BCAA supplements, should you take them?
If you are trying to build muscle, target-burn fat, improve performance, or speed up recovery – they may give you an edge.
And to maximize that edge, you better understand:
- What time you’re taking your BCAA.
- How much actual BCAAs you’re getting per serving.
- The overall quality and ratio of your BCAA supplement.
Check off these 3 factors and your BCAA supplement has the potential to help you get results faster.
Outline of what’s to come:
- Build Muscle with BCAA Supplements
- Burn Fat with BCAA Supplements
- Increase Performance with BCAA Supplements
- Top 10 Best BCAA Supplements 2017 List
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). A Swedish study performed in 2012 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!
The 10 Best BCAA Supplements 2017 Ranking
#1 Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine – Best Quality, Dosage, Formula.
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
- Premium Vegan-Friendly Fermented BCAAs
- Read Our BCAA Glutamine Review Here
#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
Note: It is unclear if Xtend uses vegan-friendly fermented BCAAs or lower quality BCAAs derived from processed beef hydrolysates.
#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
- Good Pre Workout Addition
#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
- Available in retail locations
#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
- Undisclosed BCAA Ratio
#6 Evolution Nutrition Recover Mode
Evolution Nutrition recently released Recover Mode as their all-encompassing recovery supplement. We’ve already known them for multiple different BCAA products, such as BCAA 5000 and an assortment of others.
Due to their wide range, we’re surprised that they would release yet another BCAA supplement that only contains 5 grams of BCAAs. Though, what saves this product is all of the additional ingredients making up for the low BCAA content.
Recover Mode also includes: 2,250 mg Creatine Monohydrate, 750 mg Creatine HCL, 3,000 mg L-glutamine, 1,600 mg Beta-alanine, 1,500 mg Betaine, 1,000 mg L-carnitine, 1,000 mg Taurine, and 1,000 mg Calci-K.
While many of these ingredients are dosed below manufacturer and clinical recommendations, hopefully together they produce good results.
From here on down, quality BCAA selection begins to get weak. Keep in mind that you may need to take 2 servings to get proper dosage outlined in clinical studies.
#7 Optimum Nutrition BCAA 5000 Powder
It wouldn’t be a top 10 supplements list if we didn’t have an Optimum Nutrition product somewhere. After all, they are one of the largest supplement manufacturers there is!
Here we have ON BCAA 5,000 Powder. We include this under-dosed BCAA because well, its affordable so just take 2 scoops to get to 10,000 mg. Easy as that.
This works out to be a better deal than BCAA 5000’s older Brother PRO BCAA. While there are less flavors to choose from, it is still enjoyable and effective.
#8 Genius BCAA Powder
Genius BCAA isn’t as affordable as BCAA 5000 powder, however it does smartly utilize vegan-friendly fermented BCAAs just like in Transparent Labs. The only downside, is that they only use 5,000 mg per serving.
In addition to these BCAAs, Genius also includes: L-glutamine, Taurine, L-Citrulline malate, Citi choline, Rhodiola, and caffeine.
While they are dosed mega-low, it may improve performance.
Note: we do not know a whole lot about the Genius supplement company. It appears that the majority of their business originates from Amazon where they occupy sponsored product locations. With that being said, the authenticity of their reviews is undetermined.
#9 Performix ISO 9:2:2
Performix ISO 9:2:2 is extremely similar to other multi-ingredient BCAA products, containing a laundry list of low-dose additions and caffeine.
However, of important note is that Performix uses a 9:2:2 ratio BCAA (leucine, iso-leucine, and valine respectively).
This contradicts research suggesting that the 2:1:1 ratio is the superior form of BCAA. As well, its unclear as to the sourcing of these amino acids.
The only reason ISO 9:2:2 makes the list is because they’ve included PEAK O2 which is a great oxygen capacity increasing mushroom blend.
#10 Giant Nutrition Giant BCAA
Giant Nutrition makes the same mistake as Perfomix, utilizing this time a 12:1:1 ratio BCAA.
While there are 7 grams of BCAA included, this ratio is unproven and therefor gets very little of our support.
Typically we like Giant Nutrition a lot! However this time they may have dropped the ball.
We look forward to a proper re-formulation in the future. Hopefully one that doesn’t include negative-updates like some major brands you can see below (this shocked us).
BCAA Supplements that you probably shouldn’t be wasting your money on
We will start with the ladies. First off, all of the BCAA supplements that we outlined above are perfectly fine for you to take. Yes, there are many pre workouts for women, but BCAAs are very much unisex.
However, we’ve got to recommend against taking the following products unless you are alright taking 2-3X servings per dosing window. They include: NLA Her Aminos and FitMiss BCAA. Each of these products contain less than 3,000 mg BCAA per serving.
For the guys, here are popular BCAA supplements that have pathetically low BCAA dosages. They include: Dymatize Amino Pro, Musclepharm Amino 1, and Muscletech Myobuild.
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.