With sportsmen seeking alternatives to illegal and unsafe performance enhancing drugs, “ergogenic aids” have come to their rescue. Ergogenic aids are supplements that enhance the performance of athletes by improving their speed, strength and agility. A number of natural products are marketed as ergogenic aids, which have found a ready market among sportspersons. Their biggest advantage is that they are legal, apart from being safe and effective. Examples of such aids include branched chain amino acids, creatine, medium chain triglycerides, pyruvates and vitamins.
I. What are Branched chain amino acids?
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) are amino acids whose molecular structure is made up of branched aliphatic side chains. Three amino acids occurring in humans, viz. valine, leucine and isoleucine, are essential BCAAs. They are essential because they are not synthesized by the body and have to be supplied through diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which in turn, are the building blocks of the body. A high proportion of muscle tissue is built of BCAAs. Therefore, these are of high utility in increasing muscle mass, especially for those who undertake strength training.
II. Sources of BCAAs
Since BCAAs are essential amino acids, they have to be supplied either through diet or through dietary supplements. All food sources that are rich in proteins have sufficient amounts of BCAAs. Commonly available food sources that are rich in BCAAs include dairy products, eggs, whey, chicken and meat, especially red meat.
III. The need for BCAA supplementation
During strength training and strenuous exercise, a high amount of BCAAs are broken down and used up. Oxidation of these amino acids occurs in skeletal muscles. Though BCAAs are not used as a source of energy in the body under normal conditions, they do contribute to energy generation during heavy and strenuous exercise. The subsequent breakdown of these amino acids for energy generation during heavy exercise leads to muscle damage and tear. Therefore, restoring them with the help of protein supplements is extremely necessary to make up for the loss of proteins.
IV. Effect on athletic performance
Innumerable studies have investigated the effects of BCAAs on the performance of athletes. Studies and clinical trials have investigated their potential role in decreasing fatigue, improving physical performance, increasing strength and affecting cognitive abilities. A few of the most significant studies are discussed here. While BCAAs have been found to be of help in enhancing sports performance, ...