What Does a 2:1:1 BCAA Ratio Mean?
Of the nine essential amino acids required from food to build lean muscle tissue, three of them are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and they work synergistically in the body to improve protein synthesis and fat metabolism.
In this article, you will learn what these nutrients are and how to supplement with them for better performance and muscle growth.
What Are BCAAs?
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids—a group of three essential amino acids known as leucine, isoleucine, and valine. As building blocks of protein, your body doesn't naturally produce essential amino acids—they have to be obtained from food or supplements to prevent deficiency.
Leucine is a BCAA responsible for wound healing, muscle repair, and stimulating the production of growth hormone in the pituitary gland. Beef, salmon, soybeans, garbanzo beans, nuts, eggs, and brown rice are rich in leucine, making them ideal protein sources. The recommended daily leucine intake for adult men and women is 39 mg for each kilogram of body weight.
Isoleucine is an isomer of leucine, which means it's made up of the same atoms in a different arrangement. Besides fueling muscle growth, this branched-chain amino acid also plays a role in the body's production of hemoglobin and in regulating blood sugar. The daily required intake for adults is 20 mg of isoleucine per kg of body weight.
Valine is found naturally in fish, meat, soy, peanuts, cheese, mushrooms, vegetables, and whole grains. It's vital for your focus and mood, as well as muscle coordination. The amount of valine you need per day is 26 mg for every kg of body weight.
Why 2:1:1 Is the Best BCAA Ratio
The optimal BCAA ratio is 2:1:1, with two parts leucine for one part isoleucine and one part valine. The reason for this unequal ratio isn't because leucine is more important than the other BCAAs. Rather, the 2:1:1 BCAA ratio is the best to optimize protein synthesis and fat burning.
The Best Ratio for Muscle Building
Evidence suggests supplementing with BCAAs at a 2:1:1 ratio can help you put on more lean muscle faster. The ratio is optimized for building muscle, whereas increasing leucine relative to the other two doesn't produce added benefits. In an eight-week study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, weightlifters taking 14 grams of BCAAs daily gained 4.4 lbs more muscle on average compared to weightlifters supplementing with 28 grams of whey protein powder.
The BCAA 2:1:1 Ratio Burns More Fat
While there's no "miracle pill" for weight loss, the 2:1:1 ratio helps you burn fat more efficiently by activating receptors called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs). When activated, they lower the activity of genes involved in fat deposition. Basically, it signals to your body to prioritize burning fat as energy over storing it. In research on mice, 2:1:1 BCAAs were shown to promote the breakdown of fat, lower triglycerides, and reduce fat mass.
How to Benefit from 2:1:1 BCAA
Take 2:1:1 BCAA Before Your Workout
A 2013 study on cyclists found that BCAA intake 10 minutes before an endurance workout sustained energy levels longer and lessened muscle damage than a placebo. This suggests BCAA is rapidly and easily utilized once in the bloodstream. Pre-workout BCAA can potentially enhance energy utilization and muscle coordination during exercise to optimize performance.
Meanwhile, another study showed that BCAAs one hour before exercise increased serotonin levels and delayed fatigue symptoms in endurance runners.
Replenish with 2:1:1 BCAA During Long Workouts
Water can typically replenish you during workouts 30 minutes or shorter, depending on the intensity of the workout. Longer workouts benefit from adding carbs, electrolytes, and amino acids through a sports drink or gel.
Taking a 2:1:1 BCAA supplement and drinking a sports drink or gel during your long workouts can keep your muscles nourished. This makes a difference in reducing muscle damage—the "wear and tear" from high-intensity exercise that leads to inflammation.
Use 2:1:1 BCAA in Your Post-Workout Protein Shake
Protein makes up the main component of skeletal muscles, and faster protein synthesis translates to faster muscle repair. To see faster recoveries and gains between workouts, makes BCAA a part of your post-workout (many protein powders have BCAAs included in their formulations). Taken after your workout for recovery, BCAA encourages protein synthesis and boosts the metabolism of protein used to proliferate new muscle cells.
In a study published in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers gave athletes either BCAA or a placebo to ingest immediately following a strength training workout. Blood samples taken before and after exercise showed that those given BCAA showed a higher rate of myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis, or myofibrillar-MPS.