Research Review
Can BCAA supplements reduce muscle soreness?

Can BCAA supplements reduce muscle soreness?

Can BCAA supplements reduce muscle soreness?


One of the things we hear about a lot from trainers is the importance of consuming BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplements. The three BCAAs are l-Leucine, l-Isoleucine and l-valine and they occur naturally in the food supply, with foods such as meat, fish, and dairy products with whey protein being particularly high in BCAAs. BCAA supplements are frequently touted for their ability to enhance muscle size and to spare muscle tissue when dieting which has led to their adoption by increasing numbers of athletes. One of the common refrains we hear from people who consume BCAA supplements is their ability to reduce muscle soreness, and it is this particular facet of BCAAs which we will explore today.  

There are a great deal of studies on the positive benefits of BCAA supplementation but we are going to focus only on research which is relevant to us, namely research that was conducted on experienced weight training individuals who already practise sound training and dietary habits. One of the problems with some BCAA studies is they will often use untrained people or animals making the conclusions less applicable to weight training individuals so we will screen those out and focus on the rest. A 2012 study (1) by Howatson chose national league rugby and football players as the study population making it a group who were both well acquainted with weight training and also experienced in following a sports nutrition diet. Using what might seem to some as a very high dosage of 40g of BCAAs per day with 20g of that sandwiched around the training session, the study revealed reduced muscle soreness as well as greater muscle recovery in the BCAA supplemented group.

Matsumoto and his associates chose to study the effect of BCAA supplements in long distance runners (2) and uncovered a 32% reduction in muscle soreness in a BCAA supplemented group compared to a placebo group. These results were corroborated by an earlier study in Japan (3) which demonstrated that BCAA supplements can both lower muscle damage incurred during exercise and also boost muscle protein synthesis.

Key Points

1. BCAA supplements can reduce muscle soreness allowing for faster recovery.

2. Using BCAA supplements before, during and after training is optimal.

3. For experienced trainers who engage in intensive exercise we recommend a dose of between 0.2-0.4g/kg of body weight to get the greater effect.

4. Essential amino acid formulas, casein hydrolysate (Peptopro) or Whey Protein Hydrolysate can all be used in place of BCAA supplements as they contain high amounts of BCAAs as well as other benefits.

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1. Howatson (2012): Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study.

2. Matsumoto K (2009): Branched-chain amino acid supplementation attenuates muscle soreness, muscle damage and inflammation during an intensive training program.

3. Shimomura Y (2004): Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise.