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The Best Way to Use BCAAs

Get the best results possible from your BCAA supplement by knowing the ideal amino acid ratio, how much to take, and when to take it.

Best Way to Use BCAAs

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have become all the rage, even though the benefits of BCAAs have long been known to increase energy levels, blunt fatigue, drive muscle growth, aid fat loss, boost brain power, and even elongate life.

The three amino acids that comprise the BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine is the MVP when it comes to boosting muscle protein synthesis, particularly after exercise. Before workouts, valine is the MVP, as it's directly responsible for blunting fatigue via a mechanism in the brain. And as far as the fat loss benefits go, the MVP there appears to be isoleucine.

In other words, it's not enough to just supplement with leucine. You need all three BCAAs to maximize the benefits. 

In this article, I'm going to show you exactly how to use BCAAs to their maximum effect to get the best gains in muscle size... and the best bang for your supplement buck. 

The Best Ratio of BCAAs

It's critical to not only get ample amounts of all three BCAAs, but to also get them in the proper ratio.

Your best bet is a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. So, 6 grams of BCAAs should provide about 3 grams of leucine and 1.5 grams each of isoleucine and valine. The highest you ever want to go would be a 3:1:1 ratio, particularly post-workout when leucine is driving muscle protein synthesis. But any higher of a ratio would give too little valine and isoleucine.

Use But Don’t Abuse

All too often you see bodybuilders walking around with a gallon water jug mixed with a flavored BCAA supplement. And they sip on that jug all day long to provide a constant trickle of BCAAs to their muscles. They do this in hopes that it will stop muscle breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis (and therefore muscle growth).

Sadly, this technique will have the opposite effect and actually can prevent spikes in muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Research shows that you need to cycle your intake of BCAAs, having a couple hours in between doses, to create a true spike in MPS. When leucine is available in the bloodstream 24/7, it prevents the MPS spikes that only come after a couple hours of low leucine levels in the blood.

So how do you cycle BCAA intake to maximize all results? Use my priority list below and take your BCAAs only at these times. But whatever you do, stop sipping on them all day long, unless your goal is steady energy throughout the day. That’s the only true benefit that constantly sipping BCAAs will provide.

BCAA Priority List

Priority #1: Boosting Energy for Workouts

Timing: 30 minutes (approximately) before workouts

The most critical time to get a 6-10-gram dose of BCAAs is before workouts. Why? Because BCAAs are unlike any other amino acids. They don’t need to go to the liver first; they can go directly to the muscle cells, where they're used for fuel by the muscles. In addition, valine blocks the uptake of the amino acid tryptophan, which results in lower serotonin levels during the workout, thus helping to prevent fatigue.

Priority #2: Driving Muscle Recovery and Growth

Timing: Within 30 minutes after workouts

The next most critical time to take 6-10 grams of BCAAs is after workouts. Here, it’s important to get leucine to the muscle cells, where it can activate the protein kinase "mTOR" and push muscle protein synthesis as well as muscle growth.

Priority #3: Spiking Muscle Protein Synthesis Between Meals

Timing: 2 hours after meals

When you eat a meal that includes at least 3 grams of leucine and at least 30 grams of protein, MPS is spiked momentarily. About 2 hours after the meal, MPS has dropped, but the amino acids from the meal are still in the bloodstream. At this time, if you provided another 3 grams of leucine (as well as the other 2 BCAAs), it could create a second spike in MPS from that same meal.

Priority #4: Bumping up the Leucine Content of a Meal

Timing: With meals that don’t provide at least 30 grams of protein

As I just mentioned, to maximize MPS, you need at least 30 grams of a compete protein, as well as a good 3 grams of leucine. If a meal provides less than 30 grams of protein, it likely also doesn't provide a full 3 grams of leucine to allow that meal to maximize MPS. To create a bigger spike in MPS from this meal, you can take a 6-10-gram dose of BCAAs to ensure that the leucine content is high enough to give a robust spike in MPS.

Where To Get Your BCAAs

Each serving of Pre JYM and Post JYM (active matrix) provides 6 grams of BCAAs in proper ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. That means you can take either product (depending on your caffeine tolerance/needs) to get your BCAAs, while also getting additional ingredients like creatine, beta-alanine, betaine, taurine, glutamine (Post JYM only), etc.

However, if you want to save those products just for pre-workout and post-workout, you can also use a stand-alone BCAA product. I'm currently working on a JYM-branded BCAA supplement, but until that's finished, I recommend BCAA 5000 Powder by Optimum Nutrition (with its ideal 2:1:1 ratio) and Signature BCAA by Bodybuilding.com (a 3:1:1 ratio – on the high end for leucine). 

 

Js

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