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A primer on BCAAs and athletic performance

By Henry Howard

As I transition from training for and running a marathon to ultra training for my fourth 100-miler, there will be changes in the approach to the physical aspects.

But the nutritional supplements that fueled my runs, provided a needed boost and kick started my recovery will remain consistent.

From May through September, I’ll detail a product each month and how it plays a key role in my health and performance. To kick things, here’s a look at Gnarly Nutrition’s BCAA supplement.

Thanks to Gnarly for sponsoring this series. I’ve been a huge supporter of Gnarly since discovering them during a trip to Utah just before the pandemic. Their approach meets my needs. I choose supplements that are NSF certified, made with natural ingredients and allow me to perform my best. Gnarly does all that and more.

A deep dive into BCAAs

Most everyone is aware that protein supplementation is integral to post-workout recovery. But how should athletes prepare themselves before workouts? Here’s what you should know: Adding free-form BCAAs into your regimen will increase plasma BCAA levels more quickly than any protein supplement.

Gnarly BCAAs, which are vegan and have 5g of protein, provide essential amino acids to help support and rebuild muscle during and after intense training. This is especially important for vegans and vegetarians because plant proteins tend to be significantly lower in BCAAs than animal proteins.

Here are six questions and answers about BCAAs:

So what are BCAAs?

Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential. That means they cannot be produced or created by the body, and therefore must come from our diet. Of these essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine are known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).

How do they help athletes?

Other essential amino acids are broken down in the liver. However, BCAAs are oxidized, or used for energy, in the skeletal muscle. In addition to being a source of fuel, BCAAs provide muscle recovery and synthesis. Supplementation with BCAAs has been shown to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.

What’s the recommended way to use them?

Free form amino acids don’t require digestion and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Research shows BCAA concentration in the blood elevates within 15 minutes and peaks 30 minutes after ingestion, so supplement with BCAAs about 20 to 30 minutes before training.

Afterward, focus on protein and carbohydrates to spur recovery and muscle repair.

Research shows that if consumed in the 20 to 30 minutes before exercise (and even during longer training sessions), BCAAs, and leucine in particular, can help minimize muscle protein breakdown (MPB). This also decreases post-exercise soreness and speeds recovery between training sessions.

How do I know they are safe?

Look for a NSF or NSF for Sport badge on your sports nutrition products. NSF certification is a badge of quality and safety.

Typically the badge is found on the front label giving consumers confidence that the product has passed third-party testing for both label claims and contaminants such as microbes, heavy metals and pesticides.

The NSF dietary supplement certification program protects consumers by testing for harmful levels of contaminants and certifying that supplements contain just the ingredients printed on the label. NSF also checks to make sure no unlisted ingredients or potentially harmful levels of impurities are present in products that carry NSF certification.

How does Gnarly’s BCAA supplement stand out from others?

Gnarly is intentional about all of its products, including its BCAAs. While the majority of BCAAs on the market are animal-sourced, and therefore don’t align with everyone’s dietary preferences, Gnarly’s are vegan. “Our goal is to provide all athletes, regardless of nutritional preferences, clean and high-quality products,” its website says.

What are the nutritional components of Gnarly’s BCAA supplement?

For the full details, visit the BCAA page.


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