Supplements are a major industry in the fitness world with a good majority of people investing in one form or another on a regular basis. While you may be better off keeping your money than buying some of these supplements, BCAAs are an exception.
Over the last several years, science has taken a long look at BCAAs and found them to be quite beneficial for those looking to improve body composition — especially in terms of lean mass gain.
Continue reading to learn about the many potential benefits of BCAAs as well as some of the top performers available on the market today.
Our Top Picks at a Glance
- Opal Fitness 1200mg Branched Chain Amino Acids
- Grenade Essentials BCAA’s 8:1:1 Ratio
- BULK POWDERS Complete BCAA Energy Pouch
- Iron Labs Nutrition – High Strength with vitamn B6
- Mutant BCAA 9.7
- Evlution Nutrition BCAA5000
- Olimp Labs BCAA Xplode
- Warrior Amino Blast BCAA Powder
- Scitec Nutrition BCAA + Glutamine Xpress Powder
Note: There’s a lot more information below but clicking the above links will take you to current prices, further information and customer reviews on Amazon.
What are BCAAs?
BCAA’s, or Branched-Chain Amino Acids, are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. Before we dive too far into BCAA’s, let’s take a quick moment to review a little simple nutritional biochemistry.
Amino acids are used for vital processes in the body and make up DNA, build muscle and synthesize hormones and neurotransmitters. The body requires 20 amino acids to function properly. Eleven of these are produced by the body and are considered nonessential. The other nine, known as essential, cannot be made by the body and need to be supplied by the diet in the form of food or supplements.
Out of the nine essential amino acids the body demands, only three are classified as a BCAA. So, what makes an essential amino acid a BCAA? The simple answer is their chemical structure. The unique chemical structure of BCAAs enables them to skip the regular digestive process and become immediately available to the muscles. This ability makes BCAAs very useful in the strength training recovery process, or even after being ill or injured.
Benefits of BCAAs
Aside from being quickly and easily digested, there are several other benefits of supplementing with BCAAs; all of which can give you an edge on your training.
Increase Muscle Growth
Of all the potential benefits of BCAAs, increased muscle growth is generally at the top of the list.
BCAAs, particularly leucine, have a positive effect on protein metabolism by increasing the rate of protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein breakdown. This likely occurs when leucine activates a certain pathway in the body which stimulates protein synthesis.
In fact, one study found a 22% increase in muscle protein synthesis after the post-workout ingestion of BCAAs compared to the ingestion of a placebo.
While this number is impressive, it is about 50% less than the increase in muscle protein synthesis observed when all of the EAAs were ingested post exercise.
Minimize Muscle Soreness
Muscle soreness is a common side effect of strength training. While it’s not detrimental, it can result in reduced strength and power output — particularly delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
Supplementing with BCAAs may help alleviate post-workout muscle soreness, especially when taken prior to your workout.
Ingesting BCAAs before exercise has been shown to reduce muscle protein breakdown during exercise. This seems to be due to the increase in arterial levels of BCAA, allowing the body to preserve more of the muscle.
Using a DOMS-inducing squat workout, researchers gave half of the participants BCAAs and the other half a placebo. Those who were given the BCAAs had considerably lower levels of muscle soreness and muscle fatigue two days after the workout than the placebo group.
By reducing levels of intramuscular creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase (both indicators of muscle damage), BCAA supplementation has also proven effective for reducing muscle damage during prolonged endurance exercise.
Reduce Muscle Wasting
With age, most people experience some amount of muscle loss. This is known as sarcopenia and it can be very detrimental to your independence and longevity. The good news is, if you’re resistance training on a regular basis, you’re already counteracting the effects of age-related muscle loss. However, muscle wasting can also occur due to illness and/or injury when training may be difficult or impossible.
Fortunately, studies have shown that supplementing with BCAAs can minimize muscle wasting whether it’s due to age, illness or physical incapacity.
Best BCAA Ratio
If you’ve looked at BCAA supplements, you’ve likely noticed they come in several different ratios. So, which ratio is the best? The most important aspect to consider is the leucine content. Leucine acts like a match to a fire — the fire being muscle protein synthesis, which ultimately leads to muscle growth.
No matter which BCAA supplement you choose, leucine needs to be in the highest quantity when compared to isoleucine and valine. With this in mind, you may think taking only leucine would be the right call when, in fact, it’s not. Researchers found that subjects who ingested all three BCAAs had significantly higher protein synthesis than those who ingested only leucine.
During intense exercise, valine has been shown to decrease fatigue. This allows your muscles to continue to contract with greater force for a longer amount of time and you to squeeze out more reps during your workout.
Let’s not forget isoleucine, which also plays a major role in getting shredded — particularly when it comes to fat loss. A study performed on wrestlers found that those who consumed BCAA supplementation while following a low-calorie diet lost significantly more abdominal fat than those using a placebo while on a low-calorie diet.
While it is most critical for leucine to be present for optimal muscle protein synthesis to occur, isoleucine and valine are also an essential part of the picture. For this reason, a 2:1:1 ratio seems to be the idea BCAA ratio for maximum benefits to occur.
How Much BCAAs Do You Take?
While it may be tempting to pound the BCAAs, overdoing it isn’t going to make you pack on more muscle. Because your body can only process so much at one time, stick to 5 to 10 grams per serving.
If you want to take more than this per day, simply space out your servings. For example, drink 5 to 10 grams before your workout and another 5 to 10 after.
When Do You Take Them?
Proper timing of BCAA ingestion will help you get the most out of them. Is it better to take them before or after your workout? While there isn’t much science out on the subject, one study did examine the difference. Researchers found that taking the BCAAs prior to a workout resulted in less DOMs and exercise-induced muscle damage than taking the supplement after the workout.
Circulating levels of BCAA have been shown to peak around 30 minutes after ingestion, which means you should plan on chugging them about 30 minutes before your workout.
It should be noted that some research has found that daily consumption of BCAA may be necessary to thwart off muscle damage in the long run. If your goal is to gain mass, take 5-10 grams first thing in the morning to help minimize the muscle breakdown that occurs when the body enters a fasted state.
A Detailed Look at the Best BCAAs
Now that we’ve had a chance to cover the benefits and particulars of BCAAs, let’s take a detailed look at the best BCAAs available on the market.
Opal Fitness 1200 mg Branched Chain Amino Acids comes in a capsule form to conveniently deliver an optimal 2:1:1 BCAA ratio. With added vitamin B6, the BCAAs are better metabolized and your immune system gets a boost.
The BCAAs are delivered in a convenient and easy-to-swallow capsule, making it super easy to stash them in your gym bag without worrying about a messy spill. The natural, vegetarian-friendly and GMO-free capsule takes the hassle out of looking for the right BCAA.
With 120 capsules per bottle at a very affordable price, you can supplement your workouts with high-quality BCAAs for several weeks to come, giving you a chance to make some serious gains in the gym whether you’re cutting or bulking.
- Weight: 140 grams
- Brand: Opal Fitness
- Format: Tablets
- Servings: 30-60
- Directions: For best results take 2-4 tablets of BCAA pre-workout
- Capsule form
- Optimum BCAA ratio
- Capsules can break apart
- Capsules may be difficult for some people to swallow
With the convenient capsule form and affordable price tag it seems like a solid product to keep stocked in your gym bag.
Grenade Essentials put a little extra leucine in the tank to help ignite muscle growth.
The BCAA’s are delivered in capsule form with 30 servings per container, giving you just enough to get through a cycle of training.
- Weight: 135 grams
- Units: 150 capsules
- Brand: Grenade
- Servings: 30
- Directions: Training Days: take one (1) serving (5 Capsules) with water 30 minutes prior to exercise. For maximum results an additional serving can be taken post-workout. Non-Training Days: take one (1) serving (5 Capsules) with water upon waking.
- Convenient capsule form
- You have to take 5 capsules per serving
Packs a good BCAA punch at an affordable price and comes in a convenient capsule form.
Bulk Powders Complete BCAA Energy Energy Pouch brings you a dose of BCAAs paired with a dash of caffeine to keep you going in and out of the gym. The 3:1:1 ratio gives you 5 grams of BCAAs per serving with leucine coming in on the heavy side, but with the addition of two natural energy sources: Guarana and Green Coffee Extract.
These 100 mgs of naturally occurring caffeine will give you a gentle boost of energy and focus without overstimulating your nervous system.
Let’s not overlook the potent antioxidant effect of Green Coffee Extract, which can definitely help with recovery.
This bulk powder is ideal for replacing your morning coffee or for enjoying pre or intra-workout.
- Soya (from Soya Lecithin)
- Weight: 100 grams
- Brand: Bulk Powders
- Directions: Mix 4 scoops (approximately 10g) in 500ml of water. Consume throughout the day to boost BCAA intake or get a natural boost. Alternatively consume pre-workout.
- Tastes great
- Easy dissolve powder
- Natural caffeine boost
- Affordable price
- Only comes in a small bag
This product not only serves as a BCAA supplement but also as a less intense replacement to your over-stimulating pre-workout. It can be used throughout the day to deliver a dose of muscle-building amino acids and caffeine.
Iron Labs Nutrition – High Strength with vitamin B6 uses a 2:1:1 ratio with the added energy boosting benefits of vitamin B6.
The small coated tablets make the four tablet serving size easy and convenient to ingest. For a very reasonable price you can get a month’s supply of 2400 mg of BCAAs per day.
- Product Name: BCAA Xtreme 120
- Units: 120 each
- Directions: Take (4) tablets daily. Take dosage with a glass of water (30) minutes before training. Take dosage with lunch on an off-day.
- Brand: Iron Labs Nutrition
- Format: Tablets
- Convenient tablet form
- Affordable price per one-month supply
- BCAA ratio
- Tablets may be difficult to swallow for some
- One serving does not provide an optimal serving of BCAAs
Affordably priced product in a convenient tablet form, however, in order to get the optimal serving of BCAAs you’d have to double the recommended serving size.
Mutant BCAA 9.7 offers a concentrated dose of 9.7 grams of BCAAs per scoop. With a 2:1:1 ratio of instantized BCAAs, you’ll be getting superior absorption of the necessary BCAAs.
An added Micronized Amino Acid Support Stack combined with a punch of magnesium will also help amplify protein synthesis.
- Weight: 348 grams
- Brand: Mutant
- Format: Powder
- Directions: As a food supplement, mix 1 scoop (11.6g) with 250-500ml of cold water. Stir or shake and consume during exercise on training days, or throughout the day on non-training days.
- Concentrated powder form
- Available in different sized packages
- Added essential amino acids
- Taste may not be suitable for everyone
Concentrated dose of optimal BCAA ratio with additional essential amino acids added for quicker absorption and increased muscle protein synthesis all for a reasonable price for a one-month supply.
Evlution Nutrition BCAA500 Muscle Building Capsules do just that — build muscle.
With 5 grams of BCAA delivered in an easy to take capsule, getting the optimal 2:1:1 BCAA ratio to your working muscles is easier than ever.
- Units: 240 each
- Country of Origin: US
- Brand: Evlution
- Format: Capsules
- Directions: Take 1 serving one to three times daily. Consume between meals, 30-45 minutes before workouts, and/or immediately after workouts.
- Convenient tablet form
- Optimal 5 grams of BCAAs per serving
- Affordable price
- One serving is 8 capsules
Solid product at an affordable price if you don’t mind downing 8 capsules prior to your workouts.
Olimp Labs BCAA Xplode Recovery and Energy Supplement Powder delivers 600 mg of BCAAs per serving and gives you the option of six different flavours.
Not only do you get an adequate dose of BCAAs, glutamine and vitamin B6 also make an appearance to reduce muscle fatigue and improve recovery.
- Weight: 1 kilogram
- Storage Directions: In a cool, dry place
- Country of Origin: Poland
- Brand: Olimp
- Format: Powder
- Servings: 100
- 100 servings per smallest package option
- Six flavour options
- Three size options
- 2:1:1 BCAA ratio with added glutamine and vitamin B6
- Bigger price tag
- Taste/texture may not suit everyone
Powdered BCAAs may not be for everyone but Olimp offers plenty of flavour options to suit most people’s taste. The higher price tag may deter some, but considering there are 100 servings per package, it’s not overly outrageous.
Warrior Amino Blast BCAA Powder will give your muscles the BCAAs and an additional amino acid complex they need to power through your workout and recovery afterwards.
With five flavours to choose from and added caffeine and green tea extract, you’ll have a tasty option to give you a pick-me-up anytime throughout the day.
- Safety Warning: Produced in an environment that processes milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts and nuts
- Weight: 270 grams
- Brand: Warrior Supplements
- Format: Powder
- Directions: Warrior Amino Blast can be consumed at any time of day, to maximise the benefits of Amino Acid supplementation. For All Day Amino Acid Support: Consume 1 or more servings first thing in the morning and/or between meals. For Pre-Workout Use: Take 1-3 servings 20-30 minutes before training.
- 2:1:1 BCAA ratio
- Added Amino Acid Complex
- Performance Complex that includes caffeine, green tea extract, and sodium bicarbonate
- Affordable price
- Five flavour options
- Vegan friendly
- Added caffeine may be too stimulating for intra-workout use
Fabulous price for a product that delivers quality muscle building BCAAs plus a bonus Amino Acid Complex and Performance Complex to keep you on your game in and out of the gym.
Scitec Nutrition BCAA + Glutamine Xpress Powder provides 5 grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio plus an added dose of 5 g of glutamine and 300 mg of taurine to promote muscle recovery during and after high-intensity bouts in the gym.
- Allergen Information: Barley
- Weight: 600 grams
- Brand: Scitec Nutrition
- Format: Powder
- Directions: Mix 1 serving (12 g) daily in 600 ml water. Consume around, and/or during your workouts or between meals.
- 2:1:1 BCAA ratio
- Added glutamine and taurine
- 50 servings per container
- Reasonable price
- Only one flavour option
A little higher priced than other BCAA options but with the added servings per container and the glutamine included in the mix, it’s well worth the price.
There are many effective and affordable BCAA supplements on the market, several with an added boost.
Whether you’re looking purely for BCAAs or BCAAs with a little something extra, there are ample options available at very reasonable prices.