WHAT ARE BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. BCAAs provide the basis for protein synthesis and energy production. In fact, BCAAs can comprise up to one-third of muscle protein. Because of their prevalence and involvement in protein synthesis and energy production, BCAAs are important to many metabolic processes.

The BCAAs themselves contribute directly to muscle hypertrophy and recovery. In a 2010 study published in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” it was shown that BCAA supplementation reduced delayed-onset muscle soreness. For endurance athletes, BCAA supplementation has been shown to increase the lactate threshold, or point at which exercise stops using your oxygen systems as a primary source of fuel. A 2009 study in the “Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology” displayed an increase in endurance exercise capacity following BCAA supplementation.

However, if BCAAs are going to participate in these processes, they must be available to the body. This means we have to eat enough BCAAs, and at the right times, to enable such processes to occur.

WHAT IS THE BEST BCAA RATIO?

You know that Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are important for your muscle growth and energy, but you may not know what the best BCAA ratio is.

Many products offer a much higher ratio in favour of leucine, some at 8:1:1 and some even at 10:1:1.

In the minds of people, the product that proposes a 10:1:1 ratio is 5 times better than a 2:1:1 product.

But before going to spend your hard-earned money on these allegedly superior products, it’s better to be informed.

The most crucial time to take BCAAs is around your workout, whether you take it before, during or after (yes, it is in addition to your BCAA-rich protein that you need to take). One reason for this is that you need a lot of leucine to induce the synthesis of muscle proteins. This is what leads many people to assume that the highest ratio is the best.

Some products even suggest that you should give up the other 2 amino acids and just take leucine. This is a BIG MISTAKE.

WHY ARE OTHER COMPANIES USING RATIOS LIKE 4:1:1 AND 10:1:1?

It’s a really good question. Most companies will roll out the same excuse, L-leucine is the most anabolic so we add more, and whilst this is true you will end up negating the benefits derived from Isoleucine and Valine. The only time extra L-leucine is of benefit is post workout when all we really want to do is boost protein synthesis, and you can do this with a post workout whey supplement.

Higher ratios such as 4:1:1, 8:1:1 and 12:1:1 ratios are significantly cheaper to manufacture

This is the main reason why some companies sell these ratios. The black and white fact is that L-leucine is nearly 50-60% cheaper than Valine and 60-70% cheaper than Isoleucine. You would expect that the products with those ratios are much cheaper as a result, however that is not the case and as a result it’ll be more profitable for that said company.

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T GO FOR HIGHER RATIOS?

Based on a study that contrasted simple leucine versus the other three with a ratio of 2:1:1.

Baylor University scientists have given college-aged men a leucine supplement and a BCAA 2: 1: 1 supplement, and split them into 2 groups, each group had to do workout, and they noticed that the group which have taken higher Leucine supplements suffered from muscle pain or myofascial pain syndrome.

But BCAAs with 2:1:1 ratio increase protein synthesis even better than leucine. This is one of the reasons why you should choose a ratio of 2:1:1 (or something close) when it comes to supplementing you.

Another reason to use a ratio of 2:1:1 is to increase your energy and reduce your fatigue. BCAAs are used directly by muscle fibers as a source of fuel. This is especially true during intense exercise, like bodybuilding (with minimal intensity).

During exercise, tryptophan is taken up by the brain in large quantities. This tryptophan is converted in your brain into 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), better known as serotonin.

These high levels of serotonin during exercise tell your brain that your body is tired. This leads to a decrease in your muscle strength and endurance.

Valine competes with tryptophan to enter the brain. As you would expect, the valine wins.

This means that when you take BCAA valine before and / or during your training, less tryptophanes enter your brain to be converted to serotonin. This allows your muscles to contract with more force for a longer time before getting tired.

In other words:

  • You can achieve more repetitions
  • You will recover faster between sets
  • You will maintain better endurance during the last part of your training.

Valine can also help you stay more alert (focus) and keep your brain more active during the day when you are not training.

For these reasons, it is recommend that you choose a 2:1:1 BCAA ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine when you take a dietary supplement with BCAAs before, during and / or after your workout session.

STIMULATES FAT LOSS

If you want to maximize your fat loss, there is still a reason why the ratio of 2:1:1 is the best. This is due to the inclusion of isoleucine. Isoleucine appears to play a major role in providing BCAAs with an anti-fat benefit.

Japanese researchers have found that mice that received isoleucine with a high-fat diet have less fats than mice that did not receive additional isoleucine.

This is due to the ability of isoleucine to activate special receptors called PPAR, which increase fat burning and inhibit fat storage.

PPAR works to increase the activity of genes that promote greater fat burning in the body while decreasing the activity of genes that normally increase fat storage.

It turns out that the use of a BCAA dietary supplement with a ratio higher than 2:1:1: can play against you in terms of energy, fat loss and even muscle gain.

CONCLUSION

Make sure to read the ingredients on the back of the labels. Do not fall for the unethical marketing tactics of some companies. Stick to the only scientifically tested and proven 2:1:1 BCAA ratio.

Keeping that in mind, some BCAA products with a high ratio only provide 500mg or less of valine and isoleucine. Avoid these as the quantities are not enough to maintain your energy and contain your fatigue during your workouts. It may also not be sufficient to maximize the synthesis of muscle proteins and the resulting muscle growth.

References: 

www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-bcaas

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3313152

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26853239

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7723664

www.thewheyprotein.com/what-is-the-best-bcaa-ratio-for-bodybuilders

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