The "branched chain" amino acids (BCAA's), leucine, isoleucine and valine are so called because the side chains of these amino acids (the part of the molecule that differentiates the amino acids) are made up of non-linear (branching) carbon chains. The BCAA's are essential amino acids, meaning that they must be consumed in the diet (rather than manufactured in the body) and constitute a more than one third of the amino acid composition of skeletal muscle(1). During high intensity exercise, the BCAA's are oxidized for use as fuel and to maintain oxidative metabolite concentration(2). Supplementing with BCAA's reduces exercise-induced muscle proteolysis (breakdown)(3) and also stimulates muscle protein synthesis(4). Daily BCAA supplementation may also reduce muscle damage, promote strength recovery and even enhance blood oxygen carrying capacity(5). Of the three BCAA's, leucine plays a special role in skeletal muscle metabolism, in particular by exerting an anti-catabolic and anabolic effect on protein metabolism(6-10). Leucine metabolites that have been sold as sports (HMB) or animal feed supplements (keto-isocaproate) also exert anabolic effects in humans and growing animals(11, 12). In fact, leucine incorporation into skeletal muscle has long been used as a marker of muscle protein synthesis(13) and oxidation(14). Because leucine so powerfully stimulates muscle protein synthesis, some researchers have suggested L-Leucine supplementation to combat age-associated loss of skeletal muscle mass (sarcopenia)(9).
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