If you read last weeks post from me you will know I was talking about amino acids and the role they play in helping your endurance and recovery. This week I would like to cover the different types of amino acid supplements in the market so you can make the right choice for yourself.
The first type you will generally find are called Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). These make up 3 of the 8 essential amino acids (the amino’s we can only get from food). These are Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine, with their name (branched chain) coming from the molecular structure of them, where part of them looks like tree branches.
Leucine helps with blood sugar regulation, muscle, bone and skin repair and is very anabolic as it plays a major part in the production of Human Growth Hormone (the youth hormone).
Isoleucine is similar in many ways to Leucine, just to a lesser extent. It also plays a role in the immune system and blood clotting.
Valine is needed for the muscles metabolism and repair of tissues while helping maintain a healthy nitrogen balance. It plays a major part in energy production and the preservation of glycogen in the body.
BCAA’s are very popular in the body building scene, they allow the body to preserve some of its glycogen stores by up to 25% allowing them to train for longer or do more reps and sets. For runners, the same is true, as part of our training is similar to bodybuilding. We need to push our bodies harder and faster to make the adaptions required to race harder and longer. Saving 25% of your glycogen stores can make a big difference and delay “hitting the wall” in a big race.
BCAA’s work by being metabolized, or oxidized, in your muscles to produce ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which is essential to your muscles during hard efforts, like climbing hills or pushing hard in those last few K’s to the finish line. To get the most out of these, take a few, depending on the recommended dose of your supplement, before, during and after long sessions or races.
They are a great option, but they miss out on the other 5 essential aminos. Which are –
Lysine is the anti fatigue amino and helps to ward of overtraining syndrome. Here is a brief description of them.
Methionine is essential in the breakdown of fats for energy and helps boost your testosterone levels. It also helps digestion and is an anti oxidant.
A hard one to pronounce is Phenylalanine. It works by stimulating the nervous system (allowing full contraction and relaxation of the muscles), boosting your ability to get Vitamin D from the sun and plays a major part in the production of glutamine (a non essential amino, but the amino that is most common in the body).
Threonine helps absorption of proteins. Protein supplements that contain this are far more bioavailable. It is stored in the muscles of the body including the heart and in the central nervous system. It helps the liver function and is essential in the immune system as it stimulates the thymus gland which protects the body of all kinds of antibodies.
Tryptophan is responsible for the production of serotonin and melatonin which are neurotransmitters and are essential for a good nights sleep. We all know one of the most important parts of recovery is sleep!
Hopefully this guide helps you out on your choice of an amino acid supplement. BCAA’s can help you out in many ways, but why take just three aminos when you can get all 8 of the essential ones?
Amino’s come in many forms, but the most bioavailable one is in a crystalline form. One supplement that comes in this form is called MAP (Master Amino Pattern). Map was designed for treatment of patients in hospitals and is reportedly absorbed into the body in 22 minutes, compared to hours with most protein supplements. The biggest drawback is the price. At about USD$54, even the wealthiest of us would soon go broke on the recommended dose of this supplement as a bottle could last only a week!
Vespa is another form of amino that is extracted from, of all things, wasps! Along with honey, propolis and royal jelly, it is a very natural supplement used by many elite athletes including Timothy Olsen when he smashed the course record in the Western States 100 last year. Also a relatively expensive supplement, USD $90 for 12 packets, it is used more like an energy gel. I believe Tim Olsen used it every two hours with an energy gel every hour. It seemed to work for him!
These two supplements seem like the most reputable and proven ones on the market. If money is no issue, give them a go. There are literally dozens of different brands out there in different forms, but as I mentioned earlier, the crystalline ones are the most readily absorbed. You really don’t want one that takes your body hours to break down, especially during a race. Like anything, try a few of them out, see what works for you for the least money and stick with it.