A role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue

J Nutr. 2006 Feb;136(2):544S-547S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.2.544S.


Several factors have been identified to cause peripheral fatigue during exercise, whereas the mechanisms behind central fatigue are less well known. Changes in the brain 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) level is one factor that has been suggested to cause fatigue. The rate-limiting step in the synthesis of 5-HT is the transport of tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. This transport is influenced by the fraction of tryptophan available for transport into the brain and the concentration of the other large neutral amino acids, including the BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), which are transported via the same carrier system. Studies in human subjects have shown that the plasma ratio of free tryptophan (unbound to albumin)/BCAAs increases and that tryptophan is taken up by the brain during endurance exercise, suggesting that this may increase the synthesis of 5-HT in the brain. Ingestion of BCAAs increases their concentration in plasma. This may reduce the uptake of tryptophan by the brain and also 5-HT synthesis and thereby delay fatigue. Accordingly, when BCAAs were supplied to human subjects during a standardized cycle ergometer exercise their ratings of perceived exertion and mental fatigue were reduced, and, during a competitive 30-km cross-country race, their performance on different cognitive tests was improved after the race. In some situations the intake of BCAAs also improves physical performance. The results also suggest that ingestion of carbohydrates during exercise delays a possible effect of BCAAs on fatigue since the brain's uptake of tryptophan is reduced.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / administration & dosage
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / pharmacokinetics
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / pharmacology*
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / therapeutic use
  • Ammonia / blood
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Fatigue / diet therapy*
  • Fatigue / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / metabolism


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin
  • Ammonia