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Some research has shown that supplemental BCAAs (typically 10 to 20 grams per day) do not result in meaningful changes in body composition,1 nor do they improve exercise performance or enhance the effects of physical training.2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 However, BCAA supplementation may be useful in special situations, such as preventing muscle loss at high altitudes and prolonging endurance performance in the heat.8, 9 One controlled study gave triathletes 6 grams per day of BCAA for one month before a competition, then 3 grams per day from the day of competition until a week following. Compared with a placebo, BCAAs restored depleted glutamine stores and immune factors that occur in elite athletes, and led to a reported one-third fewer symptoms of infection during the period of supplementation.10 Studies by one group of researchers suggest that BCAA supplementation may also improve exercise-induced declines in some aspects of mental functioning.11, 12, 13
Side effects have not been reported with the use of BCAAs. Until more research is conducted, people with ALS should avoid taking supplemental BCAAs. In one study, supplementation with a large amount of BCAAs (60 grams) caused alterations in the blood levels of tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine.14 The changes in the blood levels of these amino acids could, in theory, cause depression in susceptible individuals. Until more is known, individuals with a history of depression should consult a doctor before supplementing with BCAAs. People with kidney or liver disease should not consume high amounts of amino acids without consulting their doctor.
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2017.