What are BCAA (branched chain amino acids), and why are bodybuilders and athletes so keen on using them?
Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body needs – i.e. it can’t make them. They can be obtained from food, such as meat, dairy products and legumes. BCAA Supplements usually include leucine, isoleucine and valine in a 2:1:1 formulation, as leucine is thought of as the most important component. They are called branched-chain in reference to their chemical structure.
How do they work? BCAAs stimulate the building of protein in our muscles. Oral intake can help stop the breakdown of muscles while we exercise. There is also some research that shows that leucine can lower blood sugar levels, improving glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity.
For exercise and activity, branched chain amino acids are useful for preventing tiredness and improving concentration. They can also enhance exercise performance and reduce the protein and muscle breakdown intense exercise causes. You can see from the above that there are plenty of good reasons to take BCAA supplements. It’s a good job there are plenty of choices out there. Let us take a look at what is available.
Top 10 Best BCAA Supplements Review
1. Transparent Labs CoreSeries BCAA Glutamine
Transparent Labs is another company that likes to be upfront about what it puts in its products. CoreSeries BCAA Glutamine is a brand new BCAA supplement that has been created to help you repair your torn-apart muscle tissues and recover from your workouts.
You get a socking great 8 grams of BCAAs per serving, along with 5 grams of glutamine. Why is glutamine routinely used with branched-chain amino acids?
L-glutamine is the most common amino acid you get in muscles – more than 61 percent of skeletal muscle comprises glutamine. Glutamine itself is 19 percent nitrogen. It is the leading transporter of nitrogen to your muscle cells. Intense training will slash the levels of glutamine in your body. This decreases strength and stamina, and this increases how long it will take you to recover.
Research has shown that l-glutamine supplements can minimize the breakdown of muscles and improve the metabolism of protein. L-glutamine is especially useful for people trying to cut; i.e. lose body fat. Because it works against muscle catabolism, it can help you to preserve muscle mass while you lose fat. And your immune system needs plenty of glutamine, so taking extra amounts in a supplement can help your overall health because glutamine levels greatly decrease during hard workouts.
2. NutraBio Intra Blast
NutraBio is relatively new to the supplement market. Intra Blast is one of their products aimed at endurance exercisers and others doing sports activities. NutraBio likes to be upfront about its products – its labels are 100 percent open about what you are getting when you purchase it, and they disclose how much flavoring and fillers they use.
To back this up, the company complies with cGMP – good manufacturing practice. Its products also have several third-party certifications so you can be sure of what you are getting. They are also trying to get NSF-certified – an American product testing, certification and inspection body.
In one scoop of Intra Blast – 24.1 grams – you get 7.2 grams of BCAAs, at the approved ratio of 2:1:1 (i.e. two times the amount of leucine to isoleucine and valine), and another 2.805g of other essential amino acids to back them up. There are also electrolytes; more than nearly every sport drink over there. If your workout regularly leaves you dripping with sweat, it is reassuring to know this product will cover you. Taurine is another addition – 2 grams, and 5g of glutamine. All in all, we really rate this one. It’s a great product to add to your cupboard.
3. Myprotein BCAA
This is another great one to choose – an essential amino acid supplement that contains the optimal 2:1:1 ratio of the vital leucine, valine and isoleucine. Myprotein BCAA is ranked Grade A by the independent tester Labdoor for quality and value – it records 95 percent BCAA content per serving.
What are the recommendations for when you should take Myprotein BCAA? The manufacturers recommend you take 5 grams of the supplement two to four times a day for the best results. The product comes in a range of fruity flavors, including berry blast, bitter lemon, watermelon, sour apple, tropical, peach mango and unflavoured. You can add the latter to a smoothie or shake.
They can be taken throughout the day or before, during and after exercise. Another manufacturer suggestion is that you ingest your BCAA supplements with whey protein. Make yourself a whey protein smoothie with Myprotein BCAA for double the nutritional goodness and gains in the gym.
4. Kaged Muscle In-Kaged
Kaged Muscle is Kris Gethin’s company. Kris Gethin is a trainer, gym owner, spokesmodel for Bodybuilding.com and the CEO of Kaged Muscle.
At Kaged Muscle, he says he has brought together scientists who continue to look into the latest human clinical data on nutrients, vitamins, phytochemicals and minerals. The man cannot be accused of a lack of dedication to his passion, as he trialed all the products on himself and other subjects under varied conditions. He underwent blood, saliva, urine, hair, GI, poop and genetic testing to measure each product’s safety and effectiveness.
In-Kaged is designed to be taken during workouts. It contains BCAAs to help with protein synthesis, the recovery of the muscles and endurance. If you have ever tried out one of Kris Gethin’s workouts, you’ll know that they aren’t for the faint-hearted. No wonder he had to design products to help you cope with them!
For the pump, you get l-citrulline at 3g. This amino acid helps you to resist tiredness and improves endurance for aerobic and anaerobic exercise. There is beta alanine as well at 1.6g which contributes to buffering lactic acid and helps with lean muscle building. The 1.6 grams dosage should not cause major tingling – one of the well-known side effects of beta-alanine.
Then there is the old favorite, trusty caffeine at 125mg, a small dose than some products, but drink plenty too as caffeine is a diuretic. Bear in mind that Kaged Muscle also has two other complementary products – Pre and Re Kaged, so keep an eye on all of the other ingredients in these products if you are taking all three.
5. Muscle Elements AmiNO Flow
AmiNO Flow is a potent, new fusion of essential amino acids that includes nitric oxide boosters. Some people even regard this as the BCAA supplements for serious weight lifters. You do not need to convince most bodybuilders and weight lifters to take branched-chain amino acids. They are already on the page for that one.
The essential amino acids are necessary for muscle building, fat loss and endurance in the gym. Nitric oxide boosters in nutritional supplements will also help to increase strength and pumps, which is why they are also favored by those who want to improve their performance and see great gains.
You don’t often get the two products in the same supplement, however. Previous attempts have not produced a worthwhile product until AmiNO put a foot forward and declared it had solved the issue. They promised high-quality BCAAs and a sustained nitric oxide boosting process.
What you will notice immediately when you read the ingredient list is the formulation of BCAAs they use – 3:1:2. WTF?! Well, extra leucine has been added and less isoleucine. Is it worth messing with an industry standard and something that is so well-researched? Hmm. Double hmm.
On the other hand, leucine is the most important of the branched-chain amino acids given how it contributes to muscle growth. There’s a place for fiddling around with things. Nitric oxide boosters include l-histidine and l-ornithine – two ingredients not routinely standard in pre-workout supplements.
6. MAN Sports ISO Amino
MAN Sports (we assume you can use them if you’re a woman) ISO-AMINO is another branched-chain amino acid product. Containing the building blocks of protein and is potentially useful for muscle protein synthesis, muscle repair and endurance so you can work out harder and for longer.
What do you get in this one? Well, it is a relatively basic product – three ingredients only. But if you wanted a branched-chain amino acid supplement, maybe that is what you really DID want: BCAAs only and nothing else. They come in at 2,500mg leucine, and 1,250mg of valine and isoleucine each.
The flavors don’t accurately reveal themselves. What is Dorks flavor, anyone? We are not sure the name conjures up a necessarily favorable connotation. It is said to be candy-flavored. We’re not strangers to candy and might argue that candy comes in lots of different forms. It might be too sweet for some. In that case, mix with more water than the manufacturer recommends.
Users report less muscle soreness when using the product, and the price is extremely good.
We recommend this for those starting out with branched-chain amino acids – a great basic, and something very no-nonsense. Thanks to the limited ingredients, you will get to do an n=1 experiment on yourself. Do branched chain amino acids actually work for me?
7. Scivation Xtend
SciVation says it does better bodies through science and innovation. XTEND is one of its best-selling products and each serving offers 7g of BCAAs in the proven 2:1:1 ratio, as well as goodies such as glutamine and citrulline malate. The malate is malic acid, added to l-citrulline to make it easier to absorb and more palatable.
It is also sugar-free and carb-free so great if you want to minimize how many calories you take in, or you are following a low-carb or ketogenic diet to help you achieve your body’s aesthetic goals.
XTEND, they say, can build muscle burn fat and prolong the intensity of your workout, as well as help your recovery afterward. The flavors to choose from are Blue Raspberry, Pink lemonade, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon-Lime, Orange, Pineapple, Fruit Punch, Strawberry Kiwi, Mango, Tangerine, Margarita, Pina Colada and Watermelon.
For best results, SciVation recommends two scoops per day – during training when you are exercising and between meals on the days when you aren’t working out. It is a good value product with active ingredients that will help your overall goals.
8. Cellucor COR Performance Beta BCAA
COR Performance Beta BCAA doesn’t use proprietary blends, a trick sometimes used by nutritional supplement folks to fudge the amount of an ingredient that is actually in a product. Okay to say you have branched-chain amino acids in your stuff, but what if the dose is really rubbish?
Cellucor COR Performance Beta BCAA can help with a variety of training. You don’t just have to be someone who intends to get under a barbell and grunt for an hour or so. It guards against muscle loss, especially during periods of intense training.
A serving size (one scoop) is 11.4 grams, and it contains 2.5 grams of leucine, 1.25 grams each of isoleucine and valine, 1.6 grams of beta-alanine, 2 grams of citrulline malate and 0.75 grams of Alpha-Hydroxy-isocaproic acid (HICA).
The latter we haven’t talked about yet. What is it and what is it doing in this nutritional supplement? Alpha-Hydroxy-isocaproic acid can be considered an anti-catabolic substance – i.e. it stops the breakdown of your muscles, a goal anyone wants and not just the people who lift hard and heavy. HICA supplementations can also help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Users report the taste as strong and very sweet, but you can tackle that easily by using more water than the manufacturer recommends. More water is always a good thing anyway.
9. Bulk Powders INFORMED BCAA
INFORMED BCAA™ contains massive 18g amino acids per serving, the BULK POWDERS exclusive BCAA Complex. With this, you get 10g of branched-chain amino acids in an 8:1:1 ratio. You, what?!! 8:1:1 is that really needed?
Each serving has BCAA nitrates and three different forms of leucine, the branched-chain amino acid grand-daddy. It gives you leucine nitrate, leucine ethyl ester and instantised leucine, as well as arginine nitrate and glutamine.
Why BCAA nitrates? Well, bind an amino acid to a nitrate, and you get better absorption not just of that ingredient, but everything else too. It is a low-carb product, delivering less than 1 gram of carbs per serving. Perfect for minimal calorie addition and suitable for any low-carb diet plan. You can use the supplement while you work out or as a drink to sip on during the day to give your muscles maximum support while they get on with the business of repair and growth.
Every batch of INFORMED BCAA gets sent to an independent laboratory to check its nutritional content. The manufacturers are so confident in their product’s ability they offer you your money back if you do not agree with them.
10. EVL Nutrition BCAA Energy
What have we got in this one then? All the usual goodies… The brand has gone for the 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs, l-leucine, l-isoleucine and l-valine. Together, this all-important blend helps supply energy to your muscles and supports muscle tissue development, your recovery and the preservation of lean muscle mass.
It is also beta-alanine, l-alanine (this promotes glucose production, so you have enough energy) taurine for cell hydration and metabolism, and green coffee and tea for energy.
You also get a Vitamin B & C complex – B6 and B12 which are great for your energy levels and Vitamin C to protect against stress and support the immune system. Green coffee and green tea are natural caffeine sources – clean energy and antioxidants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to take BCAA supplements and what are the benefits?
Supplementation with BCAAs is useful because good-quality powders and capsules will bypass the liver and go straight to the bloodstream.
A higher dietary intake is thought of as a predictor of longevity. Their anti-aging effects come because they increase the formation of new mitochondria – the parts of the cells that form proteins, sugars and fats into forms of chemical energy our bodies can use to keep on living. Mitochondria break down waste products too, so they are less harmful.
Have you ever heard of mTORC1? Basically, this is a signaling pathway in the body that is necessary for building muscles. BCAAs and resistance exercise or weight lifting trigger this pathway. BCAAs also help to maintain lean muscle mass if you have to take time off from training because of an injury. For people who seek fat loss, BCAAs should form part of that armory.
Studies have shown that those who have higher amounts of branched-chain amino acids in their diet have less body fat and more muscle, leading to overall improved body composition. They can help with reducing muscle soreness associated with training – the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This means you are able to train more frequently and at a higher intensity.
As well as their use in nutritional supplements, branched chain amino acids are used in the treatment of conditions. Their therapeutic use can be for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain conditions that are caused by liver disease, the genetic disorder, McArdle’s disease, and to correct poor appetite in elderly patients with kidney failure and cancer patients. They can also slow muscle wasting in people who are bed-bound.
How do I choose the best BCAA supplements?
That depends on a number of factors. We think you should consider them all when deciding what you will spend your precious pounds, dollars and euros on.
What ingredients are in this supplement? As we have pointed out above, some of the products come with a lot more than branched-chain amino acids. No harm in that, but you might get side effects you do not like with those other ingredients. Caffeine, for example, might not sit well, especially if you are working out later on in the day. Then there is beta-alanine and the tingles you get from it. These sometimes fade once you are used to the product, but nevertheless, they can be unpleasant for some people. You might be a clean-eating fan too, so any product that contains fillers or artificial sweeteners, colors and flavoring might not sit well with the rest of your lifestyle options.
Will I get value for money? Some people do choose to prioritize what they spend on nutrition and diet over what they spend on going out for meals or clothing, for example. Premium BCAA products are not cheap, but check out the cost per serving to work out if you can afford it and look out for flash sales or stacks where you buy lots of products together.
What kind of company makes this product? Check out a company’s ethos. Do they insist on lots of testing and independent verification? What are the reviews like? Do lots of consumers say they have had great results while using these products?
Powder or capsule? Powders tend to be cheaper than tablets, but capsules might be more convenient overall. Look out for what users say about flavors when you look at reviews.
Should I choose a proprietary or non-prop supplement?
As we have observed, proprietary blends mean the manufacturers can fudge what exactly is in their products. Non-prop nutritional supplements allow you to see exactly what you are paying for and what will be going into your body. On the other hand, there are decent products out there that do use proprietary blends, a good dosage being 5g BCAAs. Read the reviews!