Our bodies need amino acids to function properly. Amino acids are found in proteins, which are vital to the human body’s health. Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are essential amino acids, meaning our bodies are unable to produce them.
This means we must get BCAAs into our bodies by some other means, either through the foods we eat or via supplementation.
What Are BCAAs?
According to research, 20 amino acids are common to all life forms, with nine of these being compounds human bodies are unable to synthesize. Of these nine amino acids, three are referred to as ‘branched-chain amino acids' or BCAAs. These are isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Each of these BCAAs has its special functions in the body.
Isoleucine is recognized in the scientific community as being able to repair torn muscle tissue. It participates in hemoglobin synthesis, and it helps to regulate blood sugar. Leucine also aids in the recovery of both muscle tissue as well as bone, and it aids in the production of growth hormone.
Valine is vital to nervous system and blood-brain barrier functions. It also plays a major role in the growth of healthy muscle tissue and proper immune system function.
How Can I Get BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids can be found in some of the foods we eat, including eggs, quinoa, chia seeds, beef, fish, chicken, soy, and whey.
However, there are problems with obtaining enough of them in the foods we eat. For example, when we exercise or are ill, our bodies tend to need more branched-chain amino acids due to fatigue and muscle wasting.
One of the major problems with obtaining BCAAs through our food is what’s known today as the ‘standard American diet,’ or SAD. The typical American's diet includes too many fats and sugars and not enough nutrient-dense foods.
Another problem with relying on our diets for obtaining the proper nutrients is that many of our once-trusted sources of nutrients have been depleted of their nutritional value. For instance, agricultural soil in the US is not as rich with nutrients as it used to be due to overuse.
This is why it’s beneficial to include BCAA supplementation into your diet to ensure you’re getting the proper amounts your body needs. And it’s why we’ve embarked on creating a list of the 5 best options available in today’s health and nutrition industry.
Top 5: BCAAs Review
Product Image & Rating (Out Of 10)
Optimum Nutrition has been a leading seller of nutritional products for over 30 years. They offer this ‘instantized’ formula, which in the food and supplement industry means it’s instant or easy to prepare.
Their lactose-free, ‘mega-size’ capsules have been formulated as anabolic and anti-catabolic muscle support. If used before endurance training, this branched-chain amino acid product is designed to help spare muscle mass.
If used after training, they work to help ‘kick start’ protein synthesis in order to optimize muscle building and toning.
Optimum Nutrition touts this supplement as the ‘preferred level’ of a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which is designed to take the training efforts of users to the next level. They work to support recovery and endurance, and they help you build an active lifestyle. These capsules deliver 1000 mg of BCAAs per serving.
Known as the ‘global leaders in sports nutrition innovation,’ Cellucor maintains international partners throughout the world for their cutting-edge products and devotion to fitness. Their Alpha Amino EAA & BCAA Recovery Powder delivers ‘a legacy of excellence,’ befitting of Cellucor’s mission to offer products as a journey toward optimum health and fitness.
The company works to promote lifestyle improvement by ‘transforming alongside’ its customers with a dedication to building the ‘best sports nutrition brand in the world.’
This sugar-free ultimate performance powder’s premium formula contains 14 amino acids with a 2:1:1 BCAA ratio, which research shows is the ideal ratio. It’s formulated to deliver high quality that is effective at replenishing and recharging the bodies of those who use it, from beginners to advanced body builders.
Cellucor’s claim is that its formula works to replenish fluid balance and fuel muscles. Their proprietary blend features ‘HydroMax,’ which is a novel ingredient they proclaim as one that can increase tissue fluid concentration in order to fight muscle breakdown during workout recovery.
Plus, it comes in all these ‘mouth-watering’ flavors: watermelon, fruit punch, grape, icy blue razz, and lemon lime.
When it comes to sports fitness and nutrition, it’s tough to beat a competitive bodybuilding medical doctor who also is his own customer. Dr. Emil Hodzovic holds an MD from Cardiff University in Wales. His passion for the nutrition industry led him to create this product for enhanced recovery.
These pills are formulated with optimal 2:1:1 ratio BCAA as well as a high dose of L-glutamine, which in studies has shown to enhance metabolism. Dr. Emil touts his product as creating the ‘ideal synergy’ for growth stack and recovery.
Goliath by Dr. Emil is made from all-natural herbal extracts, vitamins, and minerals. It is also a non-GMO product that is free of hormones and gluten, and it contains no other harmful additives (which includes all of the top eight allergens).
‘Pump up fast!’ is the epigram of BulkSupplements.com, a leading distributor and manufacturer of ‘clean and pure supplements’ that they business-to-business as well as direct to consumers through their online base. They offer this ‘instantized’ formula, which in the food and supplement industry means it’s instant or easy to prepare.
This product is designed to kick-start metabolism and muscle growth with its optimal 2:1:1 ratio of the three branched-chain amino acids. It’s a potent blend that works so well that bodybuilders, cross-fit trainers, and power lifters will notice results shortly after taking it. This product is lab-tested for purity, as are all BulkSupplements.com products.
Sheer Strength Labs is a name well-known in the sports nutrition industry. Their capsules makes our list because they help users see results quickly. This branched-chain amino acid product works well to reduce fatigue for faster recovery and less muscle soreness.
Its formula is designed to help bodybuilders look bigger and feel more ‘ripped’ than ever before.
We chose the products on our top five list because they all contain high-quality ingredients designed to optimize training with proper ratios of isoleucine, valine, and leucine. Though some are more potent than others, all of these products can work well for anyone, from beginners all the way up to serious bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. Additionally, each one of these products has an excellent price point that can fit into nearly all budgets.
However, only one product can be chosen to be named our #1 pick for best branched-chain amino acid product on the market.
So what is our #1 pick? OPTIMUM NUTRITION Instantized BCAA Capsules
This product is rated best of the best by reviewers. In fact, we could locate only one negative comment from one reviewer (listed above). Hats off to Optimum Nutrition for creating yet another great sports nutrition product about which his loyal customers rave.
And hats off to all the branched-chain amino acid supplements that made our top five list!
Why BCAAs are good for youYour body contains thousands of proteins consisting of 20 different types of amino acids. Of these 20, nine are classified as essential amino acids. This means your body is unable to make them, and you must acquire them from the foods you eat.
Three of the essential amino acids are called BCAAs. This is an abbreviation for branched-chain amino acids. The three BCAAs are called:
The term branched-chain is in reference to your BCAAs chemical structure. You can find BCAAs in foods high in protein including dairy products, meat and eggs. I have also seen numerous dietary supplements containing BCAAs in powder form.
There are a lot of reasons why taking BCAAs is good for your overall health. The benefits include:
• Enhancing your muscle growth
• Losing weight
• Improving your exercise performance
• Decreasing fatigue after exercising
Your body requires amino acids for making proteins. Your organs, tissues and cells require amino acids. Proteins and amino acids are also extremely important for your metabolism.
How Do BCAAs Work?
A large percentage of your body's amino acid pool consists of BCAAs. Of all the essential amino acids located in your body, 35 to 40 percent are BCAAs. Your muscles contain between 14 and 18 percent of BCAAs.
BCAAs are different than the majority of amino acids in your body because the break down occurs in your muscle as opposed to your liver. For this reason, BCAAs are important for producing energy while you are exercising.
There are three key roles BCAAs are used for by your body.
1) Your body uses BCAAs as building blocks for both muscle and protein.
2) BCAAs are also believed to help regulate your blood sugar. This is accomplished by stimulating your cells to enable sugar to be taken from your bloodstream, and preserving the sugar stores for your muscle and liver.
3) BCAAs decrease your brains' production of serotonin during exercise. This can help decrease your fatigue.
When all three BCAAs are considered, the impact leucine has on your body regarding building muscle proteins is the greatest. Valine and isoleucine are more effective for the regulation of your blood sugar, and the production of energy.
Increasing Your Muscle Growth
One of the most frequent and popular uses is increasing the growth of your muscles. You have a pathway in your body capable of stimulating muscle protein synthesis. The best way I have found to explain this is simply making more muscle.
Leucine activates this pathway. I recently read about a study where the participants consumed a beverage containing 5.6 grams of BCAAs. The muscle protein synthesis of the participants after exercising increased by 22 percent in comparison to a placebo.
I have also found several other studies showing both larger and smaller gains in muscle protein synthesis after consuming similar drinks. When you are building muscle, all of the essential amino acids your body needs are found in whey protein.
In order to enhance muscle protein synthesis, your body requires both essential amino acids contained in complete sources of protein including whey protein and BCAAs. Without both, your body will not achieve the best possible effect.
You can improve your exercise performance by consuming foods rich with BCAAs. I have also witnessed success from individuals using BCAA supplements. The benefits include:
• Improving your endurance
• Decreasing exercise fatigue
• Building lean muscle mass
A study conducted in 2013 consisted of 26 men of college-age. The participants were assigned to different groups randomly by the researchers. One group received a placebo, and the other a supplement containing BCAAs.
The men then cycled until they were too exhausted to continue. While cycling, the researchers noted the group consuming BCCAs had much lower levels of serotonin in the blood.
Serotonin is an important aspect of both exercise fatigue and a vital brain chemical. The group consuming BCAAs demonstrated the following:
• An improvement in energy management
• Lower substance levels indicating muscle damage including lactate dehydrogenase and creatine kinase.
• An improvement in exercise performance
Decreasing Muscle Soreness
I have seen research indicating muscle soreness after exercising can be decreased with BCAAs. When I first began exercising, I always felt sore for a few days afterward. I still feel sore, but not for nearly as long a period.
This soreness is referred to as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness. You most likely feel soreness 12 to 24 hours after you have worked out. You can continue to feel sore for as long as 72 hours.
Although I have been unable to find a definite cause for DOMS, most researchers feel it is caused by very small tears within the muscles after a workout. There is research proving muscle damage can be decreased through BCAAs.
BCAAs may be able to decrease both the severity and length of DOMS. Research has shown BCAAs can accomplish the following.
1) Decreasing your breakdown of protein while exercising.
2) Decreasing your creatine kinase levels. Muscle damage is indicated by your specific levels.
3) Decreasing muscle fatigue and DOMS.
4) Speeding up your recovery period by consuming BCAAs prior to exercising.
Decreasing Your Blood Sugar Levels
BCAAs may decrease and maintain your blood sugar levels. Isoleucine and leucine are believed to increase the secretion of your insulin. This enables your muscles to get additional sugar from your bloodstream.
The result is lower blood sugar. Although some studies were inconclusive, others backed up this belief. Your best option is a combination of a diet low in fat and BCAAs.
Some researchers believe a diet high in fat can contribute to insulin resistance. The actual resultants are dependent on each individual. In some cases, BCAAs reduced blood sugar, yet had no effect on others.
Research has shown you can limit the amount of muscle damage your body receives during an intense workout session. I read an interesting review conducted in 2017. The results showed supplementing with BCAAs can decrease damage to your muscles.
Another study involved male participants consuming a BCAA supplement. While the participants were exercising, the levels of specific substances in their blood were lower than the men receiving a placebo.
The substances the researchers were checking for were indications of muscle damage. The final results determined you can decrease muscle damage after exercising by consuming BCAAs.
Preventing Muscle Wasting
BCAAs can prevent both muscle breakdown and wasting in your body. Your muscle proteins are consistently being broken down prior to being rebuilt. The amount of protein in your muscles is determined by the synthesis and breakdown of muscle protein.
When your protein breakdown is greater than your protein synthesis, the result is a breakdown or wasting of your muscles. Muscle wasting signifies malnutrition resulting from:
• Chronic infections
• The natural process of aging
• Fasting for relatively short periods of time
In the human body, BCAAs consist of 35 percent of all essential amino acids contained in your muscle proteins. Approximately 40 percent of all the amino acids your body requires for proper functioning are BCAAs.
Making certain your essential amino acids and BCAAs are replenished when muscle wasting is occurring is critical for slowing down the progression. I have located several studies supporting these statements. BCAAs are important for:
• Inhibiting the breakdown of muscle protein
• Improving the quality of life
• Improving health outcomes
• Helping the elderly
• Individuals suffering from wasting diseases including cancer
Enhancing Weight Loss with BCAAs
BCAAs can help enhance your fat loss, and help prevent your body from gaining weight. According to the latest research, you should be consuming roughly 15 grams through your daily diet.
This can decrease your risk of becoming either obese or overweight when compared to individuals consuming 12 grams of BCCAs per day. If you are trying to lose weight, BCCAs may be the solution for removing undesirable fat more easily and effectively.
Competitive Wrestler Studies Regarding Weight Loss
Studies have been conducted regarding weight loss among competitive wrestlers I find interesting. Wrestlers consuming a diet low in calories, high in protein, and supplemented with BCCAs, achieved an increased weight loss.
During the 19 day study, wrestlers consuming the above diet lost an additional 3.5 pounds in comparison to the participants taking just a soy supplement. The group consuming BCCAs additionally lost 0.6 percent more body fat.
Even though the group taking BCCAs was consuming less protein on a daily basis with the same amount of calories as the soy supplement group, their results were better. The participants in another study were weightlifters.
The participants received 14 grams each day of BCCAs. During the next eight weeks, the participants lost an additional one percent of body fat as opposed to those receiving 28 grams of whey protein on a daily basis.
The group consuming BCCAs gained 4.4 more pounds of muscle mass. Although I have also read studies with inconsistent results, the majority of studies conducted regarding BCAAs and weight loss established a connection.
Individuals suffering from liver disease may benefit from consuming BCAAs. Researchers conducted a study in 2017. All of the participants were affected by advanced liver cirrhosis. The participants were then divided into separate groups.
For a minimum of six months, each group received a diet with or without BCAAs. During the two year study, there was a significant improvement in MELD or Model for End-Stage Liver Disease testing scores for the group consuming daily BCCAs.
There was no difference noted for the group not consuming BCCAs. The calculation of MELD scores is performed by physicians measuring the levels of specific substances within the bloodstream including:
The physician uses the MELD score to help establish if the individual is close to liver failure. The conclusion of multiple studies is individuals with advanced liver cirrhosis supplementing their diet with BCCAs receive benefits over the long-term.
Diets supplemented with BCCAs also help individuals with liver cirrhosis enhance muscle strength. These results were achieved by testing the hand grips of the participants to determine muscle strength.
Fortifying Your Immune System with BCAAs
If your perform high volume and intense training for a long period of time, you may experience:
• Immune suppression
This is the reason most athletes perform training bouts to ensure adequate recovery. Research has shown cyclists supplementing their diet with 12 grams of BCAAa on a daily basis demonstrated an improved immune response.
This response was verified after a few weeks of intensive training. The reason this is possible is BCCAs are also effective as a fuel source for the immune cells located in your gut.
BCCAs enable the regeneration of your immune system much more efficiently. The result is protecting yourself from harmful pathogens. When your immune system is stronger, you will not become ill as frequently, and your recovery will be faster.
Foods Rich in BCAAs
Whole protein supplements are rich in BCAAs. Your best option is obtaining BCAAs from protein sources because all of the essential amino acids are included. You can find a lot of BCAAs in numerous foods and supplements.
If your diet contains enough BCAAs, you will most likely not require any supplements. Consuming foods high in protein also ensures your body has important nutrients not found in BCAAs. The best foods sources include:
• 3.5 ounces of chicken breast contains 5.88 grams
• 3.5 ounces of salmon contains 4.9 grams
• One scoop of soy protein powder contains 5.5 grams
• Two eggs contain 3.28 grams
• 3.5 ounces of beef contains 6.8 grams
• One cup of one percent milk contains 2.2 grams
• 3.5 ounces of turkey breast contains 4.6 grams
• One-half cup of Greek yogurt contains two grams
• One scoop of whey powder contains 5.5 grams
• One-half cup of parmesan cheese contains 4.5 grams
• 3.5 ounces of canned tuna contains 5.2 grams
Side Effects and Safety
Consuming BCAA supplements is considered safe. Most people do not experience any side effects. The general consensus of opinions is consuming between 15 to 35 grams of BCAAs each day is considered safe.
I want to mention if you have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS, you should not take any BCAA supplements unless you have consulted with your physician. You also need to be careful if you have maple syrup urine disease.
This congenital disorder is rare, but your BCAA intake must be limited since your body will be unable to correctly break them down.
The Bottom Line
BCAAs offer excellent benefits for different types of individuals including:
• Professional and amateur athletes
• Individuals not consuming enough sources of whole foods
• Individuals participating in prolonged or a high volume of workout sessions
• Individuals at risk of a breakdown of lean tissue
According to research, if you are a healthy adult, you can safely consume a dose of four to 20 BCAAs each day. Although you should see some benefits over the short-term, the majority of benefits require a longer period of time.
You goal should be consuming two to three grams of leucine prior to, during, or after exercise, and in between your meals. This is the best way to enhance your muscle protein synthesis.
Smaller doses will not provide your body with the maximum benefits offered by BCCAs including preventing the breakdown of your muscle tissue or delaying fatigue.
Naturally, you have more questions regarding BCAA supplements. Here are some things to consider if you’ve never supplemented with branched-chain amino acids before.
What Are the Benefits of Supplementing with BCAAs?
Because we all need branched-chain amino acids in our bodies, there are many benefits to supplementing with a BCAA product. This is particularly true of those whose diets are lacking in the necessary foods to obtain these nutrients. Following are the top five proven benefits of BCAA supplementation:
What Should I Look for in a BCAA Supplement Product?
Following are some of the features to consider when shopping for a BCAA supplement:
Proper Ratio of Leucine to Isoleucine and Valine
The ideal ratio of these three BCAAs is 2:1:1. This is the ratio studies have found to be optimal for increasing energy and aiding in protein synthesis.
A few of the products on the market today contain a higher incidence of leucine. This ratio is not supported by scientific research.
Optimal Time to Ingest BCAA Supplements
Because this can vary depending on the person and the time/type of workout, always follow directions of any product you purchase.
Though taste is a subjective factor, BCAA supplements tend to have fruity flavors that aren’t hard to swallow.
Those that are more potent generally are the ones that will taste bad. Still others can have a chalky taste. Read reviews to learn what other users are saying about a BCAA supplement's flavor.
The great news about BCAA supplements is that most of the products available are budget-friendly. But remember, higher price does not necessarily mean better quality.
Always read reviewers’ comments to gain perspective on a product’s use before purchasing.
Do BCAA Supplements Have Side Effects?
There is no science-backed research that shows supplementing your diet with BCAAs within reason can produce negative side effects. However, as with anything that is to be ingested, overuse and excess ingestion of these supplements can have side effects.
If overused, side effects can include fatigue, headaches, nausea and other gastrointestinal upset, loss of coordination, and type 2 diabetes. Always consult with your physician before beginning any supplementation regimen.
Branched-chain amino acids are vital to your health. They work to stimulate protein synthesis, build muscle, reduce fatigue, and help you recover more quickly from strenuous workouts.
For a healthier lifestyle that includes better workout recovery, less tiredness, and a leaner body with more streamlined muscle tone, consider supplementing with a BCAA product.
bcaa frequently asked questions
Should you take BCAA supplements?
You can take BCAA supplements on a regular basis if you so choose. It’s important to consider talking to your doctor before taking any kind of supplements especially BCAAs. These supplements are mostly safe to take, but it is always good to take the necessary precautions beforehand.
What are the side effects of BCAAs?
Side effects of BCAAs that have been reported include but are not limited to: stomach issues, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. There are rare side effects that include the whitening of skin and headaches.
Do BCAAs make you gain weight?
BCAAs can be used to do the exact opposite of weight gain. It can also accelerate fat loss. If you diet and exercise, taking the right kind of supplement. If you take at least one gram of BCAAs on a regular basis, you may stand to lose one percent of body fat within an eight-week period. This is according to a study that was done where the focus was on bodybuilders and fat loss. You can even gain a few pounds in muscle with BCAAs compared to protein powders and protein-based supplements.
Does BCAA create muscle growth?
Short answer: yes. BCAAs can increase protein synthesis and therefore can help you build more muscle than what you currently have. However, it’s important that you include other amino acids that are included in various foods that are rich in protein. This also includes whey protein powder.
Which is better: creatine or BCAAs?
BCAAs are a great way to create protein synthesis. However, creatine is more of an energy booster. The latter can also be helpful in terms of providing you with an increase in strength so you are able to build more muscle naturally.
Can you mix BCAAs with creatine?
You can. In fact, with BCAAs and creatine mixed together you’ll be able to increase your muscle growth. On top of that, you may even increase your overall strength in the process so you are able to lift more and smash your personal bests.
Can you take BCAAs on rest days?
You can take BCAA supplements on training days (before or after your workouts). And you can also take them on days when you don’t train. It’s important to make sure that your muscles are getting the essential amino acids it needs while they recover from the previous workout.
What are some advantages of taking BCAAs?
There are plenty of advantages that come with taking BCAA supplements on a regular basis. Aside from muscle growth, it can also be used to decrease muscle fatigue and soreness. It can also be used to help speed up recovery times in between training days.
Is it bad to have too many BCAAs?
They say too much can be a bad thing. If you have too many BCAAs, it may have long term effects on your health such as weight gain and a lower mood.
When should I drink my BCAAs?
You’ll need to drink your BCAAs 30 to 45 minutes prior to a workout (assuming it is a training day).
BCAA tablets or powder: Which is better?
It will depend on your personal preferences. However, BCAA powder will probably be better for you in the long run if you are more of a hardcore gainer. Plus, the bioavailability with BCAA powder will be much better compared to BCAA tablet supplements because of the amount of absorption. When you drink it, BCAAs will most likely work quickly while capsules are a form of time-released BCAAs.
Can BCAAs increase your testosterone levels?
If you exercise and take your BCAA supplements regularly, you can see an increase in testosterone. This will make it easier for you to lose body fat (and weight). You can also be able to easily gain muscle in the process.
Is BCAAs better than pre-workout?
Pre-workouts are used to give you more energy on days when the training will get intense. They will also help you recover much faster compared to other supplements. BCAAs will be doing its intended job alongside pre-workouts while you are able to work out and recover from an intense training session.
Should you take BCAAs with Whey Protein?
Yes. Because BCAAs only contain three essential amino acids. Meanwhile, whey protein will contain other amino acids like Arginine, Tryptophan, and more. There are a total of nine essential amino acids that will be important for your overall muscle growth and strength training.
How much BCAAs should you take?
This will depend on your weight. For example, if you weigh at 165 pounds you can take 15mg of BCAAs per dose. On a daily basis, you can take as much as 91mg of BCAAs.
Does BCAA block serotonin?
It’s been said that BCAAs can be linked to lower catecholamines. This means that the serotonin levels will be lower than normal as opposed to without BCAAs. It can also reduce the benefits that are associated with serotonin itself. However, on the bright side it also provides you with the benefit of feeling less sleepy or having that “energy sucked out of you” feeling after a workout. If you have been feeling tired after workouts, taking BCAAs before or during workouts will provide you with a great amount of energy retention after putting in the work at the gym.
How long should I eat after taking BCAAs?
Depending on the BCAA supplement, you can take BCAAs before or during meals. For the best results, your meals will need to be rich in protein since it will also cover your bases as far as the rest of the essential amino acids are concerned.
Does your body make BCAAs?
Believe it or not, they don’t. That’s why the only ways you can get them is through supplements or protein-rich foods that you eat. Your body does not produce any kind of essential amino acids naturally.
Should you take BCAAs before bedtime?
Contrary to what some will say about taking BCAAs at any time during the day, it’s highly recommended that you should not take BCAAs before bed. As mentioned before, it will make you feel less tired. Plus, the amount of serotonin that you need to help you sleep will also be inhibited. The best recommended times that you’ll need to take BCAAs are first thing in the morning or at some point during the day (i.e.--afternoon).
Are BCAAs good for beginner level trainers?
If you are looking for a way to build muscle but want to take it slow and steady as a newbie, then taking BCAAs might be a good choice. You can take them in a capsule form or powdered drink depending on your personal needs and preferences. It’s important to consider your overall fitness goals prior to deciding on whether or not you want to take BCAAs.