The essential branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) which mainly include leucine, isoleucine, and valine are of special importance for athletes because they are metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver. Ideally, after digestion, once the protein is broken down into the individual amino acids, these amino acids can then either be used to build new proteins or can be burned as fuel to produce energy. If diet of the athlete is adequate in nutrition, then the above 'essential' amino acids will be used for protein synthesis. This protein synthesis is optimal for advanced human performance. Also, it should be noted unlike non-essential amino acids, the essential amino acids are not produced in the body and are rather obtained through proper nutrition. Hence, it is often hypothesized that the supplementation of BCAA's are of vital importance to athletes. This is due to their ability to alleviate any deficiencies that the body alone fails to produce. BCAA's are also important as they reduce fatigue in both anaerobic and endurance sports. Further, it has also been noted that leucine may be the most critical of the BCAA due to its anti-catabolic properties and its vital role in protein synthesis. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Ingestion is also clinically effective in Stimulating Muscle Protein Synthesis and enhances recovery following Resistance Exercise.

BCAAs are important precursors of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle intermediates via acetyl-CoA and Succinyl-CoA and can be involved in energy production through the modulation of exercise-induced serum BCAAs oxidation.

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There has been numerous research efforts in evaluating the effects of supplementation of branched-chain amino acids (e.g. leucine, isoleucine, and valine) in respect to their psychological and physiological responses to exercise. There are mainly two assumptions regarding the ergogenic value of supplementation with respect to these amino acids.

To begin with, firstly, BCAA supplementation has been reported to decrease exercise-induced protein degradation and/or muscle enzyme release (an indicator of muscle damage). This is possibly by promoting an anti-catabolic hormonal profile. Tentatively, BCAA supplementation during intense training may help minimize protein degradation and thus lead to greater gains in fat-free mass. Though several studies support this hypothesis, additional research is essential to determine the long-term effects of BCAA supplementation during training.

Second, theoretically, the availability of BCAA during exercise contributes to central fatigue. During the course of an endurance exercise, BCAAs are taken up by the muscles rather than the liver in order to contribute to oxidative metabolism. The major source of BCAAs for muscular oxidative metabolism during exercise is the plasma BCAA pool. This is replenished through the catabolism of whole body proteins during endurance exercise. However, the oxidation of BCAAs in the muscle during prolonged exercise may exceed the catabolic capacity to increase BCAA availability, so plasma BCAA concentration may decline during prolonged endurance exercise.

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Andrea Fernandes

-Expert and Writer