advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
BCAAs: Boosting Protein Intake?

What can you tell me about BCAA (branched chain amino acids)? What kinds of foods supply them? Are supplements necessary to increase protein intake? Do BCAAs really help boost sports performance?

A
Answer (Published 3/11/2013)

Be wary of Internet hype about branched chain amino acids, which for the most part is aimed at athletes and body builders looking to enhance performance and endurance. Marketers of these products note that BCAAs stimulate protein building in muscle and may help reduce muscle breakdown, but they don't tell you that they are readily available. Because our bodies can't make the three essential branched chain amino acids - leucine, isoleucine, and valine - we have to get them from food. Fortunately, that's pretty easy. All meats contain BCAAs. Red meat provides the most, but you can also get adequate amounts in pork, poultry, eggs and fish, as well as milk, yogurt and cheeses. Vegetable proteins that provide them include quinoa, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Healthy Eating - Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Nutrition - Want to change your diet? The Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging online guide is your anti-inflammatory diet headquarters. Start your free trial and get access to an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid, hundreds of recipes, eating guides, and more.

I discussed your question with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., director of the Fellowship at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and an expert on dietary supplements. She says that most people who are getting adequate protein in their diets do not need a BCAA supplement. She also notes that some evidence shows that a protein-carbohydrate snack before and after a hard workout will allow free amino acids to help rebuild damaged muscle tissue. She views whey protein as a good source of BCAAs; it is the protein supplement she generally recommends. She suggests soy protein for the lactose intolerant.

Dr. Low Dog also tells me that BCAAs are being studied for possible use in the treatment of mania and neurodegenerative disorders, and reports that the U.S. military looked at increasing the BCAA content of food rations for troops in high-intensity combat field operations but decided against it because there wasn't clear evidence of benefit.

BCAAs are promoted for many non-athletic uses, including treatment of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), but follow up reports indicate this use leads to lung failure and higher death rates among patients. BCAAs are also used to prevent fatigue, improve concentration, restore appetite in cancer patients, and reduce muscle wasting in people confined to bed. There is little evidence that they are effective for these conditions.

It is probably safe to take BCAAs for up to six months, but be aware of possible side effects, including fatigue and loss of coordination (which could be dangerous when driving). It is best not to take BCAAs at all if you're pregnant or breast-feeding, if you consume alcohol in excess, have diabetes or a disorder called branched-chain keto-aciduria; the supplements can cause seizures in those with this condition.

If your interest in BCAAs is related to improving your athletic performance, you may be interested in what the U.S. Olympic Committee's Sport Performance Division has to say on the subject: "It is not necessary to supplement BCAAs. Choosing protein-rich foods of high biological value spread throughout the day will supply your body with ample amounts of branched chain amino acids."

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here