Branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine) are popular workout supplements, especially if you are building muscle strength.

BCAA supplements come in a variety of different ratios. It often leads to confusion on which is the best BCAA ratio.

I often wondered which was better myself, so I decided it was time to answer this question once and for all.

BCAAs are a subset of essential amino acids. These amino acids have to be taken in through our diet because our bodies are unable to naturally produce them.

We’ll discuss the benefits of BCAAs in a few.

First, you have to know that there are a few different branched-chain amino acid ratios. Each ratio is composed of 3 numbers.

The first number represents leucine, the second number is isoleucine, and the last one is valine.

spoon with powder

Each number represents how many grams you can find of that amino acid.

You may be wondering how much you’re supposed to take, and I’ll be discussing that later on.

Now that we know how to read the ratio, we can talk about the different BCAA ratios.

2:1:1

The 2:1:1 ratio is one of the most popular ratios out there. It’s the most common because a 2:1:1 ratio is all you need to benefit from BCAAs.

BCAAs use muscle fibers as a fuel source. A 2:1:1 ratio provides just enough of the essential amino acids to create muscle protein synthesis. Protein synthesis helps repair muscle damage.

3:1:1

The 3:1:1 BCAA ratio has a little more leucine, but it doesn’t necessarily make it better for you. I found a few products that had this 3:1:1 ratio, but none of them could explain the benefits of adding more leucine.

I could only think of one benefit of 3:1:1. Depending on the serving size, you might not have to take as much compared to the 2:1:1 ratio. It doesn’t appear that the 3:1:1 BCAA ratio is more beneficial to your body.

8:1:1

I’ve seen BCAA supplements with an 8:1:1 ratio. While they are uncommon, they exist. Companies claim that by adding more leucine, you get a better chance of creating muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth.

I’m not entirely sure if this is true. It seems you are already getting the amount you need in the previous ratios I mentioned.

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What Are The Benefits of BCAAs?

bcaa benefit

There are many benefits of BCAAs, which is why it has become such a popular supplement, especially when stacked with whey protein. Here’s what you could gain by taking BCAAs.

  • Increase energy metabolism
  • Increase muscle growth
  • Decrease soreness
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Prevent muscle wasting
  • Could support fat loss
  • Enhance gym performance
  • Improve strength training

It is also sometimes compared to glutamine, another amino acid. Here’s a detailed BCAA and Glutamine comparison.

What makes BCAAs unique is that they can be oxidized in the muscles for fuel. They work to prevent muscle breakdown during exercise, and are beneficial after exercise by stimulating muscle building and promoting recovery.

- Angie Asche, R.D.

What Does Leucine Do?

eggs on table

Leucine gets the most credit for muscle protein synthesis and repair.

It’s possible to get leucine from your diet. You’re probably already consuming eggs, chicken, or a whey protein shake. A soy protein shake can also have a high amount of leucine.

Taking a leucine supplement is a common choice in the bodybuilding world if you believe your diet isn’t enough.

Your body takes a beating with weight training. It often causes something called muscle breakdown. Leucine has the opposite reaction and is used to repair muscles and help them grow.

Studies have mixed results on if leucine can help with resistance exercise. One study found that it didn’t improve muscle mass [1]. A different study suggested that it could help with muscle strength and resistance training [2].

The studies only looked at leucine alone. Combining them with the other two amino acids-isoleucine and valine-may have different results.

Does That Mean You Should Skip The Other Two Amino Acids?

amino acids

You still want to have the other two branched-chain amino acids. Leucine can do a lot on its own, but the isoleucine and valine have additional bonuses.

They might help protein synthesis for muscle growth. It’s hard to separate the benefits of BCAAs and deduce that only leucine caused them to happen.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of isoleucine and valine.

What Does Isoleucine Do?

Pectoralis major muscle

One of the unique aspects of isoleucine is that it can break down in muscle tissue for energy.

Like the other two BCAAs, it can also induce protein synthesis. It’s not as strong as leucine, but it’s more robust compared to valine.

There haven’t been any studies on humans, but there’s an interesting theory behind isoleucine.

It could be more effective than leucine to increase glucose into the muscle cells [3]. It’s a necessary process to give your muscles more energy.

Even though leucine is not a strong protein synthesis starter, it may be a better energy source compared to leucine.

What Does Valine Do?

Based on what I said about leucine and isoleucine, you would think that valine is the weak link.

It can induce muscle growth and repair tissue, but it could affect serotonin levels. When you exercise, it creates serotonin. When your body has a lot of serotonin, it signals to your body that you’re tired.

Valine can stop the production of serotonin and stop the feeling of fatigue. It would enable your body to increase endurance. Consequently, it affects your muscle growth.

So far, the theory has only been tested on animals [4], but it’s an exciting potential benefit of valine.

What Should I Look For In A BCAA Supplement?

man taking medicine

There are a few things I recommend looking for in a BCAA supplement.

First, check the BCAAs ratio. You should quickly identify how much you are getting.

I would also study the ingredient list. A lot of times, some companies will put in ingredients that don’t live up to their hype.

While you’re looking at the ingredient list, look out for artificial sweeteners or dyes. Don’t forget to check out proprietary blends. It’s a sneaky way for companies to hide ingredient amounts from you.

FAQs

woman drinking bcaa

Which BCAA Ratio Is Best For Bodybuilding?

The best BCAA ratio for bodybuilding is the 2:1:1 ratio. Even though you might think the more leucine you get equals more muscle, that’s not always true. Taking more than you need could lead to having no extra benefit.

The 2:1:1 ratio gives you the right amino acid amount for muscle building.

Which BCAA Ratio Is Best For Weight Loss?

The best BCAA ratio for weight loss is the 2:1:1 ratio. Isoleucine is the most crucial amino acid for fat loss. It helps increase fat loss by activating special receptors called PPAR. It then creates an environment for fat loss and decrease activity that causes fat storage.

Since most people use BCAAs for muscle growth, I would double-check the ingredients to ensure that you aren’t consuming more calories than you need.

When Should I Take BCAAs?

You should take BCAAs before, during, or after your workout for maximum results. There isn’t a lot of evidence that one specific time is better, but it is widely suggested that the closer you take it to your exercises, the better the results.

The one exception might be if you are taking BCAA drinks in the pre-workout format. As the name suggests, you should consume it before working out.

Is Leucine The Most Important BCAA?

Leucine is not necessarily the most important BCAA. It’s vital for muscle protein synthesis, and some would argue that leucine is king.

Yet it can’t function entirely without it’s two best friends: isoleucine and valine. A BCAA supplement wouldn’t be as effective without all three amino acids.

Should I Take BCAAs Every Day?

You could take BCAAs every day. You can even take BCAA with your pre-workout or post-workout protein. There are scientific suggestions that taking BCAAs every day could help with muscle recovery [5].

There are a variety of factors that could affect this, including your body weight, long-term usage, and possibly splitting your daily serving into two different doses.

What Is The Recommended Daily Intake For BCAA?

The recommended daily intake for BCAA for the average person is 5-12 grams of BCAA. An athlete might need 10-20 grams per day.

It’s best to consult with a health professional to determine what is the best dosage for your needs.

Conclusion

The best ratio for BCAA intake seems to be 2:1:1. It’s what you need to get the right amino acids in your system. No more, no less.

Each of the three BCAAs has an essential role in growing your muscle mass with some other potential health perks too.

When combined with other nutrients like protein intake, then you are on the right track for optimal health.

Take the time to ensure your BCAA supplement is working for you and not against you. It could save you from spending money on products that you don’t need. It could also help you achieve the body composition that you want to have.

References:

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/9/972
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165%2F00007256-199927060-00001#citeas
  3. https://examine.com/supplements/isoleucine/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11510866
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28934166

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