Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are neutral amino acids with a branched chain of aliphatic hydrocarbon on an α-carbon, and include L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine and L-Valine. BCAAs are essential amino acids, which cannot be synthesized in human body and must be absorbed from food. BCAAs mainly metabolize in skeletal muscle, accounting for 35 percent of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins. BCAAs have functions of anti-fatigue,1,2 improving protein synthesis,3 enhancing immunity, extending life span,4 and, in particular, resisting muscle breakdown and nutrient loss, increasing muscle compression resistance, and enhancing protein anabolism and muscle synthesis during post-workout period. Bodybuilders and athletes find it a necessary dietary supplement.
While sports and performance are the primary uses for BCAAs, they are also finding applications on immunity and sarcopenia prevention in the elderly.5
Applications for ordinary people are emerging. Evidence shows that the nutraceutical drink of the future will be healthier, more natural, and delivered in a ready-to-mix and ready-to-drink (RTD) form for the convenience and portability of today’s consumers.
At present, BCAA products are mainly sold in tablet,capsule and powder formats. BCAA sports beverage and energy drinks are barely seen.This is directly related to the nature of BCAAs, which have resulted in many challenges in applications.
■ Poor Aqueous Solubility: L-Leucine, L-isoleucine andL-valine arepoorly soluble in water because of their crystalline structure, which leads to bad hydrophilicity. Thus,BCAAs’ molecular surface cannot be quickly humidified and dissolved accordingly, which greatly confines BCAA in aqueous applications.
■ Unfavorable taste: BCAAs’ bitterness is awful and unacceptable if taken directly as an ingredient in foods or beverages. Normally, a sweetener or sugar coating is used as a way to improve the overall taste. As a consequence,such usages will certainly change the flavor of a food or beverage, which is not acceptable. And, sugar coating is only suitable for tableting.
■ Poor stability: BCAAs are also susceptible to the influence of external materials. The addition of polyols and minerals will initiate a chemical reaction that generates trace amounts of nitrogen oxides resulting in an odor. At the same time,a browning reaction will cause BCAA products to change a yellowish color and develop unfavorable tastes.
■ Low bioavailability: When simply mixing the three single BCAAs and processing into conventional BCAA powder preparations, the large specific volume (low bulk density)is difficult to consume. Because a daily intake of 5-20g BCAAs are needed to achieve an expected effect, it is burdensome for consumers to take multiple servings of tablet or capsules. For example, a 300mg tablet or capsule means an efficacious daily dose requires16-66 tablets or capsules!
Furthermore, bad hydrophilic performance leads to poor dissolution with water in the digestive system that affects absorption. Bioavailability is much lower.
Preparation techniques and application solutions
A variety of methods have been applied in order to solve the above-mentioned challenges in applications. The purpose is to make it more convenient to consume and to improve bioavailability.
■ Chemical derivatives: This method synthesizes the BCAA salt by chemical reaction to increase solubility and improve the dispersionrate. But, higher processing cost will in turn raise the sale price of such BCAA derivatives 2-3 times of the conventional BCAAs. Examples are BCAA ethyl ester hydrochloride and BCAA AKG.
■ Lowspecific volume (high density): This method increases the specific gravity and decreases the volume of a single dose by adding binders, granulating and extruding. BCAA products are available in tablets and capsules, but the daily intake is still inconvenient and involves swallowing many pills.
■ Micronized: This method mills BCAAs into a micronized powder in order to increase the dissolution rate while adding sweeteners to cover bitterness. However,the results turn out to be disappointing.
■ Instantized: Japanese company Ajinomoto developed this method under a patented technology. The instantized BCAAs can disperse fast in water, but the solution is turbid, which is not appealing.
The pitch: Synnovo Instantized BCAAs
The techniques mentioned above have different drawbacks or disadvantages, which do not fundamentally solve the problems in terms of poor applicability, intake difficulty, low bioavailability or higher dosage cost. The Synnovo Instantized BCAA developed by Innobio Ltd represents a technical innovation and breakthrough.
The key is in its microencapsulation technology, which can significantly increase hydrophilic performance and humidifying rate of the BCAA particle, mask bitterness and unfavorable odor, thereby resulting in improved stability.The result is also consistent instantizing properties without color change after a shelf life of two years.
Users only need to apply a measured dose into a given amount of water; the product will disperse quickly and form a transparent solution in a short time by gently shaking the container. Furthermore, the solution tastes good with no foaming or floating residue.
Evaluation and analysis
Synnovo’s Instantized BCAAis a solution for the problem of poor applicability due to BCAA’s low solubility, instability, bad taste and odor. Sensory evaluation should include dispersion properties, dissolution and clarifying rate in water, solution turbidity, taste and shelf life stability. In the sensory evaluation of market samples, many so-called instantized BCAA products fall short – some have low dispersion rates, some lack transparency in aqueous solutions and become turbid with foaming and floating residue. These sensory defects are distasteful to the consumer when consumed. When floating residue particles are present, these contribute to poor mouthfeel.
Evaluation of taste and stability is also important. Only instantized BCAAs manufactured by a microencapsulation process can effectively mask the bitterness of BCAA, protect from cross-contamination by other ingredients and improve stability. Stability evaluation includes anti-hygroscopic property, consistent solubility and color change.
• Proprietary microencapsulation technology
• Good hydrophilic performance
• Fast dispersing and dissolving rate in water
• Forming a clear and transparent solution, no foaming, no residue and float
• Good stability, high temperature resistance without color change and smell
² Steady instantizing properties within two years’ shelf life
• Acceptable odor and taste
• 98% minimum of high BCAA total purity
• Easy absorption and improved bioavailability
Wenzhong Wu is president of Innobio Ltd, based in Dalian, China. www.innobio.cn
1. Yunjie Xu, Rejun Fang, Anti-fatigue Effects of Branched Chain Amino Acid [J], Amino Acid and Biological Resources, 2008,21(1):65-69.
2. Zhi Xia, Yuanwu Chen, Zongli Shu, Research of Effects of Branched Chain Amino Acids on Motion (review) [J], Anhui Sports Science and Technology, 2005, 12（6)：60-62.
3. LuYu, Shuzhe Ding, Favorable Utility of Physiological Function When Branched Chain Amino Acids Supplied During Sports [J]. Journal of Nanjing Institute of Physical Education (natural science edition), 2009, 9:41-42.
4. Giuseppe D’Antona, Maurizio Ragni, et al, Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation Promotes Survival and Supports Cardiac and Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Biogenes in Middle-Aged Mice [J],Cell Metabolism, 2010,12:62-372.
5. Masaru Ohtani, Shigeo Kawada,Taizo Sekiet. Amino acid and vitamin supplementation improved health conditions in elderly participants. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2012 March; 50(2):162-168.