I am a firm believer that a diet based in a variety of whole, healthful foods can supply all the nutrients a body needs. However, when you begin eliminating food groups (meat, dairy, gluten...), start restricting intake to drop weight, or are looking for serious performance gains, your diet is likely in need of a little extra edge.
BCAA: Branch Chain Amino Acids
First of all, BCAA consist of three amino acids (Leucine, Isoleucine and valine) that are not produced by the body, meaning they must be obtained by the diet. While there are plenty of foods that contain these BCAAs, if you're looking for a performance edge or are a vegetarian/vegan athlete, you might benefit from a supplement.
BCAA is popular in weight training sports because of its ability to rebuild muscles when taken as a post workout supplement. This is exactly what scares most endurance athletes away. Runners and cyclists want to maintain lean muscles without adding extra weight & bulk. The timing of BCAA supplementation might be all you need to tweak to benefit from the tissue regenerating power as an endurance athlete. Endurance athletes are constantly stressing their muscles, day after day, in long and often intense training sessions. This causes strain and breakdown of muscle tissue. Too much of this stress and your muscles will not be able to perform at a high level and risk of fatigue and injury sets in. It has been shown that BCAA supplementation DURING activity can help limit muscle breakdown and help regenerate tissue, leading to longer endurance, less muscular fatigue and quicker recovery. This supplement has extra potential for women as female hormones increase post workout muscle breakdown. Another reason to take BCAA during your workout is that Leucine can cross the blood brain barrier and reduces the effects of seratonin, delaying fatigue.
As mentioned, branch chain amino acids are present in all protein containing foods and must be consumed through food (or supplement) as they are not made in the body. Make sure to get about 2g protein/kg to cover your athletic needs. Leucine seems to be the most powerful of the BCAAs for performance and it is recommended to get 42 mg/kg/day. A 3oz serving of red meat contains about shy of 2g of Leucine while 1 cup of beans has 1g and 1 cup of brown rice contains roughly a half gram. If you're coming up short on protein intake in general, it might be a good idea to either increase intake or supplement. Another reason to supplement is the timing. Endurance athletes will mostly benefit from taking BCAA during training sessions. Since during training is not the ideal time for heavy protein consumption, supplement form may be your best bet. Most supplements range from 1g-5gs of total BCAA.
In my professional opinion, BCAAs are something that can definitely give you an edge and should find their way into your specific performance fueling plan, whether its paying attention to food sources or supplementing. I do not suggest taking any supplement daily for long term, instead limit to 6 month bouts (say race season) or take only on long hard days. One pitfall is getting past the extremely bitter taste of BCAA powder. It is best mixed into a smoothie or carbohydrate consuming beverage at cold temperature. Even then, prepare yourself for a sour/bitter flavor.
How I use BCAA:
For endurance rides and races, I mix 1 scoop KLEAN Athlete BCAA & contents of an electrolyte pill with 1 can cold/flatted Blood Orange San Pellegrino topped off with water in my bottles.
This Carrot Creamsicle Smoothie is great for post workout BCAA consumption.
Remember when you're a competitive athlete, taking supplements is a risky business. Make sure to check your athletic guidelines for banned substances and get your supplements from a source that is NSF certified which is why I choose to use KLEAN Athlete Supplements.
Here's more to do with SUPPLEMENTS: