The Benefits of Branched-Chain Amino Acids

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Branched-chain amino acids are a type of essential amino acid involved in the body's production of protein. Available in a number of foods (including meat, dairy products, and legumes), branched-chain amino acids include valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Said to offer a variety of health benefits and improve athletic performance, branched-chain amino acids are also sold in supplement form.


In addition to enhancing athletic performance, in nutritional medicine, branched-chain amino acids are used to help treat or prevent the following health conditions:

Branched-chain amino acids are also used to prevent fatigue, improve brain function and concentration, promote weight loss, and stimulate appetite in people undergoing treatment for cancer.


A number of scientific studies indicate that use of supplements containing branched-chain amino acids may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at some key findings from the available research.


Branched-chain amino acids may be of some benefit to people with cirrhosis, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry. In tests on rats, researchers found that branched-amino acids may help improve glucose metabolism abnormalities commonly associated with cirrhosis (a disease marked by scarring of the liver).

Exercise Performance

Several studies suggest that use of branched-chain amino acids may impact exercise performance. In a 2006 report published in the Journal of Nutrition, for instance, researchers analyzed the available research on the use of branched-chain amino acids and found that the supplements may help improve physical performance and prevent fatigue during long periods of exercise.

There's also some evidence that branched-chain amino acids may help promote muscle recovery and decrease soreness after exercise. For example, a 2007 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that consumption of a drink containing branched-chain amino acids helped to lessen the degree of muscle damage in long-distance runners. In an experiment involving eight male runners, the study's authors found that the branched-chain-amino-acid-enriched drink was more effective than a placebo drink in reducing the release of lactate dehydrogenase (a marker of tissue damage) during a 25-kilometer run.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements says there is little evidence that BCAA supplements are effective in improving performance in endurance activities, such as running, but may help in building muscle and strength when used in a weight training program.


Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each ingredient. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Where to Find Them

Widely available for purchase online, branched-chain amino acids are sold in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements says simply eating protein-containing food in a standard diet will give you enough BCAA (10 to 20 grams per day), so it isn't clear whether taking supplements has a greater effect. Most people should be safe taking up to another 20 grams per day as a supplement.

Using It for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend branched-chain amino acids as a treatment for any condition. It's important to note that self-treating a condition with branched-chain amino acids, and avoiding or delaying standard care, may have serious consequences. If you're considering the use of branched-chain amino acids, make sure to consult your primary care provider before starting your supplement regimen.

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  1. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Updated October 17, 2019.

  2. Higuchi N, Kato M, Miyazaki M, et al. Potential role of branched-chain amino acids in glucose metabolism through the accelerated induction of the glucose-sensing apparatus in the liver. J Cell Biochem. 2011;112(1):30-8. doi:10.1002/jcb.22688

  3. Blomstrand E. A role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue. J Nutr. 2006;136(2):544S-547S. doi:10.1093/jn/136.2.544s

  4. Koba T, Hamada K, Sakurai M, et al. Branched-chain amino acids supplementation attenuates the accumulation of blood lactate dehydrogenase during distance running. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2007;47(3):316-322.