggers muscle growth, and is therefore extremely important for muscle repair. High-quality protein such as whey - very popular for athletic purposes - have a high leucine content, attributing to their efficiency. Many studies, such as this one, have demonstrated this effect.
  • Isoleucineplays a major role in enhancing glucose consumption and utilization by up-regulating intestinal and muscular glucose transporters. Remember our blog on the 2:1 ratio and the importance of these transporters? For a triathlete, optimal glucose absorption in the intestines is essential!
  • Valine: has been shown, among other functions,  to reduce the perception of fatigue. In studies such as this one, is was shown to reduce central fatigue during extended efforts.

What benefits do BCAA's have for triathletes?

BCAA's can be a valuable addition to the triathlete's nutritional strategy, especially in periods of heavy, intensive training.

They are not a 'magic bullet', and need to be part of a well-rounded, healthy diet and nutrition plan, containing plenty of protein. When used correctly, research has shown they can help:

  • Improve immunity: several studies have shown that BCAA supplementation positively affects immunity. One study clearly demonstrated that BCAA supplementation resulted in a better immune system in subjects running Olympic triathlons. Often athletes in their competitive season can get sick because their intensive training stresses the immune system.
  • Increase glucose metabolism: especially isoleucine and leucine seem to have a positive effect on glucose uptake by the body.
  • Reduce muscle breakdown and increase muscle recovery: many studies have shown a positive effect of BCAA on reducing muscle breakdown during exercise, and recovering after. This study for instance showed a positive effect when combining BCAA with protein and carbohydrates after training. And several meta studies (such as this one) have demonstrated a trend of better recovery and less muscle soreness.

How should a triathlete use BCAA's?

First and foremost, you should aim to get in plenty of high quality protein such as meats, eggs, fish, beans and dairy. This will provide you with many of the amino acids your body needs. Diet always remains the foundation of any athlete's performance.

BCAA's do have a place in intensive training periods, and can give the triathlete an important edge.

We recommend taking your BCAA's before long or intensive training, and straight after, together with your Recovery drink.

This will ensure optimum intake of these important amino acids, so you can reap all their athletic benefits!

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