The Best BCAA Supplements For Muscle Gain, Keto and More

Whether you're low on protein, skipping meals, or training fasted, BCAAs may be able to help you retain muscle.

Expert Verified By: Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN
We receive free products to review and may receive commissions on purchases made through our links. See our disclosure page for details.

Once a niche athletic supplement, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have exploded in popularity as a means to improve muscle retention, fat loss, endurance, and focus during workouts. Today, hundreds of different BCAAs on the market include stimulants, adaptogens, micronutrients, and extracts to make them stand out from the crowd. Our goal here is to help you find the best BCAA supplements for muscle gain, keto dieters, weight loss, and a lot more.

It’s not uncommon to see BCAAs packaged with other supplements like caffeine, glutamine, taurine, beta-alanine, citrulline malate, and other ingredients that may benefit workout performance. In this article, we’ve taken the BCAAs, the extra components, the price, and the taste into account when deciding the best brand depending on your goal.

Best BCAA Supplements

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for the diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. 

Best BCAA Supplements Video Review

Be sure to check out our best BCAAs video for a more in-depth look at this supplement. 

Best BCAA Overall

Our top pick is a BCAA formula with a solid blend of BCAAs that contains no artificial flavors and is vegan-friendly, which makes it a great option for most customers who want to add more amino acids to their supplement regimen. 

Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

Transparent Labs’ BCAA powder is both vegan-friendly and contains coconut water powder for hydration and a high 5,000mg dose of glutamine, which can help build muscle tissue. Transparent Labs’ supplement is simple, but still includes eight grams of quality BCAAs, and comes in six different flavors for variety. For those concerned with the transparency of their labels, this product lists every ingredient and ensures there are no artificial flavors, colors, ingredients, or preservatives. 

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Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

This glutamine supplement is gluten-free, non-GMO, and free of artificial preservatives. Each container provides 30 servings that contain 5000 milligrams of L-Glutamine and 1,535 milligrams of Vitamin C.

Who Should Buy Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

  • Athletes looking for a quality vegan BCAA supplement. This one packs eight grams of BCAAS, five grams of glutamine, coconut water powder, and citric acid.
  • Lifters who want a supplement without artificial flavors, colors, ingredients, or preservatives. Transparent Labs’ formula has none of these extras. 
  • Vegans and vegetarians. Transparent Labs’ BCAA product is vegan-friendly. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

  • Anyone looking for a supplement with a ton of extra vitamins and electrolytes — other pre-workout options might be more appealing.
  • People who want a very sweet-tasting supplement regardless of flavor. This one tastes a tad dull.

Not overly complicated, but appealing to many, Transparent Labs has made a BCAA supplement that gets a lot of points for hitting the basic amino acids well.

Best BCAA for Muscle Growth

If muscle growth is your goal, then your primary concern should be eating enough calories and macronutrients throughout the day. (Here’s a macro calculator for that.) But when it comes to BCAAs, you might want something that supports in-gym performance and offers optimal BCAA ingredients.

Jacked Factory BCAA Powder

If you’re working to build muscle in the gym, you’re likely keyed in on a lot of helpful energy-boosting and muscle-building supplements — like protein powder and pre-workout — already. If you already have a solidified regimen, you may be looking for just a basic BCAA blend — this product is just that. This product contains a blend of 3,000mg of leucine, 1,500mg of isoleucine, and 1,500mg of valine. It comes in three flavors — Blue Raspberry, Fruit Punch, and Unflavored, all of which are created using both natural and artificial flavorings.

Jacked Factory BCAA Powder
Jacked Factory BCAA Powder
Jacked Factory BCAA Powder

This product contains a blend of 3,000mg of leucine, 1,500mg of isoleucine, and 1,500mg of valine. It comes in three flavors — Blue Raspberry, Fruit Punch, and Unflavored, all of which are created using both natural and artificial flavorings.

Who Should Buy Jacked Factory BCAA Powder

  • Bodybuilders or anyone looking to gain muscle. This formula facilitates that goal better than other picks on this list. 
  • People who aren’t looking for a pre-workout or any other energy-boosting ingredients in their BCAA supplement.
  • Folks who want a less expensive BCAA powder as this is one of our more budget-friendly options.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Jacked Factory BCAA Powder

  • Folks who want to take their BCAAs in a pre-workout, or who want more energy-boosting or performance-enhancing ingredients in their BCAA blend. 
  • Anyone who wants a wider variety of flavors to choose from — this one only has three. 

If you’re looking to build muscle and need a BCAA supplement to add to your growing stash of supplements, this one is about as streamlined as it gets. 

Best BCAA for Men

For men working to build muscle, a dose of BCAAs may help you pump longer and harder. This particular supplement provides three grams of BCAAs and a dose of electrolytes for hydration.

Xwerks Motion

While many of BCAAs’ properties revolve around recovery, they can also help increase muscle growth. The amino acid leucine is particularly key for building muscle as it can stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and since amino acids can be depleted as you exercise, it’s important to make sure you can replenish as you go.

Xwerks contains three grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio. Plus, there’s an added dose of calcium, magnesium, and sodium for hydration to make sure you’re hitting all your marks during and after your workout. It’s worth noting that this supplement only comes in two flavors — Raspberry Lemonade or Grape — though, so if you’re looking for flavor variety, you will not find it here. 

Xwerks Motion
Xwerks Motion
Xwerks Motion

Xwerks contains three grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio. Plus, there’s an added dose of calcium, magnesium, and sodium for hydration to make sure you’re hitting all your marks during and after your workout.

Who Should Buy Xwerks Motion

  • Men who want a BCAA supplement they can take during and after their workout to make sure they are replenishing lost amino acids. 
  • Anyone who’s going hard at the gym and is looking for an increase in energy and endurance, as well as a decrease in fatigue.
  • Athletes who are concerned about dehydration and want a BCAA supplement with electrolytes to help stay hydrated. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Xwerks Motion

  • Buyers who want a variety of flavors to choose from — this product only comes in Raspberry Lemonade or Grape.
  • Anyone who would prefer a BCAA supplement they should take pre-workout. This is an intra-workout and post-workout supplement.

Though BCAAs can be taken pre-workout, they can also be a part of a balanced intra-workout or post-workout supplement to potentially help with muscle growth, endurance, and energy. This supplement provides a solid dose of leucine, as well as other supplements like electrolytes for a well-rounded beverage. 

Best BCAA for Workouts

This product contains all three BCAAs — leucine, isoleucine, and valine — as well as citrulline and tyrosine. This is one of our favorite intra-workout supplements to keep you energized and focused all workout long. 

Jacked Factory INTRASURGE

Jacked Factory INTRASURGE is ideal if you’re looking for a supplement that not only contains BCAAs, but also contains other performance enhancing ingredients like citrulline-malate, caffeine, and tyrosine. Citrulline may help with blood flow, caffeine can help provide energy throughout your workout, and tyrosine can help with focus — all of these are great for intra-workout, especially when combined with this product’s 6,000mg of BCAAs.

Plus, Jacked Factory also includes 500mg of coconut water powder to potentially help with hydration during your workout, and it comes in Fruit Punch and Blue Raspberry flavors that are quite tasty.

Jacked Factory INTRASURGE
Jacked Factory INTRASURGE
Jacked Factory INTRASURGE

This product contains 6,000mg of BCAAs, as well as other performance enhancing ingredients like citrulline malate, caffeine, and tyrosine — it's best taken during your workout.

Who Should Buy Jacked Factory INTRASURGE

  • For those who prefer to have citrulline, caffeine, and tyrosine in their BCAA supplement to help boost your workout, you’ll like this blend. 
  • Anyone who wants coconut water powder included in their BCAA supplement for added hydration throughout their workout. 
  • If you prefer to take your BCAA supplement during your workout, this intra-workout blend is for you. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Jacked Factory INTRASURGE

  • Anyone who is just looking for a basic BCAA supplement without added citrulline, caffeine, or tyrosine. 
  • Folks who want a variety of flavors to choose from may need to look elsewhere, as this product only comes in Fruit Punch and Blue Raspberry.

Athletes who need to perform at high-levels can benefit from this dialed-in BCAA formula made for intra-workout performance.

Best BCAA Pre-Workout

While some may be looking for a straight-forward BCAA supplement, others may want to just combine their BCAAs and their pre-workout. This pre-workout contains a solid dose of BCAAs to help consolidate your supplement stash. 

Transparent Labs LEAN

Transparent Labs LEAN is one of the most versatile BCAA supplements on this list as it’s not a dedicated BCAA supplement, but rather a pre-workout supplement that contains BCAAs. Though BCAAs are less common in pre-workouts, this one has 2500mg of BCAAs, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine in a 2:1:1 ratio — all of these can help with muscle growth, fatigue, and recovery.

This product also contains caffeine (180mg), beta-alanine, citrulline malate, and creatine, which make for a variety of energy-boosting and workout-enhancing ingredients. Plus, there’s a good amount of theanine that may help with focus throughout your workout.

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Transparent Labs Lean
Transparent Labs Lean
Transparent Labs Lean

Third-party tested and clearly dosed, Transparent Labs LEAN has a huge variety of ingredients for endurance, power, alertness, and focus. Use code BARBEND10 for 10% off.

Who Should Buy Transparent Labs LEAN

  • Athletes who prefer to take their BCAAs in a pre-workout blend. 
  • Folks who want a blend of potentially energy-boosting and muscle-building ingredients to knock out a number of supplements in one go. 
  • Anyone who prefers to take their BCAAs before their workout — rather than during or after their workout — will like this pre. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs LEAN

  • Those who are on a budget — there are other less expensive products on this list. 
  • Anyone who wants to take a more straightforward blend of BCAAs without the added pre-workout ingredients. 

Though this product is on the pricier end of the spectrum, it’s because you’re getting a wide range of ingredients in this mix. Along with a blend of BCAAs, you’re also getting pre-workout ingredients, so you won’t have to take both a pre-workout and BCAAs separately.

Best BCAAs for Electrolytes

While many BCAAs include micronutrients — like vitamin C and B vitamins — in addition to the BCAAs, this pick includes electrolytes to help promote optimal hydration. 

Xwerks Motion

Xwerks Motion is a blend of three grams of BCAAs in an optimal 2:1:1 ratio. But along with these BCAAs, this formula is also infused with electrolytes like magnesium, sodium, and calcium that can help with hydration, potentially leading to better athletic performance and endurance. It comes in Raspberry Lemonade and Grape, and mixes seamlessly with water for easy digestion during and after your workout. Plus, Xwerks contains 28 grams of carbs, which can be a great energy source for your workouts. 

Xwerks Motion
Xwerks Motion
Xwerks Motion

Xwerks contains three grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio. Plus, there’s an added dose of calcium, magnesium, and sodium for hydration to make sure you’re hitting all your marks during and after your workout.

Who Should Buy Xwerks Motion

  • Athletes who prioritize hydration and want electrolytes infused into their BCAA supplement.
  • Anyone looking for carbs in their BCAA supplement will appreciate that this product contains 28 grams. 
  • People who prefer a powder supplement over a pill supplement. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Xwerks Motion

  • Athletes who would prefer a BCAA supplement with added vitamins will want to look for a product with a more robust ingredient list.
  • Folks who prefer a pill supplement over a powder one can find high quality BCAAs in pill form out there, as well. 

If you’re looking to add some electrolytes to your BCAA supplement for a boost of hydration, this product’s magnesium, sodium, and calcium can do just that. Plus, it comes in delicious Raspberry Lemonade and Grape flavors that can keep you hooked and consistent with your supplementation. 

Best Vegan BCAAs 

For plant-based eaters, it’s important to know that what you’re taking is free of any and all animal products — this is a solid vegan BCAA supplement. 

Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

Transparent Labs doesn’t use any animal products or artificial coloring or sweeteners in their BCAA formula. They offer complete transparency on their label, so you know exactly what you’re getting in each scoop. With a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine, and a high 5,000mg dose of glutamine, these BCAAs may help boost muscle growth and assist with muscle fatigue and recovery. This product comes in six flavors and you can buy up to three tubs at a time to bring down the cost per serving.

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Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

This glutamine supplement is gluten-free, non-GMO, and free of artificial preservatives. Each container provides 30 servings that contain 5000 milligrams of L-Glutamine and 1,535 milligrams of Vitamin C.

Who Should Buy Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

  • Athletes looking for a quality vegan BCAA supplement — this one has a 5,000mg dose of glutamine and a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
  • Lifters who want a supplement without artificial sweeteners or colors. Transparent Labs’ formula has none of these extras. 
  • Anyone who wants a variety of flavors to choose from will appreciate that this one comes in six. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine

  • People who want to take their BCAAs within a pre-workout — this product is just a straightforward BCAA supplement. 
  • Those who prefer to take their BCAAs in pill-form as this is a powder product. 

Transparent Labs has made a high quality BCAA supplement that contains a solid dose of glutamine as well as a good blend of leucine, isoleucine, and valine — the fact that it happens to be vegan-friendly is a bonus. 

Best Tasting BCAA

If you’re trying to sneak more BCAAs into your diet, it’s important that the vehicle you’re using to sneak them in actually tastes good. This product is one of the best-tasting BCAA blends we tried. 

Xwerks Motion

Though Xwerks Motion only comes in two flavors, they are two of our favorites when it comes to BCAA supplements. You can buy Motion in Raspberry Lemonade and Grape, both of which are naturally flavored). This powder dissolves well into water, and is intended to be sipped on during and after your workout to help prevent muscle breakdown. In addition to BCAAs you’ll find carbs that may help with energy, and electrolytes that may help with hydration. This may be one of the more expensive products on this list though, but the taste is worth it in our opinion. 

Xwerks Motion
Xwerks Motion
Xwerks Motion

Xwerks contains three grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio. Plus, there’s an added dose of calcium, magnesium, and sodium for hydration to make sure you’re hitting all your marks during and after your workout.

Who Should Buy Xwerks Motion

  • For those who prioritize taste, this is a great tasting BCAA supplement to add to your regimen. 
  • Anyone who prefers to take their BCAA supplement while they are working out to potentially help build muscle at the gym, as well as after their workout to recover.
  • If you want an added boost of energy from the addition of carbs to your BCAA supplement, this product contains 28g. 
  • Folks looking to stay hydrated will appreciate the electrolytes included in this supplement. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Xwerks Motion

  • Those who may want more than two flavors to choose from will want to look for a product with more flavor variety. This product only comes in Raspberry Lemonade and Grape.
  • Anyone on a tight budget — this is one of the more expensive products per serving. 

Though this supplement may be a bit pricier than some of the other options on this list, its two flavors are great tasting, and each dose can help provide energy at the gym, as well as potential muscle growth via BCAAs. 

Best BCAAs for Weight Loss 

Many take BCAAs to help preserve muscle when in a calorie deficit, and some products — like this one — even add extra ingredients with links to weight loss. 

Disclaimer: Please note that none of these products describe themselves as weight loss supplements and should not be taken as such. Please consult with a medical professional before beginning any weight loss protocol.

IdealLean BCAA

IdealLean BCAAs for Women has the most dedicated weight loss ingredients. Along with a respected ratio of 2:1:1 of leucine to isoleucine to valine, this product includes evodiamine, a berry extract that’s been linked to fat loss in rodent studies; green tea extract; and CLA, a type of fat that may help with weight management.

Note that these ingredients are present in relatively small amounts, but there may be some effect. This product also comes in seven different flavors for variety, and is fairly inexpensive compared to the other products on this list. 

IdealLean BCAA
IdealLean BCAA
IdealLean BCAA

This supplement delivers over 5 grams of 2:1:1 ratio BCAAs to fuel every type of workout. It's marketed to women, but it's a great supplement for anyone looking to potentially help boost their metabolism.

Who Should Buy IdealLean BCAA

  • If you’re absolutely committed to losing weight, your calories are in control, and you’d like all the help you can get, it’s possible that the non-BCAA ingredients here might help you on your journey.
  • Anyone who wants to add a dose of BCAAs to their diet to help with lean muscle retention.
  • Folks who value having a variety of flavors to choose from. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealLean BCAA

  • Those who are skeptical about supplement dosing, as the ingredients listed, though effective, may be dosed too little. 
  • Athletes who are trying to bulk — you can find BCAA products without ingredients that are meant to help with fat loss. 

Weight loss is all about your calories, not your supplements, but IdealLean has put together an impressive BCAA supplement that may be more helpful for weight loss than others.

Best BCAA Pills 

There are a lot of benefits to taking your BCAAs in pill form instead: You can take them with you to the gym or on the road, which is great if you’re going for long periods between meals, as you do sometimes when you’re out and about.

Performance Lab BCAA

Though pills may not be as easily digested as powder mixed into water, they are definitely the most convenient way to take your BCAAs. Performance Lab has the best BCAA pills we’ve tried. These are extremely straightforward, with very few added ingredients, and the 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine that many customers are looking for in their BCAA supplement.

Performance Lab BCAAs are fermented and vegan-friendly, plus they don’t contain any artificial sweeteners. However, this product is a little more expensive than others on this list — you’re paying for its convenience factor.

Best BCAA Pills
Performance Lab BCAA
Performance Lab BCAA
Performance Lab BCAA

An incredibly straightforward BCAA supplement in the 2:1:1 ratio many athletes are looking for. The BCAAs are vegan-friendly and in capsule form.

Who Should Buy Performance Lab BCAA

  • Travelers. If you’re on a lengthy trip and airplane meals or truck stop snacks aren’t giving you the leucine you need, having BCAA pills in your backpack can be handy.
  • Anyone who doesn’t like carrying a shake bottle around. 
  • People who want a vegan-friendly BCAA supplement.
  • Anyone who wants to avoid the artificial sweeteners so common in these products.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Performance Lab BCAA

  • People looking to get the cheapest BCAA possible — these may not be better value than plain old powder.
  • Anyone who doesn’t want to take six pills at a time for a three-gram dose (or more to reach a 10-gram dose). 

Capsules are a handy way to get your BCAAs in on the go, without a shaker bottle. Plus everything is precisely measured out to make dosage easier. When you don’t feel like chugging sweetened water, this is a fast and convenient way to spike your amino acid intake.

Best BCAA for Women

If paired with a healthy diet, BCAAs can be a great addition to a female athlete’s supplement stash for their potential to minimize fatigue and help maintain lean muscle gains made in the gym. 

IdealLean BCAA

IdealLean is marketed specifically to women for its potential to boost metabolism and increase fat burn. This product has zero calories and five grams of branched chain amino acids per serving — the BCAAs have a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. It contains the “IdealLean Fat Loss Blend” which is a mix of the amino acid phosphatidylserine, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), green tea extract, and ThermoDiamine® that may potentially help with fat loss.

It’s also got a solid dose of B vitaminsmagnesium, l-citrulline, l-glutamine, and coconut water powder. This product comes in seven different flavors, which include Peach Rings, Orange Paradise, Grape Explosion, Peach Lemonade, Blueberry Pomegranate, Tropical Dragonfruit, and Strawberry Kiwi. 

IdealLean BCAA
IdealLean BCAA
IdealLean BCAA

This supplement delivers over 5 grams of 2:1:1 ratio BCAAs to fuel every type of workout. It's marketed to women, but it's a great supplement for anyone looking to potentially help boost their metabolism.

Who Should Buy IdealLean BCAA

  • Women who want a product that can potentially increase their fat burn while maintaining their muscle mass. 
  • Anyone looking for an added dose of B vitamins, citrulline, or magnesium with their BCAAs will appreciate that this supplement contains all of these.
  • Folks who want added hydration in their BCAA supplement will like the coconut water powder here. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealLean BCAA

  • Athletes who are looking to bulk — since this product contains a fat loss blend, this may not be the best option for you. 
  • Those who are looking for a more straightforward dose of BCAAs without all the extras. 

This product is chock-full of BCAAs, contains zero calories, boasts a fat loss blend, and includes extra vitamins and minerals for a full-package product that’s particularly great for female athletes. 

Best BCAA With Minerals 

This pick is a great all-rounder if you want an effective supplement that contains what it claims and doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles.

Sculpt Nation BCAAs

This BCAA powder has some helpful extras, namely 200mg of an Aquamin™ ineral complex. Its fruit punch flavor packs a delicious wallop, and the product doesn’t contain stimulants. It’s a simple, straightforward formula that’s an enjoyable drink inside and outside the gym.

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Sculpt Nation BCAAs
Sculpt Nation BCAAs
Sculpt Nation BCAAs

Sculpt Nation's BCAAs contain 4.5 grams per serving of their amino blend, plus an added mineral complex. The fruit punch supplement packs a great deal of flavor and is best enjoyed shaken and over ice. Get 25% off site wide with code "SculptTB25".

Who Should Buy Sculpt Nation BCAAs

  • Athletes who want an “any time” BCAA that doesn’t contain caffeine or other stimulants.
  • Folks who are convinced that some extra minerals.
  • People looking for a strong fruit punch flavor

Who Shouldn’t Buy Sculpt Nation BCAAs

  • If you’re looking for a lot of extra, potentially performance-boosting ingredients in your BCAA supplement, you may want to look elsewhere; this is a simple, straightforward product
  • Pro athletes tend to prefer supplements certified free of banned substances by organizations like NSF or Informed Sport. 
  • People who want lots of choices in flavor variety, as this only comes in fruit punch.

Sculpt Nation’s BCAA product is one of the simplest we’ve tried. For some, that’s a big bonus.

Best BCAA for Keto

Ketogenic diets are ultra low-carb and often relatively low in protein, so many supplements with branched-chain amino acids can help retain muscle. 

Cellucor Alpha Amino 

Cellucor Alpha Amino is our top choice for people on a ketogenic diet. It has very few calories and no carbs, so there’s little risk of it kicking you out of ketosis, and it’s also pretty high in magnesium, sodium, and potassium — minerals that are usually recommended as important supplements for people following the high-fat diet. It contains five grams of BCAAs, which includes the desired 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. It’s worth noting, however, that this is not the cheapest product on the market.

Cellucor Alpha Amino
Cellucor Alpha Amino
Cellucor Alpha Amino

With zero grams of sugar, this is an ideal formula for anyone on the low-carb, high-fat keto diet. It also packs 750mg of creatine HCL for improved in-gym performance. 

Who Should Buy Cellucor Alpha Amino

  • If you’re on a keto diet, this product won’t take you out of ketosis.
  • The extra electrolytes here may make it a useful supplement for those who want help with hydration.
  • Alpha Amino happens to be soy-free, so it’s a solid choice if you’re avoiding soy.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Cellucor Alpha Amino

  • This one is a little pricier than your average offering at 17 cents per gram of BCAAs. Penny pinchers may want a cheaper product.
  • Anyone who wants more than one flavor to choose from — this product only comes in Watermelon.

BCAAs are particularly popular among those limiting their protein intake. If you’re finding your high-fat meals lacking in protein, BCAAs might be a good addition to your diet.

When Should I Take BCAAs?

It’s best to take BCAAs before or during your workout, depending on which kind you are using. BCAAs are a great supplement to potentially help build muscle through muscle protein synthesis. Many BCAAs come in a pre-workout blend, some come in an intra-workout blend, and most general BCAA supplements will instruct you to consume them 20 to 30 minutes prior to working out. A few BCAA supplements will say that you can take them before, during, or after a workout, but as far as basic BCAA supplements go, they’re most effective if you take them pre-workout. (1

BCAAs can come in an intra-workout blend, and these blends are meant to be consumed specifically during exercise. For anyone who’s going hard at the gym, intra-workout BCAAs may be helpful in warding off fatigue. (2

How Much Do BCAAs Cost?

BCAAs can be a fairly expensive individual supplement. Container prices range from $20 to $50, but in order to know exactly how much you are getting for your money, you’ll want to look at the cost per serving of each product. To do so, you should weigh the overall cost against the number of servings in each container — you’ll likely find that BCAAs go for anywhere between $0.75 and $2.50 per serving. 

The price of your BCAAs will go up depending on the ingredients you’re getting and how convenient the supplement is to take. For example, Performance Lab BCAAs are likely a bit more expensive because they come in pill form, which makes them easy to take on the go. Pre-Kaged is also more expensive because these BCAAs come in the form of a pre-workout, which contains a number of other energy-boosting ingredients. 

BCAA supplements often come with vitamins and minerals mixed in as well, and these blends will be more expensive than basic blends that are mainly just BCAAs. 

How We Decide the Best BCAAs

There are several elements we looked at — and dozens of products — to land on this list of the best BCAAs. Here’s the list we referenced as we assessed these supplements’ efficacy.

man drinking BCAAs
Image via Shutterstock/MDV Edwards

Amino Acid Ratio

The standard formulation for these products is two or three grams of leucine for every gram of isoleucine and valine (2:1:1). Although some products have many times more leucine, this hasn’t been shown to be more successful than the “standard” ratios. We looked for products with this standard 2:1:1 ratio when formulating this list. 

Ergogenic Effects

In addition to BCAAs, many products — including our number one pick — include ergogenic aids or ingredients linked to improved performance. These can include citrulline (related to improved circulation), beta-alanine (endurance), and caffeine (explosive power). We’ve included picks on this list that incorporate these ingredients, as well as picks that don’t. With the variety of options, those who are avoiding certain ingredients, like caffeine, shouldn’t have a problem finding a pick that works for them. 

Lipolytic Effect

Some of the BCAA products we highlighted include ingredients that may exert lipolytic or “fat-burning” effects. These include conjugated linoleic acid, green tea extract, and evodiamine. Fat loss is almost entirely about how many calories you burn in a day. Still, some limited research has suggested ingredients like these can help break down fatty acids, particularly during exercise. We’ve included BCAAs both with and without these ingredients on this list to suit the variety of needs customers may have. 

Micronutrients

Many BCAAs include extra Vitamin B6, which may help with muscle retention and which the body appears to lose during intense exercise. Some BCAAs have other B vitamins in addition to more micronutrients — like Vitamin C, which may help to limit oxidative damage during exercise, and sodium, which may help with hydration. If you’re keen on having added micronutrients in your BCAA supplement, we have plenty of options for you on this list. And if you’d rather skip the added vitamins and minerals and pay a little less for your BCAAs, you’ll also find those products in this list. 

What Are the Benefits of BCAAs?

You might have heard that amino acids are the building blocks of protein, but they’re not all alike. The three proteinogenic branched-chain amino acids (meaning BCAAs that are incorporated into proteins during translation) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Some evidence suggests that supplementing with pure BCAAs can positively affect workouts, mainly if you’re working out on an empty stomach or if you haven’t eaten much protein throughout the day. This is because they may promote muscle protein synthesis, and by preventing a serum decline in BCAAs (which occurs during exercise), they can help prevent fatigue. (3)(4)(5) They’ve even been linked to increased fat loss and quicker reaction times. (6)

Note that if your priority is muscle mass, you still need to eat enough calories and protein, get enough sleep, eat the right micronutrients, and so on. Nonetheless, on days when you haven’t been hitting every macronutrient goal, many athletes find BCAAs useful.

What’s In Your BCAAs?

We know that supplements, particularly ones like these, can involve a lot of jargon and be tough to understand for the average person. Let’s break down what you’re most likely to see on your ingredients label, starting with the three branched-chain amino acids.

BCAA Supplement Powder
Image via Shutterstock/Casimiro PT

Leucine 

Perhaps the most highly prized of all the amino acids, leucine has the closest link with boosting muscle protein synthesis, which occurs when protein in your body helps to repair the muscles damaged during exercise. While your total calories are essential for muscle growth and muscle retention, muscle protein synthesis is a vital part of the puzzle. (7)

Isoleucine

Used in the biosynthesis of proteins, this branched-chain amino acid may help prevent muscle breakdown, and promote fat burning. (8)

Valine

Another BCAA, valine, has some links to endurance and focus. Interestingly, if you have difficulty digesting it and there’s more of it in the blood, this could actually be a sign of insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and other conditions. (9) (10)

Then there are these other amino acids that aren’t BCAAs, but often accompany them in supplements:

Glutamine 

A conditionally essential amino acid (remember amino acids are building blocks of protein), glutamine is enormously popular in supplements because it has some links to muscle gain. However, most research has only seen this among people whose bodies are in trauma, like victims of burns or stab wounds — it hasn’t translated to gains for gym-goers. (11)

Beta-Alanine

A ubiquitous addition to pre-workouts, one-and-a-half to four grams of this stuff has shown to improve endurance and possibly hypertrophy. It’s possible that it also has some anti-aging effects, as it can increase the amount of carnosine (an antioxidant) in the body. (12)

Citrulline Malate 

An amino acid that’s prevalent in watermelons (along with legumes and organ meats), citrulline appears to improve nitric oxide metabolism, which can lead to better circulation and blood flow. In workouts, this can translate to better endurance and power output. It’s also a common ingredient in erectile dysfunction supplements. (13)

L-Carnitine L-Tartrate

This amino acid may reduce muscle damage caused by high-intensity exercise. It also has links to longevity, as it may improve mitochondrial function, and it could help retain lean muscle mass and enhance aerobic output. (14)

Vitamin C 

This vitamin may reduce cell damage that occurs during exercise. It’s a powerful antioxidant, which can be helpful for immune support. (15

B Vitamins 

The eight B vitamins may help increase one’s energy without jitters or unwanted sleep loss. They may also help with brain function and cell health. (1)

What to Know Before Buying BCAAs

If this is a brand new supplement for you or even if it isn’t, there’s information you should be aware of before adding these to your daily regimen. Always speak with your physician before undertaking a new supplement regimen. Once you do, read on for a few pro tips to consider on BCAAs

Calories Are King

Many take supplements like BCAAs and fat burners because they hear they help with weight loss and muscle gain. BCAAs may help you retain muscle, but it’s essential to keep in mind that losing weight only happens if you’re in a calorie deficit. BCAAs can help with energy levels and potentially make it easier and more productive to work out on an empty stomach — but your total calories will be what makes or breaks your fat loss and muscle gain. All in all, to reap the most benefit from your BCAAs, make sure your daily nutrition and caloric intake is on track first and foremost.

BCAAs Aren’t Necessary

BCAAs are not necessary if you have a sufficient protein intake. Still, they’re often used as supplements to boost muscle protein synthesis between meals or enhance performance and retain muscle when exercising on an empty stomach. If you’re eating macro-friendly meals throughout the day, these supplements may not be as necessary. Consider your diet in full before deciding if a BCAA supplement is right for you. 

Final Word

We tried dozens of branched-chain amino acid supplements when putting together this list — weighing price, taste, ingredients, and effectiveness along with many other factors. Plenty of people have different ideas about what constitutes a “high quality” supplement, but we think we’ve put together the most comprehensive guide to aid in picking the perfect BCAA supplement to match your goals. 

FAQs

What are BCAAs?

It stands for branched chain amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the branched chain amino acids are those most closely associated with muscle protein synthesis, the process by which protein is produced to repair and retain muscle.

What are the benefits of BCAAs?

Evidence suggests that BCAAs may help to retain muscle and improve workout performance, particularly if you’re exercising on an empty stomach or if you haven’t eaten much protein lately. By preventing the serum decline in BCAAs, they may also help to reduce fatigue and muscle soreness during workouts.

Do I need to take BCAAs?

Probably not, so long as you’re eating plenty of protein and calories throughout your day. If that’s the case, taking extra BCAAs around a workout probably won’t serve much extra benefit. Where BCAAs appear to have the most use is when the athlete is exercising on an empty stomach, isn’t eating much quality protein with a meal, or wants to retain their muscle during a fast or during a long period without protein. If you fall into those categories, BCAAs may be useful.

Are BCAAs vegan?

Usually not. Most BCAAs are made from hair or feathers. However, if you look for brands with fermented BCAAs, such as KAGED MUSCLE, then you can be confident it’s vegan friendly.

References

  1. Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy–A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020068
  2. AbuMoh’d, M. F., Matalqah, L., & Al-Abdulla, Z. (2020). Effects of Oral Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Intake on Muscular and Central Fatigue During an Incremental Exercise. Journal of human kinetics, 72, 69–78. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2019-0099
  3. Zheng L, et al. Effects of Supplementation of Branched-Chain Amino Acids to Reduced-Protein Diet on Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Degradation in the Fed and Fasted States in a Piglet Model. Nutrients. 2016 Dec 28;9(1).
  4. Matthews DE, et al. Observations of branched-chain amino acid administration in humans. J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6 Suppl):1580S-4S.
  5. Blomstrand E, et al. Administration of branched-chain amino acids during sustained exercise–effects on performance and on plasma concentration of some amino acids. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1991;63(2):83-8.
  6. Wiśnik P, et al. The effect of branched chain amino acids on psychomotor performance during treadmill exercise of changing intensity simulating a soccer game. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Dec;36(6):856-62.
  7. Mero A. Leucine supplementation and intensive training. Sports Med. 1999 Jun;27(6):347-58. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199927060-00001. PMID: 10418071.
  8. Du Y, Meng Q, Zhang Q, Guo F. Isoleucine or valine deprivation stimulates fat loss via increasing energy expenditure and regulating lipid metabolism in WAT. Amino Acids. 2012 Aug;43(2):725-34. doi: 10.1007/s00726-011-1123-8. Epub 2011 Oct 21. PMID: 22016194.
  9. Tsuda Y, Iwasawa K, Yamaguchi M. Acute supplementation of valine reduces fatigue during swimming exercise in rats. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2018 May;82(5):856-861. doi: 10.1080/09168451.2018.1438168. Epub 2018 Feb 23. PMID: 29475409.
  10. Bloomgarden Z. Diabetes and branched-chain amino acids: What is the link? J Diabetes. 2018 May;10(5):350-352. doi: 10.1111/1753-0407.12645. Epub 2018 Feb 13. PMID: 29369529.
  11. Gleeson M. Dosing and efficacy of glutamine supplementation in human exercise and sport training. J Nutr. 2008 Oct;138(10):2045S-2049S. doi: 10.1093/jn/138.10.2045S. PMID: 18806122.
  12.  Huerta Ojeda Á, Tapia Cerda C, Poblete Salvatierra MF, Barahona-Fuentes G, Jorquera Aguilera C. Effects of Beta-Alanine Supplementation on Physical Performance in Aerobic-Anaerobic Transition Zones: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 19;12(9):2490. doi: 10.3390/nu12092490. PMID: 32824885; PMCID: PMC7551186.
  13. Pérez-Guisado J, Jakeman PM. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 May;24(5):1215-22. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cb28e0. PMID: 20386132.
  14. Fielding, R., Riede, L., Lugo, J. P., & Bellamine, A. (2018). l-Carnitine Supplementation in Recovery after Exercise. Nutrients, 10(3), 349. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10030349
  15. Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1211. doi: 10.3390/nu9111211. PMID: 29099763; PMCID: PMC5707683.