Essential branched chain amino acids (bcaa) are of particular importance for athletes as they act as an energy and anti-catabolic substrate.
On the market there are several BCAA supplements with different ratios of L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine and L-Valine. Especially 8:1:1, 4:1:1 and 2:1:1.
The amino acid L-Leucine is the KING
Leucine acts the the ignition key for starting up a car. The car, in this case, is a muscle cell or a fibre. The ignition activates the process of synthesis of muscle proteins (MPS), which develops muscle protein and leads to greater muscle growth. In more "scientific" terms, leucine activates a complex called mTOR, which increases muscle protein synthesis and therefore muscle growth.
What is the best BCAA ratio?
When leucine alone is not enough
Many products increase the ratio in favour of leucine up to 10:1:1 in some cases. Many people believe that given the fundamental role of leucine in muscle growth, a BCAA product with a 10:1: 1 ratio is five times better than one with a 2:1:1 ratio.
The most critical time to take BCAAs is during workouts, whether they are taken before, during or after. The reason lies in the fact that leucine plays an important role in stimulating the synthesis of muscle proteins. It is this fact that leads many people to take in a higher ratio of leucine compared to isoleucine and valine.
Some products also suggest giving up the other two BCAAs and taking only the leucine. This is a real mistake. A study carried out at Baylor University; Scientists gave men of university age a leucine-only supplement, a BCAA supplement in a 2:1:1 ratio or a placebo before and after a workout. They found that while leucine increased MPS after training better than the placebo, BCAAs increased protein synthesis better than leucine and the placebo. This is one of the reasons to stick to a 2:1:1 ratio (or something similar to it) when using BCAA supplements.
The role of BCAAs in increasing energy and reducing fatigue
Another reason for using a 2:1:1 BCAA supplement is to increase energy and reduce fatigue. BCAAs are used directly by muscle fibres as a source of fuel. This is especially true during intense training, such as weight training. Numerous studies suggest that using BCAA supplements before exercise stimulates muscle endurance. More importantly, the BCAAs help reduce fatigue during workouts. And this boils down to the role that valine plays in the body.
During exercise, tryptophan is absorbed by the brain in large quantities. Tryptophan is converted into 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), better known as serotonin, in the brain. Higher levels of serotonin during exercise signal to the brain that the body is fatigued. This leads to a reduction in muscle strength and endurance. Valine competes with tryptophan for entry into the brain. Typically, valine wins.
This means that when you take the valine in BCAA supplements before and / or during training, less tryptophan enters the brain to be converted to serotonin. This allows the muscles to contract more forcefully for a longer period before getting tired. In other words, you can perform more repetitions in the gym, recover more quickly between sets and maintain greater strength and endurance in the later part of the workouts.
If you are interested in maximising fat loss, there is yet another reason why a 2:1:1 ratio is the best. It is here that the isoleucine present in the BCAA comes into play. Isoleucine seems to play an important role in providing BCAAs with their fat burning benefits.
Isoleucine and fat burning
Japanese researchers found that mice treated with isoleucine while on a high fat diet gained far less fat than mice that did not take isoleucine supplements. This was due to the ability of isoleucine to activate special receptors, known as PPARs, which increase fat burning and inhibit fat storage. PPAR works to increase the activity of genes that encourage greater fat burning in the body while decreasing the activity of genes that normally increase fat storage. This leads to a greater ability to burn fat with less chance of storing it.
It has been found that using a BCAA supplement that has a much higher ratio than 2:1:1 can work against you with regard to energy, fat loss and even muscle growth. Some high-ratio BCAA products provide only 500 mg or less of valine and isoleucine. These quantities are not sufficient to maximise muscular protein synthesisand the consequent muscle growth.
When should you take BCAA with a ratio of 4:1:1 or 8:1:1?
The advice is to stick to BCAA products that use a 2:1:1 ratio that provides at least 1 gram of isoleucine and 1 gram of valine per dose. But, if you are looking for optimal gains, the best solution is to get at least 4 grams of leucine per dose. It is the minimum amount recommended to optimise mTOR activation and maximise muscle protein synthesis.
A 4:1:1 ratio can be useful for post-training to start protein synthesis. Just be sure to get at least 1 g of isoleucine valine after workouts, along with at least 4 g of leucine.