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Amino Acids. 1993 Oct;4(3):255-66. doi: 10.1007/BF00805827.

Branched chain amino acids chronic treatment and muscular exercise performance in athletes: a study through plasma acetyl-carnitine levels.

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Istituto di Semeiotica Medica, Div. Patologia Medica III, Catt. di Biochimica Clinica, Università degli Studi di Padova, via Ospedale, 105, I-35100, Padova, Italy.


In relation to energy request during physical exercise, muscular tissue Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are metabolized particularly when the oxidation rises. But in the whole-human body, it is difficult to estimate, in a quantitative sense, the role played by BCAA in sustaining exercise. During a BCAA treatment, made on a group of athletes kept under observation, it was observed, through Conconi's test, that this treatment influenced physical performance. Aim of present work is to investigate if BCAA chronic treatment effect on physiological trial is confirmed on blood circulating biochemical energy parameters and in particular on acetyl-carnitine, since acetyl-linked compounds may be an important biochemical factor.Fourteen athletic well trained male subjects, were randomly divided into two subgroups; a first group was submitted to a chronic treatment (n = 7) of BCAA (oral intake was 0.2 g/Kg die) and a second group, as controls (n = 7), assumed oral placebo. Conconi's test demonstrated a significant difference (p < 0.005) in the exercise performance of the two sub-groups, comparing the measurements of ratios of deflection velocity (V d ), before and after the treatment. Therefore we studied the athletes performing a muscular exercise test (40 Km/h, cycle race, for 90 min) after one month of treatment. During this treatment period the subjects followed a well standardized diet. Samples of blood were drawn before, at the end and during the recovery (60 min) to study if traditional biochemical parameters varied and confirmed the observed differences in Conconi's test. The measurements of concentrations of FFA, KB, free carnitine, acetyl-carnitine and BCAA were performed. Plasma BCAA levels did not demonstrate variations either before or after the exercise performance, or between the two groups. The biochemical factors, substrates and hormones, KB, FFA, lactate, insulin and growth hormone plasma levels did not demonstrate significant differences from the patterns present in literature. Plasma free and acetyl-carnitine followed the well known variations, but only acetyl-carnitine levels demonstrated, at the end increase in acetyl-carnitine levels could be related to a minor fatigue situation and to a larger energy supply availability perhaps present in BCAA treated athletes (Sahlin et al., 1990; May et al., 1989). Both mentioned hypothesis seem in concordance with a smaller acetyl-CoA substrate accumulation, or better for present study, is even more successful with athletes who give a better physical performance. In fact Conconi's test in the two sub-groups of athletes seems to suggest that BCAA treated athletes were able to give a better performance, furthermore out of curiosity we point out that the athletes treated with BCAA won more races than the untreated.We would also like to add in conclusion that although confirming the difficulties of studies in the whole-body, our work gives an interesting clue about the possibility to use acetyl-carnitine plasma levels to understand the biochemical importance of the BCAA as substrate able to influence physical performance, but further research is needed.The phenomenon presence might be showed better perhaps by studying untrained groups during prolonged exercise and with physical performance at exhaustion. If treatment were able to help the physical performance and to shift the fatigue, then confirmation might be a less raised plasma acetyl-carnitine level. In effect blood ammonium levels in present study did not demonstrate any variation in and between sub-groups; this latter observation could be caused by the quantity of work load, and training state of the athletes (Ji et al., 1987; Kirkendall, 1990). Moreover, as observed by Hageloch et al. (1990), the ammonia increases less during prolonged endurance exercise, and in fact the athletes of present study were all middle distance racing cyclists, and the physical performance was a prolonged endurance exercise.


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