BCAAs are a hot topic in today’s fitness world. Whether it be your favorite social media guru or 50% of Bodybuilding.com articles, Branched-Chain Amino Acid supplements claim to give an edge to your workouts.
However, with all of the noise surrounding BCAAs, it’s enough to make the seasoned gym rat go mad and cheat on their diets! How do you choose which BCAA to trust?
Fear not, bro universe – we compiled a list of the best BCAA supplements for you! (Let your girl we got her covered here)
If you’re in between sets, here’s a quick list of the 5 top-of-the-line BCAA supplements:
- Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder
- Cellucor B-BCAA
- Evlution Nutrition BCAA5000
- BulkSupplements Pure BCAA 3:1:2
- BPI Sports Best BCAA
For those trying to max out brain gains, here is a rundown of what BCAAs are, how you should use them in your routine, and a summary of the top supplements.
Y’all ready to learn?
What The Heck Are BCAA Supplements?
The king of workout supplements, branched-chain amino acids actually help us ingest amino acids our bodies do not naturally create.
Amino acids are required to synthesize protein or breaking protein down to be transformed into muscle (a.k.a. the building blocks of protein.)
There are 20 different amino acids – 11 nonessential and 9 essential.
Our bodies synthesize the nonessential amino acids, while the 9 essential amino acids come from our diet.
Three essential amino acids are branched-chain, a reference to their chemical structure. These three BCAAs are pivotal because they bypass the liver, which means they can enter cells via blood circulation.
BCAAs, therefore, help shorten the breakdown of molecules (catabolic) and optimize the rebuild of those same molecules (anabolic).
In non-scientific terms, they max out how much muscle you build back after tearing them down in a workout.
The three BCAAs are:
Leucine: The strongman of the trio, leucine is the primary branched-chain amino acid.
This particular BCAA induces muscle protein synthesis more than the other two. It’s like when you bring your two friends to the gym for the first time and they’re slightly weaker; you are the leucine who knows what’s up.
Isoleucine: The hard-gainer of the group, isoleucine is intermediate in muscle protein synthesis, but is advanced in aiding glucose uptake and “the usage of glucose during exercise”.
Basically, this BCAA helps your pre-workout snack become the energy you need to crush your workout.
Valine: What it lacks in power, it makes up for in smarts.
Valine is the smallest BCAA brother, not the best at protein synthesis; however, it does help with “smooth nervous system and cognitive functioning”.
Also, valine aids in the recovery of sore muscles and can act as an appetite suppressant. So while it doesn’t go as hard in the gym as leucine and isoleucine, valine is incredibly important for the back-end anabolic process.
Why Take BCAA Supplements?
The three BCAAs together form a potent combo. The benefits supplementing BCAAs before, during, or after an intense workout are numerous:
- Enhance muscle protein synthesis by breaking down compounds fast and building up the optimal amount of muscle.
- Maintain lean muscle mass while you’re off from training. Taking BCAA supplements have been found to slow down atrophy in muscles if you take time away from the gym.
- Enhance strength training by improving neuromuscular adaptations (your body quickly adapts to the stress you put it under).
- Aid in recovery, lessening muscle soreness and allowing you to hit another workout sooner than without BCAAs.
- Help with fat mobilization and staying lean.
- Improve hormone regulation and balance so your body becomes a well-tuned machine.
BCAAs can potentially even out insulin levels throughout the day, making sure you avoid Type 2 diabetes. Taking them before a workout in a fasted state is also a fantastic source of energy on an empty stomach.
What Is The Ideal Ratio?
From science to math…this is getting heavy Doc. Good thing we like to lift heavy things.
There are three BCAAs in most mixtures: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. There are some products out there that are solely leucine, but A) they taste bitter and awful, and B) they don’t give you all of those extra benefits listed above.
In order to get the most “bang for your buck,” I suggest a compound of all three.
So what’s the magical ratio?
As we covered earlier, leucine is king. Whenever you see a bottle of BCAAs that says “2:1:1” ratio or “10:1:1” ratio, that first number is the amount of leucine in a dose compared to isoleucine and valine.
But which is better: 2:1:1 or 10:1:1?
Well, according to the best advice out there – the Internet – 3 grams of leucine seems to optimize molecule activation and muscle protein synthesis.
Plus, you want to make sure you get at least 1 gram each of isoleucine and valine in order to get the benefits of those specific amino acids.
So, in a nutshell, you need 5 total grams of a BCAA supplement before a workout (3g leucine + 1g isoleucine + 1g valine). If you take 6 grams of 2:1:1 ratio BCAAs, then you should get 3 grams of the big dawg, 1.5 grams of the energy creator and fat burner, and 1.5 grams of the neuron booster and recovery master.
A 10:1:1 ratio sounds better – gotta max out the leucine, bro! – but it’s unnecessary, and takes away from the benefits of the supporting BCAA cast.
What Is The Recommended Dosage?
The last thing we want is for you to OD on BCAAs.
I let it slip in the last section, but most gym bros suggest 5 grams of BCAA supplement before a workout to optimize the amino acids.
But they also say to get 3 grams of leucine. If you are using a 2:1:1 ratio BCAA supplement, 5 grams nets you only 2.5 grams of leucine.
Am I being a Math Nazi? Perhaps. But I’d suggest 6 grams with a 2:1:1 ratio for the absolute best muscle gains, fat loss, and recovery.
What About BCAA Side Effects?
The second-to-last thing we want is for you to grow scales and other deformities from BCAAs.
These supplements are normally harmless; just simple protein synthesizers made to increase your results in the weight room and the kitchen.
Nevertheless, there are certain times taking BCAAs may not be safe.
If a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding, it is recommended to not partake in BCAA supplements, due to the lack of research on safety.
I assume if you’re reading this, you probably won’t deal with these conditions. (Wassup, dudes?)
But if you’re due for a surgery soon, it is best to avoid BCAAs as well; BCAAs affect blood sugar levels, so make sure to halt your BCAA routine a few weeks before the surgery.
Be on the Lookout When Buying BCAAs!
Here is a system to help you decide which brightly-colored BCAA bottle is right for you:
- 1. Choose what’s most convenient for you. A powder is the most popular form of BCAAs, but they also come in tablets and capsules. If it’s easier to shake some in water before a workout, go for the powders. If you’d rather drink unflavored water, pills are your go-to.
- 2. Choose a solid ratio. 2:1:1 or 3:1:1 is your best bet.
- 3. Read the ingredients. This one is important. Don’t go for products with a bunch of added filler. Go for as natural a supplement as you can find. Added sugars are the devil.
- 4. Your BCAA supplement should be easily absorbable. Most people “warm up” at the start of a workout; if you take a BCAA that can absorb with mild or moderate activity, you will experience the supplement’s benefits faster and longer throughout your workout.
- 5. Price. This should be the last thing you look at. If steps 1-4 lead you to one supplement, but it’s $5 more than the cheapest option, swallow the premium. What you put into your body is what you get out…and cheap is cheap.
The Top BCAA Supplements
Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder
Scivation’s BCAA supplement powder is optimal when it comes to athletics and hydration. With 7 grams per serving, you’re getting enough of all three BCAAS to tackle hard workouts.
Here is an in-depth look:
- 2:1:1 ratio and a 7g serving ensures you get optimum amounts of each amino acid
- Other than the BCAAs, other ingredients include citric acid, which helps your body get to a more alkaline state, and acesulfame potassium, a substance 200 times sweeter than sugar while calorie-free and suitable for diabetics.
- Good source of Vitamin B6; this helps “maintain a healthy nervous system”.
Three flavors: Watermelon, blue raspberry, and blood orange.
Free of added sugars and carbohydrates, Xtend BCAA Powder is sure to give you amazing results.
This one is for those who want more, more, more. Cellucor’s BCAAs come in 10-gram servings, ensuring enough of each amino acid for your workout.
It also includes a 1.6-gram dose of beta-alanine, another essential amino acid which “enhances muscular endurance” and “acts as an acid buffer in the body”.
Other things to note for Cellucor’s product:
- 2:1:1 ratio with a 10g serving – you get your necessary BCAAs
- Also includes citrulline, one of the non-essential amino acids, and hica, which “has anabolic properties, and may be effective at increasing lean mass”.
In tropical punch, lemon-lime, and watermelon, Cellucor is the BCAA supplement for those long workouts or grueling cardio sessions.
Evlution Nutrition BCAA5000
What they lack in spelling skills, Evlution Nutrition makes up for with convenience and benefits. These are capsules, making it cost-friendly and easy to implement as pre-workout regimine. A 2:1:1 ratio with a 5-gram dosage, it’s low for our recommended amount, but it should still net you, muscle protein synthesis, energy, and recovery.
It also provides you with:
- Magnesium stearate, a small source of magnesium, but its main purpose is being an inactive ingredient to ensure consistent dosing for the BCAAs.
- No added sugars of course (pill form).
The serving size is 8 capsules, which includes 2.5g of leucine, 1.25g of isoleucine, and 1.25g of valine total.
So, in order to get the recommended amounts, you’ll have to double the dosage, which equals out to 16 capsules.
A heavy amount, but if you prefer taking pills instead of powders, this is still the best option.
For the guy that doesn’t want to sip on flavored water during their sets, Evlution Nutrition BCAA5000 is perfect for a hit-it-and-quit-it boost.
BulkSupplements Pure BCAA 3:1:2
Our dark horse, BulkSupplements changes things up by providing a 3:1:2 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine respectively.
This means more of big brother and little brother, which means more muscle protein synthesis and recovery. With zero extra ingredients, this is pure as it gets; what you lack in taste you gain in muscle.
BulkSupplements Pure BCAA 3:1:2 is for the guys focused on reaching elite heights of muscle, strength, and leanness.
BPI Sports Best BCAA
This supplement is for those who value taste. (I mean, who wouldn’t? I want my supps to taste good!)
BPI Sports contains not only our favorite trio of essential aminos, but it also includes a blend of safflower oil powder, avocado oil powder, and coconut oil powder, as well as agmatine, which potentially increases intra-workout energy, muscle pumps, mental clarity as a nootropic, and healthy insulin sensitivity.
This supplement includes the heavily-favored 2:1:1 ratio, though you need two scoops to hit our recommendation for each BCAA.
This advanced formula comes in fruit punch, arctic ice, and blue raspberry. If you’re looking for an extra 1%, BPI Sports Best is your supp.
I realize this is a ton of information to process. The bottom line is BCAAs, along with proper nutrition and an exercise routine befitting your level, can provide massive benefits to your workouts.
More energy, more muscle, more recovery. These essential amino acids are the building blocks to our bulked bodies.
Remember to stick to a ratio that optimizes results, avoid added sugars or other non-tested supplements, and don’t go over the recommended dosage.
BCAAs are the cream of the crop…and if that’s what you want to be, then I urge you to try them out!