BCAA supplements have become a staple in most bodybuilders and weightlifter’s nutrition regimen. There are truly tons of products out there that have the same basic profile, so how does one separate the good from the bad? There are some simple rules when picking a BCAA supplement to add to your nutrition plan. BCAA’s consist of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. All three are important for maintaining proper muscle formation and recovery. Leucine is the most well known because it stimulates production of muscle mass through the mTOR pathway and thus many formula’s have higher Leucine than the others.
WHEN TO TAKE BCAA’s?
There are as many theories on proper nutrient timing as there are ways to work out but there are some basic rules for BCAA supplementation that seem to be universally accepted as “valid” and luckily there are not that many of them.
You can basically look at taking a BCAA product one of four basic ways:
- Intraworkout – you mix your BCAA in 16-24 oz of water and sip while you are working out. You don’t want a lot of extra garbage in your BCAA supplement if you take this because the key here is quick delivery of the BCAA to the muscle while working. This has mixed data while it seems to help in some respects, it may diminish gains in other areas.
- Post Workout – you mix your BCAA’s in with your protein shake. This seems to be a very good way to utilize BCAA drinks since they can add much needed Leucine free form to the shake and deliver this important nutrient when you need it most.
- With Meals – drink BCAA’s with every meal like any other drink. This is ideal for people who eat a lot of chicken as their primary protein source and for vegan bodybuilders since the extra BCAA’s will give you a boost of this all important nutrient.
- Before Bed – along with slow release carbs and protein, a BCAA drink is idea right before bed. Make sure it has carbs and protein with it to help better utilize these for repair.
THE PROPER RATIO
With BCAA drinks there is a mix of Leucine to Isoleucine to Valine and there are many theories on what is the proper ratio of these three important amino acids. Without the others, Leucine will not build muscle however what is the proper amount to take? The answer is “it depends”
2:1:1 was the standard for many years, which means that you get 2g of Leucine for every 1g of Isoleucine and Valine. This seems like a good ratio in many ways, because you are getting a higher dose of Leucine, which is the heavy lifter of the three. This also mirror’s the amino acid profile of whey protein, which is 2:1:1 on it’s ratio. Thus it seems like a good place to start and is the amino acid profile for those that get the majority of their protein from Whey Shakes and Beef with a general mixed diet.
4:1:1 makes an even bigger leap due to the enhanced Leucine to IsoLeucine and Valine ratio. You are getting double the amount of Leucine as the above ratio and certainly is a great addition for people that get the majority of their protein from eggs and chicken/turkey. Eggs, chicken and turkey don’t have a double Leucine content, thus it is good to supplement with extra in comparison to other diets.
8:1:1 is even a wider gap and gives you a mind blowing 8x the amount of Leucine as the other two amino acids. 8g Leucine to 1g Isoleucine to 1g Valine. This ratio is best for people that get the majority of their protein from vegan sources. Most plant proteins don’t have a high ratio of Leucine to the others amino acids, thus these individuals need far more than the average person. Thus, for Vegan and plant protein people, the 8:1:1 ratio is the best.
WHAT KIND OF BCAA SUPPLEMENT?
The final category comes down to taste and flavor. BCAA’s plain are slightly bitter and not something you want to chug alone. If you mix it with a sports drink or other flavored drink, it’s fine to use them unflavored. You have much more versatility that way.
After that it comes down to the proper flavor for your tastes mixed with the proper ratio for your diet.
Our top pick for a BCAA supplement is Chained Out by ALR which is a good basic BCAA product with a lot of extra co-factors in there.