Once a niche athletic supplement, branched chain amino acids (BCAA) have exploded in popularity as a means to improve muscle retention, fat loss, endurance, and focus during workouts. Today there are hundreds of different BCAAs on the market many of which include stimulants, adaptogens, micronutrients, and extracts to make them stand out from the crowd. We’ll help you find the best BCAAs for men, for women, for keto, and 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 also benefit workout performance. In this article, we’ve taken the BCAAs, the extra ingredients, the price, and the taste into account when deciding the best brand depending on your goal.

They’re not necessary if you have a sufficient protein intake, but they’re often used as supplements to boost muscle protein synthesis between meals or to enhance performance and retain muscle when exercising on an empty stomach. 

It can be hard to know which is the best BCAA. That’s why we did the work for you. Of course, there are a lot of different criteria by which people judge the best anything. So we tried dozens and dozens of them, from the biggest brands to the up and comers, to land on our favorites in the following nine categories.

Best BCAAs

Keep reading for some more detailed breakdowns of our top choices per category, as well as picks for some other common categories below!

Best BCAA Powder: Scivation Xtend

This is our category for the best all-rounder, the item you can reach for if you simply want an effective supplement that contains what it claims and doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles.

Xtend BCAA

Scivation Xtend Highlights

At 11 cents per gram of BCAA it’s one of the most inexpensive BCAAs you can find, but it also delivers lots of Vitamin B6 (which may help with muscle retention), electrolytes, glutamine, and citrulline malate, which might help you crank out a few more reps.

It’s also available in over a dozen different flavors and if you don’t like artificial sweeteners, there’s even a “natural” option. Bonus: it has no caffeine or stimulants, so it can be taken any time of day.

Scivation Xtend BCAA
Scivation Xtend BCAA
Scivation Xtend BCAA

With a higher than usual dose and a wide variety of tasty flavors, Scivation deserves its reputation as one of the best BCAA products, period.

Who Should Buy Scivation Xtend

  • Anyone who wants a huge variety of flavors to choose from.
  • Athletes who want an “any time” BCAA that doesn’t contain caffeine or other stimulants.
  • Folks who are convinced that some extra B6 and glutamine is helpful for their goals.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Scivation Xtend

  • If you’re trying to absolutely minimize salt, the 220 milligrams of sodium (9% of the recommended daily intake) might be a bit much for you.
  • Pro athletes tend to prefer supplements certified free of banned substances by organizations like NSF or Informed Sport. Xtend isn’t; for that you should check out the NSF-certified Xtend Sport.

With its large serving size, extra electrolytes, and variety of flavors, Xtend deserves it spot at the top of the BCAA industry.

Best BCAA for Men: Betancourt Plus Series BCAA

When trying to land on the best BCAA for men, we take into account what makes a good BCAA — a solid serving size, decent value, useful additives — and then we scour the ingredients list for anything that might be particularly useful for male athletes, like nutrients linked to improved testosterone. 

betancourt bcaa

Betancourt Plus Series BCAA Highlights

That’s why Betancourt came out on top as the best BCAA for men. It’s actually a great all-rounder as far as BCAAs go, but we found it particularly useful to men because it contains a very high amount of zinc.

One serving contains almost 150 percent of your daily intake, and adequate zinc intake has been linked to optimal testosterone production. It also has a large amount of Vitamin B6 and B12, too.

Betancourt Plus Series BCAA
Betancourt Plus Series BCAA
Betancourt Plus Series BCAA
This BCAA delivers over 6 grams of essential amino acids and has extended release leucine.

Who Should Buy Betancourt Plus Series BCAA

  • Guys who want to ensure their diet is optimized for testosterone production may value the high zinc content. (Although there are plenty of other factors, like Vitamin D and sleep, that are also important here.)
  • If you want extra leucine, this is for you: it has a 4:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Most BCAAs have a 2:1:1 or 3:1:1 ratio. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Betancourt Plus Series BCAA

  • Athletes who are trying to save money — this one is on the pricier side.

It’s not the cheapest, but it’s delicious and it does offer some nutritional benefits ahead of some of its competitors. We think Betancourt is worth it.

Best BCAA for Women: IdealLean BCAAs for Women

Women can sometimes seem left out of the sometimes hypermasculine world of sports supplements, but some BCAAs are catered toward this underserved demographic.

IdealLean BCAAs for Women Highlights

Ideallean is one of the only BCAAs we’ve seen aimed squarely at female athletes. According to their website, the big draw the product has for women is its focus on fat loss, and indeed it contains a wide variety of ingredients, from evodiamine extract to green tea catechins, that have been linked to fat loss in some studies. It’s also very high in certain B-vitamins that are important for women, particularly during childbearing years.

IdealLean BCAAs
IdealLean BCAAs
IdealLean BCAAs
This supplement delivers over 5 grams of 2:1:1 ratio BCAAs to fuel every type of workout.

Who Should Buy IdealLean BCAAs for Women  

  • IdealLean offers a lot of fun flavors, like Raspberry Lemonade and Blueberry Pomegranate, that we’ve never seen in other brands.
  • If you want a hit of B-vitamins with your BCAAs, this provides plenty of B6, B9, and even 3,000 percent of your daily B12.
  • With 38 percent of your daily magnesium and as many electrolytes as you’ll find in popular sports drinks, the additives here may help with hydration and recovery.

Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealLean BCAAs for Women  

  • This is one of the pricer BCAAs, so none of those benefits speak to you, you may want something cheaper.

The truth is that any woman can take any BCAA product, but the fun flavors and focus on B-vitamins and fat loss make this a popular option for female and male athletes.

Best BCAA for Keto: Cellucor Alpha Amino

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

cellucor alpha amino

Cellucor Alpha Amino Highlights

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.

Cellucor Alpha Amino
Cellucor Alpha Amino
Cellucor Alpha Amino
This BCAA delivers a 2:1:1 ratio along with 11 essential amino acids.

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 good 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.

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

Best BCAA for CrossFit®-Style Training: KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel

There are BCAAs, and then there are BCAAs with extra ingredients designed to get you through grueling workouts. When you need some pep in your step or you’d like some ergogenic benefits to your BCAAs, this is our favorite — and it can be taken before, during, or after a workout.

Kaged Muscle In-Kaged Intra-Workout Fuel

KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel Highlights

KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel was our favorite for functional fitness style workouts (such as CrossFit® workouts). This is because it has a good hit of caffeine, plus there’s taurine and tyrosine to help with jitteriness and improve cognition and focus. There’s also beta-alanine and l-citrulline, which have been linked to endurance.

KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
A BCAA product that's well dosed in ingredients linked to blood flow and focus.

Who Should Buy KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel Highlights

  • If you want a product that combines the benefits of BCAAs with the benefits of pre workouts, this is the product for you.
  • Vegans — most BCAAs are actually derived from animals, but KAGED MUSCLE used fermented, vegan-friendly versions. (Yes, they’re just as effective.)

Who Shouldn’t Buy KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel Highlights

  • This isn’t an “any time” BCAA. Some like their extra amino acids at night time, or they want them to supplement their diet during the day without stimulating them. This is the former.
  • Beta-alanine can cause a “tingling” sensation called paresthesia. It’s harmless but if you don’t like it, stick to a more basic BCAA.

This is the best BCAA product to get you through tough workouts. The combination of citrulline, beta-alanine, taurine, and tyrosine give it many of the same benefits of pre workouts combined with the muscle benefits of BCAAs.

Best BCAA for Weight Loss: IdealLean BCAAs for Women

Many take BCAAs to help preserve muscle when in a calorie deficit, and some products 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 BCAAs for Women Highlights

Ideallean BCAAs for Women had the most dedicated weight loss ingredients. This 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.

IdealLean BCAAs
IdealLean BCAAs
IdealLean BCAAs
This supplement delivers over 5 grams of 2:1:1 ratio BCAAs to fuel every type of workout.

Who Should Buy IdealLean BCAAs for Women

  • If you’re absolutely committed to losing weight, your calories are in control, and you’d like all the extra help you can get, it’s possible that the non-BCAA ingredients here might help you on your journey.

Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealLean BCAAs for Women

  • Given this is one of the pricier BCAAs, if you just want the amino acids you may prefer a different brand.

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

Best BCAA Powder for the Money: Allmax Aminocore

On average, one of these supplements costs roughly 12 cents per gram. However, there are plenty of products that fall below this price, although many of them cut corners. Not this one.

allmax aminocore

Allmax Aminocore Highlights

Allmax Aminocore was our choice for the best value branched chain amino acid supplement. It’s about 8.8 cents per gram of BCAAs, plus it delivers a lot of B-vitamins and it has nice, big serving size of 8 grams of BCAAs per scoop. It also. contains extra B-vitamins: Vitamins B3, B6, B9, and B12, along with alpha ketoisocaproic acid, which might help with high intensity exercise.

AllMax Aminocore BCAA
AllMax Aminocore BCAA
AllMax Aminocore BCAA

This tasty BCAA supplement contains 44 servings and over 8g of BCAAs to help muscles recover.

Who Should Buy Allmax Aminocore Highlights

  • If you’re cash strapped or you just value, well, value, then this inexpensive product is up your alley.
  • If you’re leery of artificial colors, soy, or acesulfame potassium, you’ll be glad to know Aminocore has none of them.
  • Many will appreciate the big dose of B-vitamins, plus the alpha ketoisocaproic acid could assist with HIIT training. (Although the evidence there is decidedly mixed.)

Who Should Buy Allmax Aminocore Highlights

  • Although there are no artificial colors and it’s missing the sweetener acesulfame potassium, it still has the artificial sweetener sucralose. People who want all natural products may want to steer clear.
  • Aminocore doesn’t contain a lot of extra ingredients (like citrulline) that might enhance workouts or recovery.

Aminocore is a solid product that offers quality at a great price. So long as you don’t mind the relative lack of bells and whistles, it’s a fine pick.

Best BCAA for Muscle Growth: Betancourt Plus Series BCAA 

If muscle growth is your goal then, well, your primary concern should be eating enough calories and macronutrients throughout the day. (Here’s a calculator for that.) But when it comes to BCAAs, you might want something that supports hormonal health and muscle retention.

Betancourt Nutrition Plus Series BCAA Ingredients

Betancourt Plus Series BCAA Highlights

Betancourt Plus Series BCAA was our favorite for stimulating muscle growth. This isn’t just because it contains a lot of zinc, which is linked to healthy testosterone production. It also contains not one, but two kinds of leucine, the amino acid that’s most closely linked with muscle protein synthesis.

Betancourt Plus Series BCAA
Betancourt Plus Series BCAA
Betancourt Plus Series BCAA
This BCAA delivers over 6 grams of essential amino acids and has extended release leucine.

Who Should Buy Betancourt Plus Series BCAA

  • Anybody who wants extra leucine — this amino acid has the closest link to muscle retention and there’s double the amount of it in this product relative to many competitors. 
  • If you’re concerned about testosterone levels, the zinc in this product may help support them.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Betancourt Plus Series BCAA

  • The science of the perfect ratio of leucine to other amino acids isn’t quite settled. If you’d rather stick with the more conventional 2:1:1 ratio, go with something like Scivation Xtend.

Remember, muscle gain really comes down to your diet, not your supplements. But with leucine and zinc so closely associated to mechanisms related to muscle retention, Betancourt might be a useful addition.

Best BCAA Pills: Dymatize Nutrition BCAA Complex 2200

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 especially advantageous when you remember that many people take BCAAs because they’re going long periods of time between meals, as you do when you’re out and about.

Dymatize BCAA Complex 2200 Review

Dymatize Nutrition BCAA Complex 2200 Highlights

These were our favorite branched chain amino acid pills. At 13 cents per gram of BCAA they’re not that cheap, but they come with a dose of Vitamin C, which can reduce cellular damage during exercise, and Vitamin B6, which can help with muscle retention. There’s also a host of ingredients, like crospovidone and croscarmellose, that help with product to absorb as efficiently as possible.

Dymatize BCAA 2200
Dymatize BCAA 2200
Dymatize BCAA 2200
A supplement with over 400 BCAA capsules containing 2.2 grams of BCAAs per serving.

Who Should Buy Dymatize Nutrition BCAA Complex 2200

  • Travelers; if you’re on a lengthy trip and airplane meals or truckstop snacks aren’t giving you the leucine you need, having a handful of pills in your backpack can be a godsend.
  • Anyone who doesn’t like needing a shaker bottle handy whenever they want to take their BCAAs. 
  • Anyone who wants to avoid the artificial sweeteners so common in these products.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Dymatize Nutrition BCAA Complex 2200

  • People looking to get the cheapest BCAA possible — these aren’t better value than plain old powder.
  • Anyone who doesn’t want to take ten pills at a time to reach a standard five-gram dose.

Tablets are a nifty way to get your BCAAs on the go, without a shaker bottle, and 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 leucine.

bcaa supplements

How We Decide the Best 

There are several elements we looked at — and dozens of products — to land on this list of the best BCAAs. Here’s our list that we looked at every time we assessed a supplement’s efficacy.

Amino Acid Ratio

The standard formulation for these products is 2 or 3 grams of leucine for every gram of isoleucine and valine. Although some products have many times more leucine, this hasn’t been shown to be more successful than the “classic” ratios.

Ergogenic Effects

In addition to BCAAs, a lot of products — including our number one pick — include ergogenic aids, or ingredients linked to improved performance. These include citrulline (linked to improved circulation), beta-alanine (endurance), and caffeine (explosive power).

Lipolytic Effect

Some of the BCAA products we highlighted because they include extra ingredients that may exert lipolytic, or “fat burning” effects. These include conjugated linoleic acid, green tea extract, and evodiamine. To be clear, fat loss is almost entirely about how many calories you burn in a day, but some limited research has suggested ingredients like these can be helpful at breaking down fatty acids, particularly during exercise.

Micronutrients

Many BCAAs include extra Vitamin B6, which may help with muscle retention and which the body appears to lose during intense exercise. But many others include other B-vitamins in addition to other micronutrients: Vitamin C may help to limit oxidative damage during exercise and sodium may help with hydration.

Value

A well priced BCAA is about 12 cents per gram of BCAAs. If a product costs significantly more, such as IdealLean, it would only make the list if it had additives that justified the price.

black woman gym

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 have a positive effect on workouts, particularly 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.(1)(2)(3) They’ve even been linked to increased fat loss and quicker reaction times.(4)

Note that if your priority is muscle, 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.

bcaa

What’s In Your BCAA?

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.

Leucine 

Perhaps the most highly prized of all the amino acids, leucine has the closest link with boosting muscle protein synthesis. While your total calories are important for muscle growth and muscle retention, muscle protein synthesis is a key part of the puzzle.

Isoleucine  

Used in the biosynthesis of proteins, this branched chain amino acid may be anti-catabolic and promote fat burning.

Valine  

Another essential amino acid, 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 is seen as a sign of insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and other conditions.

running guy

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 really translated to gains for gym goers.

Beta Alanine  

A very common addition to pre workouts, 1.6 to 4 grams of the stuff has pretty reliably been seen to improve endurance, be that in cardio-based workouts or higher-rep strength training. to improved endurance and possibly hypertrophy. It’s possible that it also has some anti aging effects, as it increases the amount of carnosine, an antioxidant, in the body.

Citrulline Malate 

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

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 to retain lean muscle mass and improve aerobic output.

Betaine anhydrous 

Found in large amounts in beets and leafy greens, this amino acid derivative may improve power output. Research has found it to also potentially affect muscular endurance and reduce the cortisol — that’s the “stress hormone” — that often rises post workout.

Oranges And Blueberries free

Vitamin C 

Could reduce cell damage that occurs during exercise.

B-Vitamins 

Linked to energy production, but do not act as stimulants.

Taurine 

May improve recovery and reduce muscle cramps; helps with jitteriness associated with caffeine.

Pepper Extract 

Improves the absorption of nutrients and supplements.

black pepper

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 going ahead and adding these to your daily regimen. Read on for a few pro tips on taking BCAAs.

Calories Are King

Many take supplements like BCAAs and fat burners because they hear they help with weight loss and muscle gain. This may be true in so far as BCAAs may help you retain muscle, but it’s important to keep in mind that losing weight only happens if you’re in a calorie deficit. BCAAs can help with energy levels, make it easier and more productive to work out on an empty stomach, and so on — and these can all be useful at helping you to achieve your goal. But your total calories will be what makes or breaks your fat loss.  

Is This Necessary?

Most find that BCAAs are the most useful if you’re going a long period of time without protein or if you’re exercising on an empty stomach. If you’re eating macro-friendly meals throughout the day, these supplements may not be necessary.

Medical Advice

Always speak with your physician before undertaking a new supplement regimen.

Final Word

We tried dozens of branched chain amino acid supplements to land on this list, weighing price, taste, ingredients, and effectiveness. Plenty of people have different ideas as to what constitutes a “quality” supplement, but we think we’ve put together the best darn guide to picking a BCAA on the internet. For more information on each of the products, just make sure to click through to the full review. Enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are BCAAs?

It stands for branched chain amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the branched chain amino acids ar 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 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. 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).
2. Matthews DE, et al. Observations of branched-chain amino acid administration in humans. J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6 Suppl):1580S-4S.
3. 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.
4. 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.