Should Cyclists Use BCAAs – Are There Performance Benefits?

By Jiri Kaloc

Why are athletes so interested in BCAAs? What benefits can you expect as a cyclist when you get the right amount of them? Let’s take a closer look at the research on BCAAs and endurance athletes to see if they can make you a faster cyclist or not.

Most studies on BCAAs in sport are done on resistance- and power-based athletes. But there is some research into endurance now as well. Most studies have shown some performance benefits and here is an overview of the main ones.

Improved sprint performance and immune function

A study from 2015 compared cyclists who took 12 grams of BCAAs per day during a 10-week training period to those who took a placebo. The BCAA-group improved their sprint performance and maintained healthier immunity during intense training better than those who were given a placebo.

Reduced muscle damage from cycling

A 2007 study on cyclists found that when researchers gave BCAA-infused energy drinks to a group of riders, they suffered significantly less muscle damage, didn’t feel as sore, and could produce more power 24 to 48 hours after a 90-minute ride than with a regular energy drink. A newer study from 2013 confirmed the findings, concluding that BCAA supplementation may reduce the muscle damage associated with endurance exercise.

Better muscle protein synthesis in recovery

Relaxing after a ride
One of the benefits of BCAAs is better muscle protein synthesis in recovery. © Profimedia

A 2011 study looked at athletes completing 2 separate 60-minute rides at 60% VO2peak with essential amino acid supplementation. When athletes consumed a drink high in leucine (one of the 3 amino acids in BCAA), their muscle protein synthesis was 33% higher during the recovery period and had lower overall body protein breakdown compared to when they ingested a drink with regular leucine concentration.

Reduced perceived exertion

A recent 2020 study looked at the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) in cyclists using BCAAs. Participants started cycling at 75 watts and the resistance was increased by 25 watts every 3 minutes. The test stopped when their cadence dropped below 60 rpm or until subjectively exhausted. The results showed that the intake of the BCAA-based commercially available supplement reduces RPE. This reduced RPE allowed cyclists to sustain higher workloads. The supplement used in this study included 13,2 g of carbohydrates, 3,2 g of BCAA and 1,6 g of L-alanine.

Better injury recovery

Although not directly related to performance, it’s worth mentioning that BCAAs could be beneficial when dealing with a sports injury. BCAAs help reduce muscle wasting associated with detraining and immobilization. They boost protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown more than other amino acids. So, if you get injured, including BCAAs in your diet may help speed up recovery and help you get back to training quickly.

Will BCAAs make you a faster cyclist?

Overall, it’s hard to be confident in the effects of BCAAs. We don’t have enough studies on endurance athletes. But there is an argument to be made for BCAAs in cycling. They seem to be effective in recovery, they reduce perceived exertion, and they might even help you improve your sprinting.

So, what are the best sources of BCAAs? Can you get enough of them from food? We will explore those questions in the next article.