Women are lethal. No one can deny that. They hit the gym harder than men most times, and they want to look amazingly built too.
But is it a good idea to work out the same way? Well, they should definitely lift weights, but what about supplements, like BCAAs?
Truth is, it is perfectly safe for women to train like men; in fact, it should be encouraged. Here, I’ll tell you what BCAAs are, why women can and should take BCAAs, what the recommended ratio and dosage are, and how to find the right supplement for you.
For those who want to know the best BCAA for women right now, here is the condensed list:
Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder
||View on Rogue Fitness|
Transparent Labs BCAA
||View on Transparent Labs|
Cellucor Alpha Amino Ultimate EAA & BCAA
||View on Amazon|
Evlution Nutrition BCAA5000
||View on Amazon|
Bulksupplements BCAA 3:1:2
||View on Amazon|
Optimum Nutrition BCAA
||View on Amazon|
For the ladies who want to learn more about how a BCAA product works to prevent muscle breakdown, help with muscle gain, and supports those tough workouts, read on.
- What Are BCAA Supplements?
- Additional Extras that May Be Included
- Can Women Take BCAA Supplements?
- How Do They Work?
- What Are The Benefits Of Taking BCAAs?
- What Is The Ideal Ratio?
- What Is The Recommended Dosage?
- When Should You Take BCAAs?
- How Long Do BCAAs Take to Work?
- What Are The Side Effects Of Taking BCAAs?
- What Look For When Purchasing BCAAs
- What's the Difference Between BCAA and a Protein Supplement?
- Review Of The Top BCAA Supplements
- FAQs About BCAA’s for Women
What Are BCAA Supplements?
We covered this in a previous article, but essentially BCAA stands for branched chain amino acid. A branched chain amino acid “promotes muscle synthesis and increases lean muscle growth over time.” BCAAs and are comprised of three different amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
The main BCAA, leucine is the primary trigger of the protein mTOR, which leads to heightened muscle protein synthesis.
There are other amino acids and metabolites that do the same thing, but not at the same potency.
As far as scientific evidence goes, leucine is the best at inducing muscle protein synthesis, meaning it’s optimal for muscle rebuilding and growth.
The secondary amino acid in the mixture, isoleucine is intermediate at inducing muscle protein synthesis.
However, it’s main job is “to significantly increase glucose uptake and the usage of glucose during exercise,” giving you the energy to crush workouts and utilize your fast energy.
When you eat food, you intake glucose, or the body’s major source of energy. When you work out, it takes glucose to perform all of the movements.
With added isoleucine, you use up more glucose and more energy enters your muscle cells. In short: Bigger pumps, heavier lifts, extra energy.
The kid brother of the three, it appears valine’s purpose is to supplement the other two in the BCAA group.
This essential amino acid acts closer to leucine than isoleucine, in that it helps create more mTOR proteins, while to a lesser extent transferring more glucose into glycogen.
On its own, valine isn’t too potent, but it gives leucine and isoleucine a nice boost.
All three of these amino acids are essential amino acids; therefore, they cannot be made by the body, instead taken in by diet and supplementation.
BCAA supplements cover three of the nine total essential amino acids.
The other six are histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan.
Additional Extras that May Be Included
Every brand of BCAA supplements have their own proprietary blend of ingredients that are meant to boost your body’s performance and muscle recovery. When you read the labels, you may also see some of the following.
Choline is an essential nutrient that your body needs for brain health and muscle control. It’s often grouped with the B vitamins as a component of the B vitamin complex. A choline deficiency can lead to muscular damage.
Beta-alanine is a common athletic supplement that helps your body produce carnosine. Carnosine helps improve athletic performance while reducing lactic acid build-up in the muscles.
Taurine plays an essential role in reducing muscle damage during exercise, and improving processes within the body. These benefits can result in better athletic performance and muscle recovery.
Piperine, AKA black pepper, is a common ingredient in BCAA supplements as it can improve absorption within the body.
A high-quality sport BCAA supplement often contains extra electrolytes to promote hydration both during and after a tough workout, eliminating the need for sugary sport drinks.
Can Women Take BCAA Supplements?
With women comes a different physiological structure than men, which begs the question: Is it safe for women to take BCAA supplements?
Short answer: Absolutely.
Long answer: Multiple studies have found that women who take BCAAs experience less muscle soreness, improved body composition with exercise, minimal muscle loss and reduced body fat for women with a low calorie intake, and faster mental and physical fatigue recovery.
Should You Buy BCAAs?
It’s important to understand that BCAAs, like any dietary supplements, are just that: a supplement. BCAA supplements are not a miracle product that are going to do the work for you. However, if you’re someone who puts in the work and trains on a regular basis, buying BCAAs is a smart choice.
This is a supplement that can give your body what it needs to sustain you as you pursue your fitness goals. If your goal is to build muscle mass and increase your strength, then BCAAs can help promote protein synthesis to help repair your muscles and encourage growth.
If your fitness goal pertains to weight loss or fat loss, BCAAs can support those efforts as well. Having what your body needs to keep moving can help you keep up the momentum day after day. The improvement in your body’s systems can also help curb your appetite and improve your digestion.
If you’re a woman who wants to feel better overall before, during, and after gruelling workouts, taking BCAAs is both smart and safe to do.
How Do They Work?
BCAAs are the core components of protein. Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs go straight to the bloodstream rather than being processed and broken down by the liver. This key difference allows them to impact muscle tissue directly and also allows them to be used as fuel during intense training sessions.
In addition to lowering lactic acid build-up after intense training sessions, the leucine in BCAAs triggers protein synthesis. Protein synthesis can only take place when leucine is present. Your insulin levels stimulate this protein synthesis, and BCAAs may be responsible for upwards of 40% of blood sugar production levels during exercise. As this is the process through which muscles are built and repaired, BCAAs are a necessity.
The details about how BCAAs work are complex and scientific. In simplest terms, they interact with your body in a way that regular protein supplements do not. They also offer similar benefits to other protein supplements, like increased satiety that can help with weight management.
Like other protein supplements, BCAAs also promote thermogenesis in the body, which can increase your NEAT level— the calories your body burns just to function at a basic level each day.
What Are The Benefits Of Taking BCAAs?
With the right dosage, BCAAs provide a ton of benefits for women:
Maintain strength as you age
As you age, your lean muscle mass (muscle tissue) naturally decreases. Fortunately, resistance training can help you maintain muscle mass as you age. Additionally, ensuring you have adequate BCAAs gives your body the nutrients it needs to make that happen.
Improved endurance and athletic performance
As BCAAs break down lactic acid in the muscles, you’ll be able to push harder for longer during intense training sessions. Some athletes report improved energy levels and focus when taking BCAAs as well.
Reduce DOMS and general muscle soreness
Because your body’s fuel is burned efficiently, your workout performance improves, and your muscle soreness and fatigue decrease. The combined effects of improved lactic acid breakdown and muscle repair mean that DOMS will no longer dominate your rest day.
As previously stated, leucine and valine aid in muscle protein synthesis. This is the process through which your muscles are repaired and built after an intense round of training. The more efficiently this process runs, the better your results will be.
Maintain blood sugar levels
BCAAs— leucine, specifically— promotes insulin production. As your body uses the glucose in your system, it will effectively lower your blood sugar levels and promote a healthy metabolic rate.
Better fat burning and weight management
BCAAs increase fat burning and help with fat loss due to increased glucose usage. This is tied into increased thermogenesis within the body as well as improved satiety from higher protein absorption. As you continue to build muscle, these effects become more prevalent.
Assist in hormone regulation
The hormonal impacts of training are of particular concern for female athletes. In one study, cortisol (the stress hormone) was significantly lower among athletes that had taken BCAAs to supplement their intense training regimen.
These are the big benefits of BCAAs, and they can be said for both men and women; there are no gender-specific benefits.
So it’s definitely worth looking into if you’re wanting a kickass workout every time.
What Is The Ideal Ratio?
In the BCAA supplement market, there are many different ratios: 2:1:1, 4:1:1, even 12:1:1. What do these mean?
Each ratio has three numbers. The first number represents the amount of leucine compared to the other two numbers, which are isoleucine and valine.
For the most part, the last two numbers are equal, resulting in a 1-to-1 ratio.
So the change in ratios like those above is the amount of leucine in relation to the two sidekick BCAAs.
Leucine, as we learned earlier, is the main amino acid that enhances muscle protein synthesis.
So, logically, the more leucine we have in our supplements, the more of this benefit we will receive.
In contrast, you experience less of the isoleucine and valine benefits, like increased glucose usage and improved muscle fatigue recovery.
The ideal ratio is 2:1:1.
Research shows BCAAs with that ratio compared to a placebo and straight leucine (a.k.a. 1:0:0) provided the optimal muscle protein synthesis.
Plus, more valine means it wins over the other essential amino acid tryptophan, allowing you to contract your muscles with more force for longer – more reps, more intensity.
On top of that, if you’re looking to lose body fat as a woman, it makes sense to have a BCAA supplement higher in isoleucine; this amino acid activates receptors called PPAR, which increases fat burning and prohibits excess fat storage.
If you want the most bang for your buck, get the most benefits with a 2:1:1 ratio for your BCAA supplement.
What Is The Recommended Dosage?
Building on the 2:1:1 recommended BCAA ratio, you’re looking to supplement during or right before your workout, as well as right after.
For a fantastic workout experience as a woman, it’s ideal to get at least one gram of both isoleucine and valine.
When going with a 2:1:1 supplement, that means two grams of leucine.
However, it could be beneficial to get at least three grams of leucine for each dose.
This is where a 3:1:1 ratio supplement might work great, and makes for easy measuring; just take five grams of BCAAs, and you’ll get three grams of leucine and one each of the other two.
In a 2:1:1 supplement, you still need to get at least six grams in to get optimum amounts of each amino acid.
Simply put: Go for 5g of your supplement at least, with 6g being the ideal amount.
This hopefully gets you a gram of isoleucine and valine, along with 3+ grams of leucine. Do this twice daily, bookending your workout – one dose before, one dose immediately after.
When Should You Take BCAAs?
There’s a lot of mixed messaging about when you should take BCAA supplements to support your workout. Some sources will tell you that there’s an arbitrary window, after which the supplement will no longer be effective. Others take a more laid back approach and tell you to drink them all day.
So, when should you take BCAAs? At the time that works best for your body.
Start by aiming for that window an hour before your training session, during, and an hour after. BCAAs decline during periods of intense exercise as your body uses them to fuel your activity. Thus, it makes sense to consume more in that timeframe.
Feel free to adjust your intake window to suit your training needs, and listen to your body.
How Long Do BCAAs Take to Work?
The general consensus is that it takes about 30 minutes for BCAAs to start working in your body. That being said, there are few studies to support it. There are a lot of variables that could impact how long it takes BCAAs to work in your body: when you last ate, other supplements, and your metabolism, to name a few.
What Are The Side Effects Of Taking BCAAs?
If you don’t follow a proper dosing regimen, then you could experience some adverse effects.
Too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing quickly, so be sure not to take too much at one time or throughout a day.
When you stay within an appropriate range of BCAA daily allowance, you shouldn’t have a problem, as BCAAs are generally safe and incredibly effective when supplemented daily.
Common side effects of taking BCAAs include:
Stomachaches or Nausea
Stomachaches and nausea are not unique to BCAA use. Many people never experience this issue, while others struggle to find a brand of BCAA supplements that suit their body’s whims.
In many cases, the stomach upset is related to some of the other ingredients in the supplement, such as citric acid or artificial sweeteners.
While some users report increased energy levels, others report fatigue when taking BCAAs. This is often related to not following dosage instructions or pushing yourself too hard during a workout while feeling good from the BCAAs.
Changes to Insulin Resistance
BCAA consumption can impact insulin resistance and has been linked to the development of Type 2 Diabetes.
Changes to Blood Sugar Levels Create Surgical Complications
BCAAs affect blood sugar levels. Stop taking your BCAA supplements two weeks before your surgery and don’t restart until your doctor gives their approval.
Serious impacts for alcoholism
If you drink alcohol in excess, it is advised to not take BCAAs, as the combo could mess up your blood sugar levels too much. Taking BCAAs can lead to liver damage and brain damage in those with alcoholism.
BCAA supplements are not recommended for those with pre-existing conditions
Specific diseases are made worse with taking BCAAs, such as kidney, liver, and heart disease, as well as ALS and branched-chain keto-aciduria.
BCAA supplements could impact sleep
Be sure to find a supplement that doesn’t have extra stimulants to ensure you get the sleep you need to let your muscles recover. Some people experience difficulty sleeping as the post-exercise release of serotonin can affect melatonin levels.
Increased blood ammonia levels
Too much leucine can impact blood ammonia levels. Paying attention to your dosage is essential for avoiding this BCAA side effect.
No recurring side effects in most BCAA users
So far, there are no significant or recurring issues with BCAA supplementation for those without pre-existing conditions who follow dosage recommendations. However, you should always consult with a medical professional before starting a new supplement.
Basically, if you stay smart about how you supplement, BCAAs will give you nothing but the intended effects, which are better performance in the gym, less fatigue and muscle soreness, and increased muscle protein synthesis (a.k.a. GAINS).
What Look For When Purchasing BCAAs
Here is a simple system to use when you’re trying to find the best BCAA for women:
1. For type of supplement, choose convenience. While powders are popular, sometimes capsules are easier to bring to the gym. So go with whichever you prefer – flavored water or unflavored water with a few pills in between.
2. Don’t overspend on crazy ratios. You don’t need 12:1:1; go with a normal, 2:1:1 or 3:1:1.
3. Ingredients are everything. You don’t want a bunch of fluff butting into your BCAAs. As pure as it gets – that’s what you’re looking for.
In capsule form, it should be a leucine/isoleucine/valine blend on the inside and an ingredient or two to compose the outer shell. For powders, you’re going for a single ingredient BCAA. Natural and simple, not added fillers and sugars.
4. Your BCAA supplement should be extremely absorbable. A fast-acting BCAA is best to get the most benefits; when you’re warming up and getting loose for a big workout, you want those amino acids pumping through your bloodstream already, working faster and longer.
5. Price. This is the last thing you should be worried about. If one supplement is better in everything above but is a bit more expensive, bite the bullet and get the better BCAA.
Your body is an investment. You don’t fill a McLaren with regular gas, so you don’t fill your temple with less-than-premium supps.
What's the Difference Between BCAA and a Protein Supplement?
There's often confusion regarding what constitutes a BCAA supplement and protein supplement. While the branched chain amino acid is a key part of protein, they're just that— a part of it. While taking a whey protein supplement can help with muscle gain and appetite satiety over time, BCAAs are more readily available for the body to use in the moment.
Think of BCAAs as a tool to help with your workouts, and protein supplements as a way to contribute to your longer-term goals.
Review Of The Top BCAA Supplements
Xtend Original BCAA
- 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine
- Electrolyte to replenish energy
- 1:1 of Citrulline Malate for circulatory health
First up on our list is a classic company with a premium powder: Xtend provides a BCAA that is sugar- and carb-free, which results in zero calories.
- 2:1:1 ratio, with a scoop (serving) providing 3.5g leucine, 1.75g isoleucine and valine each, and a bonus: 2.5g of glutamine, which increases athletic performance, brain and digestive health, and muscle growth.
- Over a gram of an electrolyte blend to replenish your energy
- Over a gram of Citrulline Malate (1:1), another amino acid known for circulatory health.
- 30 servings (which means half a month’s worth if taken twice daily, before and after workouts).
- It does include red dye, artificial flavor, and citric acid, which gives this powder flavor. These are added ingredients, but they are for taste and don’t include refined sugars.
For a trusted brand with a quality product, Xtend BCAA Powder is your new best friend.
For a deeper dive into Xtend, check out our detailed review of this product here.
- 10 grams of BCAA
- 0 grams of Sugar
- Multiple flavors
Another consistent and well-known brand, Cellucor’s BCAA supplement pulls zero punches.
- In a 2-scoop serving, you get a whopping 10 grams of BCAAs, including 5 of leucine and 3.2 of beta alanine, which potentially “increases the amount of work you can perform at high intensities.”
- For a 2-scoop serving, there are only 15 servings. For a single, this comes out to 30. A good way to break this up is to take one scoop before a workout and one scoop after. This makes it last for a lowly two weeks.
- Comes in three flavors: Tropical punch, watermelon, and lemon lime.
On the Amazon page, it doesn’t give the ingredients list, but on their site it says this product has roughly the same ingredients as the previous supplement – citric acid, natural flavors, and a few dyes. Another traditional brand, Cellucor is bound to fill your BCAA needs.
Evlution Nutrition BCAA
- Purer BCAA blend
- 2:1:1 ratio of key ingredients
The first BCAA capsules on our list, Evlution Nutrition BCAA5000 is a cost-friendly, travel-friendly option for those on a budget or on the go.
- Slight downside: A serving equals eight pills. However, it comes with 30 total servings, each giving you 2.5 grams of leucine and 1.25 grams of both isoleucine and valine.
- 2:1:1 ratio
- Minimal other ingredients, resulting in a purer BCAA blend.
- Because it’s in pill form, it’s more cost effective.
Yet another trustworthy brand with many years in the business, Evlution Nutrition is a tremendous BCAA supplement option.
Bulk Supplements BCAA
- Various size pack options
- Unique 3:1:2 ratio of key ingredients
- Tastes different but lasts a long time
This supplement is really special, and again created by a well-known, tried and true company. BulkSupplements Pure BCAA 3:1:2 sticks to its name in a literal way.
- Each serving is 1.5 grams, so you’ll have to perhaps triple that amount to get the desired supplementation. However, the grams are split up like this: .75g leucine, .25g isoleucine, and .5g valine. This creates a 3:1:2 ratio, which is unique.
- If you quadruple the dosage, you’ll get 3g of leucine, 1g of isoleucine, and 2g of valine, which hits all requirements with an double whammy of valine.
- The great thing about this supplement is that it comes with a whopping 333 servings, so even if you go with 4 servings per dose, you still get 83 days worth of BCAAs.
- Ingredients list: branched-chain amino acids and…nothing more. “Pure” as it gets!
- (Caveat to the single ingredient: This makes it taste a little weird. Just be prepared for it.)
A no-nonsense, give-the-people-what-they-want type of supplement, BulkSupplements Pure BCAA 3:1:2 is one of the best in the world.
Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
- BCAA with electrolytes
- Caffeine from natural sources included for energy
- Multiple flavors
Optimum Nutrition is another well respected and long lasting brand with enough resources for proper research and sourcing best ingredients. This is a complete BCAA with ingredients for energy, focus, recovery, and hydration.
- 5 grams of Amino Acids from 2 scoops
- Caffeine from Green tea extract and coffee bean
- Includes electrolytes for post workout replenishment
The exact ratio of the key ingredients is not clearly listed in here, but product does contain a whole lot of amino acids.
FAQs About BCAA’s for Women
What are the best foods for BCAA’s?
You can get BCAAs from any of the common lean protein food options, including poultry, fish, beef, and eggs. You can also find BCAAs in nuts and legumes, like chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, lentils, almonds, and brazil nuts. Basically, anywhere you can find protein, you can find BCAAs in food.
Will BCAAs make me bulky like a man?
Absolutely not. Neither will strength training, for that matter. This misconception is tied into the idea that lifting weights makes you bulky. BCAAs are not mass-building supplements and have a low or non-existent calorie. They’re meant to help you recover and build your muscles according to your goals.
How much BCAAs is too much for women?
Women come in a variety of shapes and sizes with different metabolisms and training intensities. So, there’s no single dose recommendation that will fit every woman. Always follow the dose recommendations on your supplement label and listen to your body. As the recommendation is standard for all users, smaller women might find the recommended dose too high. If you have any adverse side effects, consider scaling back.
Why do BCAA’s give me a flushed tingling sensation?
This experience is called “flushing” and can feel similar to the niacin flush that happens when taking a pre-workout supplement. It’s generally tied to increased doses of beta-alanine, which, as mentioned above, can be beneficial. However, it’s also something that takes time for the body to adapt to. If you feel uncomfortable, choose a BCAA formula that doesn’t have added beta-alanine.
Is it okay to take BCAA’s on rest days?
Yes! If your resources are depleted, your muscles won’t be able to recover properly. Taking BCAAs on a recovery day can help fill the gaps needed to ensure that you accomplish adequate muscle recovery to be ready for your next workout. Just double-check that your BCAA supplement doesn’t have any stimulants (pre-workout) added or use an alternative option for non-training days.
Should women who want to lose weight and tone take BCAAs?
That depends on your situation. If your weight loss strategy includes regular exercise, then taking a BCAAs can help. However, if you’re not training regularly, then it’s better to get your BCAAs through your diet. While BCAA supplements can help you feel satiated, your money would be better spent on a protein powder supplement.
Do BCAA supplements for women make you gain weight?
BCAA supplements can make you gain weight, as increased muscle mass means higher numbers on the scale. However, BCAAs cannot make you gain fat, which is an important distinction. During weight training, it’s not uncommon to see the scale creep up as a result of muscle growth, and your waist size creep down as a result of fat loss. It seems confusing, but BCAAs are still a valuable “weight loss” supplement. If you feel self-conscious about this, use other metrics to track your progress, such as measuring and progress photos.
Can you take BCAA’s on an empty stomach?
You can take BCAAs on an empty stomach. In fact, many athletes prefer to do so and claim that it helps their performance during training. If you’re someone who experiences stomach troubles when taking supplements, however, consider eating something beforehand.
Will BCAAs break a fast?
Technically BCAAs break a fast because they cause a mild insulin response. However, most athletes and nutrition professionals who practice intermittent fasting use BCAAs during fasted periods. In its simplest form, fasting is meant to cause a caloric deficit. The benefits of BCAAs far outweigh any potential cons by the slight impact they have on your fasted state.
Should I take BCAA’s for cardio?
BCAAs are great for cardio! If you’re doing high-intensity workouts for cardio, BCAAs can give your body what it needs to keep moving. In steady-state cardio, such as distance running, having BCAAs can help reduce the negative impact on your muscles as energy sources are depleted.
As a woman, improving your BCAA intake can help introduce essential amino acids that aid in muscle protein synthesis, quicker recovery, less fatigue, and optimized performance.
You don’t need a crazy BCAA ratio; just keep it at 2:1:1 or 3:1:1. Getting around 5 or 6 grams should do the trick.
With minimal side effects, this makes for a potent, important supplement, one that you shouldn’t skimp on for lesser quality.
Women, if you want to ramp up your workout and show those boys who’s boss, consider getting yourself some BCAAs today!