Branch chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements carry a lot of hype in the supplement industry. This makes sense, considering they are the foundational building blocks of every muscle in your body. But, like all things, there are many factors that determine if branch chain amino acids are going to benefit you.
The effectiveness of a BCAA supplement depends on:
- What time you take it
- How much you take
- Quality and ratio of the supplement
If all three of these factors are satisfactory, then a BCAA supplement does have the potential to help you build more muscle, burn more fat, or simply increase your endurance. However, the majority of people mess it all up!
So, here we’re going to tell you what no one else is talking about. How to get the most out of your BCAA supplement based on real clinical studies. At the bottom, we will give you our best 10 BCAA supplement options.
BEST BCAA SUPPLEMENTS GUIDE OUTLINE
- How to Build Muscle with BCAA Supplements
- How to Burn Fat with BCAA Supplements
- How to Increase Performance with BCAA Supplements
- How to Reduce Muscle Soreness with BCAA Supplements
- Best BCAA Supplements 2016 List
So let’s do this. By the end of this article, you should be substantially educated on BCAA supplements. If you have any questions, go ahead and leave us a comment at the bottom. Also, remember to check out the clinical studies and reviews that we link to. Read the discussions, conclusions, and abstracts for the key takeaways.
Building Muscle with BCAA Supplements
Since BCAA supplements were first discovered and produced, there has been a notion that they can help with muscle growth. Now, obviously branch chain amino acids help with muscle growth, since all muscle contains them.
But the question comes into play regarding whether or not supplemented BCAAs can increase protein synthesis resulting in more muscle.
Based on the scientific research that we have studied, alongside our personal and inner circle based results – BCAA supplements do work when taken appropriately for building muscle mass.
The Research Supporting BCAAs for Building Muscle
- Adding leucine to carbohydrates and protein post workout boosts body protein balance from negative to positive, producing a more anabolic environment. Leucine is one of three amino acids considered to be a branch chain amino acid (study, 2005).
- BCAA supplementation increases lean muscle and strength while decreasing body fat, more so than by supplementing with protein or a sports drink. This research was performed by Jim Stoppani in 2009, five years before he began Jym Supplement Science (study, 2009).
- A Leucine enriched amino acid drink increased protein synthesis by 33% in soldiers cycling (study, 2012).
- BCAA supplements not only trigger an anabolic muscle response, but also reduce muscle breakdown (catabolism). In 2012, a Swedish study gave 6.8 grams BCAAs to 7 individuals doing leg press whom had never trained before. In comparison to not taking BCAAs, participants showed scientific indications of greater anabolism and reduced catabolism while taking BCAAs based on growth markers (study, 2012).
- In elderly patients, 12 grams per day of leucine supplementation increased protein synthesis in low protein diets (study, 2012).
- Leucine supplementation is believed to in part be a myostatin inhibitor which increases muscle growth outside of the standard protein synthesis pathway. It is believed that leucine still directly effects protein synthesis as well (study, 2014).
- BCAA supplementation containing 6 grams of leucine increased lean muscle mass in the elderly without exercise. Lesser quantities did not have the same lean muscle promoting effect (study, 2015).
As you can see, a lot of support for BCAA supplementation has arisen suggesting that taking BCAA supplements can increase muscle growth. But, that doesn’t mean every supplement will do the trick. For BCAAs and muscle growth, the devil is in the details and to get the right results – you’ve got to get enough BCAAs.
BCAA Dose Recommendation for Thought
If you want to increase muscle growth using a BCAA, the studies above demonstrated success mostly in pre/intra/post workout dosages of 6 to 8 grams of BCAAs with preferably 4 grams of leucine (2:1:1 ratio).
Some studies did use substantially more, but most stayed in this ballpark and suggested lesser doses (sub 5 grams) are not effective.
Another option for BCAA supplementation is to take roughly 4 grams per meal (12 grams total each day). This was used in one of the more recent elderly studies where patients not working out and not eating enough daily protein were able to increase lean muscle mass.
Burning Fat with BCAA Supplements
Branch chain amino acid supplements (BCAAs) are often recommended alongside fat burning programs. This happens for a wide range of reasons, such as:
- Increasing Endurance for more exercise time
- Reducing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) so you can keep coming back
But, as research has shown there are also some greater and more directly applicable benefits to taking BCAAs while trying to lose weight. Like:
- Increase in fat metabolism
- Decrease in fat acquisition
- Reduction in exercise induced cortisol increase
Not to mention the massive benefits associated with BCAAs ability to promote muscle growth, which can offer a great muscle tone look as you progress. A muscle tone that low caloric diets cannot offer on their own (since protein intake is often also compromised)!
The Research Supporting BCAAs for Fat Loss
- Wrestlers taking BCAA supplements while on a calorie restricted diet lost more visceral adipose tissue than those not taking BCAA supplements. During this time, performance was maintained despite a caloric deficit (study, 1997).
- A 2007 animal study found that leucine added to a high fat diet significantly decreased fat mass gained. This was attributed to leucine’s ability to upregulate a specific protein that increases mitochondrial ability (study, 2007).
- As we cited above for BCAAs promoting muscle growth, branch chain amino acids given to participants strength training built and maintained lean muscle mass while burning fat mass at the same time (study, 2009).
- Dietary BCAA intake was compared among approximately 5,000 people. At the end of the study, participants with higher threshold dietary BCAA intakes were less likely to be obese (study, 2011).
As you can see, there is significant research suggesting BCAA supplements directly aid fat loss. Of these 4 studies, 3 are with humans. When we research supplements, we do our best to bring you the most applicable cases.
BCAA Supplement Doses for Fat Loss
Through personal experience and some of the studies above, 5-8 grams of BCAAs looks to be the sweet spot to consider looking into. This is assuming a 2:1:1 BCAA ratio which is 50% leucine, the most studied branch chain amino acid.
BCAAs can be taken pre/intra/post workout for best results. Individuals not working out may not benefit a whole lot from BCAAs. It’s only in individuals training that we’ve seen noticeable results: fat loss, lean muscle, increased endurance, faster recovery.
Increasing Performance with BCAA Supplements
BCAAs are taken just as much by individuals seeking to increase their performance as they are taken for lean muscle and fat loss. This group of people are in general endurance athletes who play hard and want to improve their performance, recovery, and health. Based on what we’ve read and experienced, BCAAs can help with that. Both on their own and long side pre workout supplements, BCAAs are a powerful tool.
The Research Supporting BCAA Supplements for Endurance
- Leucine enriched protein was found to increase strength gains by 30% over the course of 8 weeks in participants doing leg extension resistance training (study, 2005).
- In a very detailed leucine enriched protein study performed by the Airforce, Leucine enriched protein (comparable to BCAA + protein) was found to be mildly effective at increasing strength and lean muscle in comparison to air members not supplementing (study, 2009).
- Japanese researchers found that BCAA supplementation before strenuous exercise increased endurance. Of interest however is that the greatest effect occurred after prolonged BCAA usage, leading them to believe the body must adapt over a period of time to fully utilize BCAAs for increasing endurance (study, 2009).
- Juvenile athletes taking BCAAs and glutamine experienced better recovery after intense rowing, as well as greater performance (study, 2014).
BCAA Supplement Doses for Endurance and Performance
The general effective dose for improving endurance and performance is 6-8 grams of BCAAs before training. The addition of glutamine is also beneficial as some studies have suggested. It’s definitely most beneficial to take your BCAA before training, or during training as opposed to afterwards. This is so that your BCAA can be utilized for fuel and repair during exercise; which reduces lactic acid build up as well as the degradation of your muscle for fuel. At least that’s what the science is telling us so far!
Reducing Muscle Soreness with BCAA Supplements
One of the most universal benefits to BCAA supplements is the reduction of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Many of the research articles we cited above had corollary statements mentioning how athletes supplementing with BCAAs recovered faster.
With that being said, we are not going to get into this topic too much. Rather, we recommend you look into BCAA information relating to your more specific goal: building muscle, burning fat, or increasing endurance. From there, you will see that the methods used still reduce muscle soreness.
Best BCAA Supplements 2016
Taking advantage of proper BCAA supplementation can produce very desirable effects for any training regimen. Without BCAA supplementation, the blood stream quickly becomes depleted of leucine, valine, and isoleucine which causes a catabolic environment. This not only reduces your power and energy, but completely devastates your muscle gains and overall fat metabolism due to ‘building block’ depletion. Such a state of depletion is unacceptable for anyone trying to get an extra edge, so here we will go over what BCAA supplements are our favorites.
#1 Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine – Our Favorite
Currently, Transparent Labs offers the strongest BCAA supplement on the market – BCAA Glutamine. Each serving comes with a whole 8 grams of BCAAs in the 2:1:1 ratio along with 5 grams of added glutamine. That brings the total Amino acid count to 13 grams in a single serving!
Since the ratio is 2:1:1, that means you will get 4 grams of leucine per serving as well as 2 grams of valine and isoleucine each. This is an optimal pre or intra workout BCAA dose for building muscle, burning fat, increasing endurance, reducing muscle soreness, or all at the same time.
We prefer to mix ¾ BCAA Glutamine with our pre workout (typically BULK by the same company) and then the remaining ¼ intra workout. This brings our total BCAA consumption to 12 grams at 6 grams leucine.
Flavor wise, BCAA Glutamine doesn’t taste like candy, but it isn’t bad either! The formula is free of artificial and synthetic dyes as well as contains zero artificial sweeteners.
In our book, it’s a winner compared to the droves of under-dosed BCAA supplements.
Quick Facts for BCAA Glutamine
- 8 grams BCAA per Serving
- 4 grams Leucine per Serving
- 5 grams Glutamine Added
- Coconut water extract for electrolytes
- No Artificial Sweeteners or Dyes
- Read Our BCAA Glutamine Review Here
Note: Transparent Labs pre workouts, creatine, and fat burners all hold very high rankings on BWSB and other review sites. The quality is there, bottom line. This isn’t biased reviewing, this is recognition for science crafting results.
#2 Scivation Xtend BCAAs
Scivation Xtend contains 7 grams of anabolic BCAAs in the proper 2:1:1 ratio as well as 2.5 grams glutamine and 1 gram of citrulline malate. In this specific ratio, both endurance, fat loss, and muscle growth is promoted. Combine this intra workout supplement with any workout day to last longer than before.
Compared to our top choice, Xtend is a close second. What separates BCAA Glutamine from Xtend is that BCAA Glutamine has an extra gram of BCAAs as well as twice the glutamine. Not to mention zero artificial sweeteners or dyes.
- 7 grams of BCAA (2:1:1)
- 1 gram Citrulline Malate
- Electrolytes Blend
- A Very Close Second Place
#3 Beast Sports Nutrition – Aminolytes
Beast Sports Nutrition combines 5 grams of branch chain amino acids with 5 grams of non essential amino acids to form a 10 gram amino acid mix. In addition to those AAs, Beast Aminolytes also provides an electrolyte blend to give you better water retention and energy.
The 5 gram BCAA matrix in Aminolytes is a 5:1:4 ratio. This means that per each scoop you are getting 2.5 grams of leucine, 0.5 grams valine, and 2 grams of isoleucine. This is an interesting approach, and we’d like to see the research behind this dosage.
So far, the best research has recommended a 2:1:1 ratio. Besides that, and the inclusion of Acesulfame Potassium as a preservative, we love Beast Aminolytes!
- 5 grams BCAA with 5 Gram non-essential AAs
- Electrolytes and Co-enzymes for endurance
- Award winning formula
- 2.5 grams Leucine per serving
#4 Gaspari AminoLast
Aminolast is another fantastic tasting BCAA supplement that also backs itself up a synthetic dye free formula. This BCAA intra workout supplement has 2.5 grams of L-leucine per serving as well as 10 grams of amino acids overall.
When we took Aminolast, we felt it; both in the gym and afterwards while we recovered. Expect to have increased endurance while you lift as well as a noticeable anabolic switch which may make you hungrier between lifts.
The only cons of Gaspari Aminolast is that there is only 5 grams of BCAAs. Luckily, they are in a 2:1:1 ratio so it would be worth while to double the dosage for 5 grams of leucine per serving. As a whole, this is a satisfying BCAA supplement.
- 5 grams total BCAAs
- Great Tasting Flavors
- Zero synthetic colorings
- Contains Taurine and Ornithine L-Aspartate
#5 Anabolic State BCAA Supplement
Like Gaspari’s Aminolast, Anabolic State was a pleasure to take. Anabolic State is another 6 gram BCAA per serving formula, however they do not tell us the exact BCAA ratio only that there is 3 grams Leucine. So, it could be 2:1:1 or it could be 5:1:4… We don’t know.
But, on the plus side Anabolic state does include HICA, a metabolite of Leucine which is highly anabolic. In terms of building muscle, we would compare dosing leucine to that of taking a test booster in terms of muscle building potential. Combine them and that’s a whole other story! In all, anabolic state is a value when it is on sale. Otherwise, we love going with the supplements above.
Next to the 6 grams of BCAAs and HICA, Anabolic state has some non-essential amino acids bringing the total amino acid weight up to 10 grams.
Anabolic State does taste great, but contains some bombshells like synthetic dyes and Acesulfame Potassium.
- Contains Anabolic HICA
- 6 Grams BCAA per Serving
- Perfect When on Sale
- 1 Carb, 4 Calories
Now remember, BCAA supplements help, but they do not run the show. At the end of the day, anyone can take BCAAs and completely abolish any potential gains with too many bad habits. So, be the best you, inside and outside of the gym. If you do that, then BCAAs may offer you an added edge that in our experience is worth having.