Written by Ben Carlisle
Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022
Kimura Athletic may earn a small commission through our links. Learn more.
Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) supplementation is a great idea for anyone looking to gain muscle, lose fat, or improve their endurance. But what is BCAA 2:1:1, and why is it important?
BCAA 2:1:1 is a BCAA ratio. It describes the balance of leucine, isoleucine and valine in a BCAA supplement. When this ratio is used, for every gram of isoleucine and valine, there is two grams of the branched chain amino acid leucine. Research has found when a ration of between 1:1:1 and 2:1:1 (leucine:isoleucine:valine) is used optimal results are achieved (7).
Taking the 3 BCAA's together provides undeniable benefits. However, due to leucine's positive impact on protein synthesis, you may be tempted to take more leucine in your BCAA supplement. Especially if muscle building is your goal. However, supplementing with the wrong ratios may not yield optimal results. Read on to find out why...
BCAA 2:1:1 is the ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine in a branched chain amino acids supplement. In other words, there is twice as much leucine as there is isoleucine and valine. Ratios found in BCAA supplements include 2:1:1, 4:1:1, 3:1:2 and 10:1:1. The branched chain amino acid leucine is also often taken alone.
This is because leucine is the essential amino acid which plays a vital role in muscle protein synthesis. This role leads some to discount the roles played by the other 2 BCAA's isoleucine and valine. However, striking the right balance is important. Without the presence of valine and isoleucine, you will not be getting as much benefit from your training as you could be.
BCAA supplements will always use a higher ratio of leucine because of the role it plays in muscle protein synthesis. Leucine provides a signal indicating amino acids are available (1). This is achieved by activating a complex called mTOR, a catalyst for muscle protein synthesis (2). This in combination with the signal of energy availability from insulin, stimulates muscle protein synthesis (13).
For this reason, people believe a higher ratio of leucine will help promote muscle growth, which is why there’s twice as much leucine as isoleucine and valine in the 2:1:1 ratio. However, leucine taken without isoleucine and valine will not provide as much benefit for muscle protein synthesis.
Each of the BCAA's play an important role in muscle protein synthesis. This can be seem in a study on the effects of oral BCAA and leucine supplementation combined with lower-body resistance exercises (1). The study demonstrated how individuals who took all the BCAA supplements activated higher levels of 4E-BP1 than those taking leucine alone or placebos (2).
In other words, the other two BCAAs (isoleucine and valine) appear to contribute towards greater activation of 4E-BP1, which plays a key role in mTORC1 signaling to control translation and cell proliferation (1). Another study on the activation of mTORC1 found it is enhanced by leucine. This activation was enhanced even further when taken in conjunction with other amino acids (4).
Isoleucine, maintains your immune system’s basic functions (5). This plays a critical role in growth, protein metabolism, immunity, fatty acid metabolism, and glucose transportation. Due to the improved functionality, isoleucine can help you lose fat, as shown in studies with mice given the supplement and placebos. Those on isoleucine supplements lost weight faster than those on the placebo (8).
Valine is the BCAA which helps to delay fatigue and aids with muscle recovery. It stimulates muscle growth and tissue repair. Also by competing with tryptophan for transportation to the brain, it decreases brain 5-HT synthesis (5-HT is often referred to as serotonin). This means you will be able to push yourself harder, for a longer period in the gym or athletic competition. Serotonin causes fatigue and, because it is synthesised by tryptophan, fatigue will be delayed when valine is competing with it for transportation to the brain (6).
All three essential amino acids known as the branched-chain amino acids are important for optimal results. Valine and isoleucine play an important role. Taking leucine in isolation will only help with muscle protein synthesis, but not necessarily performance.
So, if you’re taking the appropriate ratios of these three amino acids, how will it help you with your recovery from intense exercise and perform better during your workout or in your chosen sport? Many benefits come with supplementing your diet and fitness routine with BCAA's, including the promotion of muscle growth, reduced exercise fatigue, muscle preservation, improved muscle recovery, and enhanced cognitive function.
BCAA's activate key enzymes in muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle degradation, along with increased anabolic effects during recovery, which will result in the accumulation of greater muscle mass (3, 9). Furthermore, these effects help to preserve muscle when exercising on a caloric deficit, and you will be able to maintain lean muscle mass when losing weight (7, 8). Additionally, BCAAs slow the transportation of tryptophan, which will delay the synthesis of serotonin, which causes fatigue (10).
BCAA's also aid with immune regulation before and after exercise, which helps your body to recover faster after your workouts, meaning that you’ll be able to get back to the gym in less time; making it easier for you to put the extra time in for the best results (11).
Finally, BCAA's can improve your cognitive functionality during exercise, allowing you to work out with better focus (12). Not only is the release of serotonin delayed, but it has also been found that plasma concentration is increased, which aids cognitive functionality.
BCAA's bring about multiple benefits such as improved muscle growth, cognitive functionality, reduced fatigue, and shortened recovery periods. However, even if you’re only taking BCAA's to gain muscle mass, you need to take advantage of these benefits by taking a combination of leucine, isoleucine, and valine for optimal results. BCAA 2:1:1 has been identified as the ideal ratio, and taking high concentrations of leucine will not help your performance. And finally it is important to remember, BCAA supplementation is not a replacement to a healthy diet, it must be used as a supplement to a healthy diet.