Amino Acids For Athletes

I am always asked “what supplements do you take?” “To do what you do with all that running, you must spend a fortune on supplements.”

Well, no not really. I eat real food, with real nutrients and most supplements are synthetic versions so you are sometimes better off eating the container they come in!

Protein supplements are generally off the list for me. Whey protein is OK, but really we aren’t designed to consume huge amounts of protein as we can only digest a certain amount. The rest just serves to stress the digestive system and ends up coming out the rear end anyway. Some supplements give you expensive wee, some give you expensive poo, either way you may as well just throw your money down the toilet.

The supplements I do take come in two categories. The first are cheap, so if it does end up in the toilet, it hasn’t cost that much and the second type must be proven to be highly bioavailable. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it basically refers to the amount the body can process and put to use. If you take 1 gram of a certain supplement and 99% of it ends up in the toilet, its bioavailability is very low. If only 1% ends up in the toilet and the rest goes through your body to do the job it was designed for, you have something highly bioavailable and actually worth the money you pay. I am willing to pay good money for these.

Amino acids are something I have been using recently. Amino’s are the building blocks for protein and essential for many bodily functions. We have a requirement for 20 different amino acids of which 8 are considered essential. What this means is 12 can be created inside the body, while the 8 essential ones have to be included in the diet.

So what does this mean for the runner, especially for us endurance runners? Supplementing with amino’s, being the building blocks of protein, means that muscle damage that normally occurs in exercise is repaired more rapidly. A quicker recovery means you can get back out there sooner and train again. Where it may have taken you two days to recover previously, it may now only take one. Also when we become glycogen depleted I our longer sessions, we tend to start cannibalizing the protein in our muscle for energy. Supplementing with Amino’s can minimize this.

Another point which excites me even more, is the effect it has on endurance. There are mixed studies going around on this topic, as there is with anything of this kind, but a study done by A. B. Gualano, found that a group fed Branch Chain Amino Acids performed 17.2% better than the placebo group when asked to perform an endurance test to exhaustion. The conclusion was “BCAA supplementation increases resistance to fatigue and enhances lipid oxidation during exercise in glycogen-depleted subjects.

To put that into plain English, during long training sessions, we all become depleted in glycogen stores. Although we still use fat as a source of fuel, at varying levels, once the glycogen is depleted we feel lethargic and less able to perform at peak performance. Taking an Amino Acid supplement can help increase your ability to use lipids (fancy word for fat) as a fuel source. The more fat we use as energy, the less we rely on glycogen stores which are quite limited.

You are probably saying we can just take gels, which is true, but if you take a gel in conjunction with amino’s, your energy levels will be far more stable and will be able to last longer out there on the trails.

Next week I will cover a few of the more popular amino acid supplements on the market.

Run Well

Chris O’Driscoll

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