Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Athletes' reaction times improve with BCAA-ornithine combo

A heavy dose of BCAAs and L-ornithine L-aspartate can help keep reaction times up during heavy physical exercise, and that's extremely handy for those who practise martial arts or team sports. Researchers at the Mossakowski Medical Research Centre in Poland published the results of their human study in Folia Neuropathologica.

BCAAs, ornithine and fatigue
Endurance athletes with a little intelligence know that supplements containing BCAAs help reduce fatigue. They prevent the concentration of BCAAs in the blood from declining during intensive exercise, and as a result prevent the brain from taking more tryptophan from the bloodstream too. Here we explain why athletes become so tired when this does happen, and therefore perform less well.

One disadvantage of BCAA supplementation during physical exertion is that it leads to an increase in the concentration of ammonia in the blood. Ammonia makes you tired and less sharp. That's why BCAAs are not particularly effective at decreasing fatigue. But the amino acid L-ornithine speeds up the removal of ammonia from the bloodstream...

Yes, you've got it: the researchers decided to study the effect of supplementation using a combination of BCAAs with ornithine during exercise.

The researchers got 11 trained endurance athletes to cycle on two different occasions for 60 minutes, at an intensity of 60% of their VO2max. At the end of the sixty minutes the subjects had to cycle to the point of exhaustion, whereby the intensity was increased every three minutes.

On one occasion the athletes were given 10 g BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine and valine in a ratio of 2:1:1) and 6 g ornithine aspartate, half an hour before they started cycling. After cycling for half an hour they were given another 6 g BCAAs and 6 g ornithine aspartate. The amino acids were dissolved in water.

On the other occasion the athletes were given water only.

The supplementation had little effect on the concentration of ammonia in the athletes' blood. The asterisk indicates the only point where there is statistically significant difference.

Athletes' reaction times improve with BCAA-ornithine combo

Twenty minutes after the combined exertion test the researchers did observe an effect of the supplementation. The amount of ammonia in the subjects' blood decreased significantly faster when they had taken BCAAs and ornithine aspartate.

Athletes' reaction times improve with BCAA-ornithine combo

The researchers measured the athletes' reaction speed just before they started cycling [Pre] and during the exercise test.

The asterisks in the figure below indicate when the athletes started to react significantly faster as a result of the BCAA and ornithine supplementation.

Athletes' reaction times improve with BCAA-ornithine combo

The figure below shows how the amino acids boosted the reaction time: they reduced the ratio of L-tryptophan [fTRP] to BCAAs in the blood.

Athletes' reaction times improve with BCAA-ornithine combo

The supplementation had no effect on fatigue or the speed at which the subjects were able to cycle.

"In summary, this study demonstrated that BCAAs plus ornithine aspartate supplementation, although effective in increasing blood concentrations of BCAA and aspartate supplementation, did not influence aerobic performance or rating of perceived exertion", the Poles wrote. "The most important finding is that, despite similar levels of ammonia in both trials, shorter multiple-choice reaction time at the end of strenuous exhaustive exercise and faster return to the pre-exercise resting values were observed only in the BCAAs plus ornithine aspartate trial."

The researchers were not funded by the supplements industry, but by the Polish government.

Folia Neuropathol 2015;53(4):377-86.

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