BCAAs are Branched Chain Amino Acids. They “are three amino acids with similar structures that beneficially influence the muscles.” Amino acids play central roles both as building blocks of proteins and as intermediates in metabolism. The three amino acids found in BCAA supplements are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Leucine is referred to as the “main” amino acid due to the most popular benefit of BCAAs (muscle building) being mostly due to leucine. This is the primary acid in those ratio counts, 2:1:1. 4:1:1, 8:1:1, 10:1:1, and 12:1:1. Isoleucine and Valine stay at one, so it’s important to focus on how Leucine affects the body and the way it helps our muscles grow. Leucine activates the protein known as mTOR, or Mechanistic target of rapamycin. It links with other proteins and serves as a core component that regulates cell growth.
So now that we know what that number that changes all the time is and what it does, let’s see why there’s such a variation on that first number.
When you work out is the most important time to take your BCAAs. You want that leucine to instigate the muscle protein synthesis – So, the more the better right? Well sometimes more isn’t always better. For example, a study was done where subjects were given one of three supplements. Leucine, 2:1:1 BCAAs, and a placebo. The results found the BCAAs increased the protein synthesis even better than leucine alone and the placebo. The same study also gave credit to the claim that BCAAs help to lessen fatigue as they are used by the muscles as a fuel source.
People often see the higher number for the “main” amino acid, and think this product is better. 10:1:1 ratio would be five times better than a 2:1:1 right? Well here’s the issue with that, there isn’t much research into higher ratio BCAA supplements to back that up. There was one done on a 4:1:1 ratio of essential amino acids, which stated that, “Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances post exercise muscle protein synthesis.”
But when considering a BCAA supplement, it’s best to go with the classic and proven. For the past 20 years we’ve had studies upon studies about the 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs, and none of higher ratios. If you’re serious about your workouts and nutrition, you won’t go experimenting with unproven methods of supplementation. Stick to the classic 2:1:1 which has proven muscle building effects, don’t go spending your money on something like a 10:1:1 ratio that’s twice the price with no research backing it.