The International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (Dec 2007), looked at the effect of a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) drink on markers (indicators) of muscle damage after endurance exercise. A BCAA drink was compared with an equal calorie carbohydrate drink and a flavoured water (zero calories).

They found all measured markers of fatigue were reduced in the BCAA-supplemented group. So if you want to ride your best, it seems including BCAAs in your hydration formula could help.

The evidence

Nine untrained men performed three cycling bouts blind-testing a carbohydrate formula, BCAA formula and a flavoured water. Bouts were separated by eight weeks with no training in-between, to omit training effects from trial to trial.

On each test the subjects ingested 200cal of their formula before exercise and at 60 minutes of a 90-minute cycling bout. They were assessed before and immediately after, as well as four, 24 and 48 hours post-exercise.

The data showed significantly reduced markers of muscle damage in the BCAA trial, with the carbohydrate trial showing reduced markers when compared with the flavoured water. Measurements included blood markers of fatigue, leg flexion tests and ratings of perceived exertion.

Layman lowdown

Proteins are made up of amino acids. BCAAs are a sub-group of these amino acids which have been found to be particularly valuable for exercisers. Although this study indicates that BCAAs are superior to carbohydrate formulas for reducing markers of muscular fatigue, this does not mean you should replace your carbohydrate drink during your ride.

Reduced muscle damage has the advantage of speeding recovery and reducing muscle soreness, but not addressing our glycogen stores while training could have a negative impact on performance. Combine both for greater muscle recovery while maintaining energy stores.

CW says

If you?re training regularly it could be worth investing in a carbohydrate-BCAA combo such as Viper, available in Decathlon & GNC stores, or by adding a separate BCAA product to your regular carbohydrate drink.