Trying to figure out what the best bcaa ratio is can be confusing especially with so many options lining the shelves of your local Vitamin Shoppe and Amazon search pages. Is it 2:1:1? 4:1:1? Or maybe even 10:1:1? We’re going to find out what the best bcaa ratio is and just what 2:1:1 actually means.
What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)?
If you’re reading this, then I’m guessing you have some semblance of what branched-chain amino acids (BCAA)s are and what they do. BCAAs help with the muscle building and rebuilding process also known as protein synthesis. BCAAs are composed of L-Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine and the ratio of BCAAs conveys how many parts of each amino acid create a product.
For example, Swolverine’s BCAA contains
2,000 mg L-Leucine
1,000 mg L-Isoleucine
1,000 mg L-Valine
which creates a 2:1:1 ratio.
The reason why most BCAA supplements contain a greater amount of L-Leucine is that it has a higher oxidation rate than isoleucine and valine. Leucine is also the most critical branched-chain amino acid in the muscle building process and ignites protein synthesis [R]. But, before you go Amazon shopping for a 4:1:1 BCAA, keep reading friend.
RELATED ARTICLE Do BCAAs Really Work? And What Do BCAAs Do?
What Are The Benefits Of BCAAs?
BCAAs have the greatest benefit on optimizing body composition, by directly decreasing body fat, increasing lean muscle mass, and increasing muscle strength.
In a randomized, double-blind controlled study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 36 male athletes were randomly assigned to receive either 14 grams of BCAAs (n = 12), 28 grams of whey protein (n = 12), or 28 grams of carbohydrates from a sports drink (n = 12) while performing an eight-week resistance-training program. The BCAA group experienced a significantly greater gain in body weight, lean mass, increased strength, and decreased body fat than the whey and carbohydrate group [R].
BCAAs also help fight muscle fatigue and promote endurance during high intensity training or resistance exercise [R]. Several factors are known to cause fatigue during intense bouts of exercise. Changes in the brain 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) level is one mechanism that has been suggested as a potential factor to cause fatigue. During exercise, tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it is then converted to 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), or what’s better known as serotonin. Having higher serotonin levels during exercise signals the brain that your body is fatigued, which translates into less muscular endurance and strength.
Transport of 5-HT is influenced by the available amount of tryptophan and other available amino acids including BCAAs, which are transported along the same carrier pathway. While BCAAs and tryptophan compete to get across the blood-brain barrier, BCAAs typically win the battle every time. That means that by supplementing with BCAAs before or during your workout, less tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier, meaning less tryptophan gets converted into serotonin, resulting in greater muscular endurance and less fatigue [R].
What’s The Best BCAA Ratio?
The 2:1:1 BCAA ratio is always the best. We know that Leucine has the greatest anabolic effects on protein synthesis, therefore having a larger ration of leucine, to isolceuine and valine should increase muscle strength and lean muscle mass right? Not necessarily. Studies show that taking a 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs stimulates protein synthesis even better, than taking leucine in higher ratios or leucine alone. Therefore a 2:1:1 ratio will be better to activate protein synthesis than a 4:1:1 or 10:1:1 ratio.
In A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted at Baylor University, 30 were administered BCAA, Leucine, or placebo. The supplements were consumed in three equal doses pre, immediately before resistance training, and post workout. The results indicated that both leucine and BCAA supplementation led to greater levels of phosphorylated 4E-BP1 and cell signaling of the mTOR pathway, a serine/threonine kinase which stimulates protein synthesis through amino acid activation. These findings suggest that the other two BCAAs [isoleucine and valine] may contribute to greater activation rates than leucine alone [R]. Furthermore, the study concluded that supplementing BCAAs had greater effects on mTOR than taking greater amounts of leucine alone.
Best BCAA Ratio: Takeaway
If you’re looking to find out what the best BCAA ratio is, go with a product that has a 2:1:1. Every randomized controlled trial conducted has used a 2:1:1 ratio to determine performance improvements and efficacy standards. A 2:1:1 ratio has also been suggested as having the greatest effect on mTOR activation and muscle protein synthesis. If you really want to optimize your athletic performance and maximize muscle growth and strength supplement with a BCAA that has a 2:1:1 ratio pre and post workout, in addition to your post workout protein shake.
Looking for an amazing BCAA with the perfect 2:1:1 ratio?
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Mero A. Leucine supplementation and intensive training. Sports Med. 1999;27(6):347-58.
Stoppani, Jim et al. “2009 international society of sports nutrition conference and expo new orleans, la, USA. 14-15 june 2009. Abstracts.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 6 Suppl 1,Suppl 1 P1-P19. 31 Jul. 2009, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-S1-P1
La Bounty, Paul et al. “The effects of oral BCAAs and leucine supplementation combined with an acute lower-body resistance exercise on mTOR and 4E-BP1 activation in humans: preliminary findings.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 5,Suppl 1 P21. 17 Sep. 2008, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-S1-P21
De Lorenzo, A., et al. Effect of acute and chronic branched-chain amino acids on energy metabolism and muscle performance.Diabetes Nutr Metab. 2003 Oct-Dec;16(5-6):291-7.
Blomstrand E. A role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue. J Nutr. 2006;136(2):544S-547S.