Scientific Basis Overview

The reason people take AA supplements is to increase muscle size or performance. The metabolic basis for increased muscle strength and size is stimulation of muscle PS to a rate that exceeds breakdown losses. Individual AA or mixtures of AA have been studied and applied in practice for their abilities to:

  • Increase anabolic hormone levels, specifically GH41162
  • Contribute to cell swelling (volume)163
  • Enhance NO production164
  • Increase the rate of muscle PS159

The above actions can be modulated by intakes of AA, giving rise to some of the rationale for their use by athletes. The sections below address the scientific rationale and current evidence for each of these four categories as follows:

  1. The use of various AAs to increase the natural release of GH from the pituitary gland in hopes of enhancing exercise-induced muscle development: A summary of current evidence indicates that the use of AA supplementation to stimulate GH release is unlikely to enhance exercise-induced results.
  2. The use of AA blends to enhance cell swelling with the goal of producing a greater anabolic environment in muscle cells: Although cellular evidence exists for cell swelling to enhance PS, it is not known if this translates to a significant effect in muscle cells of athletes. Studies are reviewed on the AAs directly involved in cell volume regulation to illustrate the rationale for certain AA blends used in dietary supplements targeting athletes.
  3. The use of NO boosters for the purpose of stimulating vasodilatation, with hopes of increasing blood flow to working muscles: Very little research related to healthy athletes exists for this category. A brief summary of current rationale and related data is presented.
  4. The use of AA combinations by athletes for the purposes of (a) increasing the rate of muscle PS to hasten recovery following intense workouts and (b) increasing long-term muscle protein accretion (muscle hypertrophy): Volumes of literature exist on the effects of AAs on PS following exercise, especially during the post-exercise timeframe when the working muscles' sensitivity to incoming nutrients is at its greatest. The main focus is on the use of AA blends in PS.

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