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. We’ll help you find the best BCAAs for men, for women, for keto dieters, 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 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 BCAAs Powder: Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
- Best BCAAs With Electrolytes: Scivation Xtend
- Best BCAAs Pills: Performance Lab BCAA
- Best BCAAs for the Money: Allmax Aminocore
- Best BCAAs for Weight Loss: IdealLean BCAA
- Best BCAAs for CrossFit-Style Training: KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Best BCAAs for Muscle Gain: Betancourt Nutrition Plus Series BCAA
- Best BCAAs for Keto Dieters: Cellucor Alpha Amino
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 BCAAs Powder
A BCAA formula with zero unwanted artificial flavors, only the essential ingredients, and that’s vegan-friendly is what we decided to be the best
Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
A rare BCAA powder that is both vegan-friendly and comes with some welcome additions like coconut water powder and extra glutamine, Transparent Labs has made a simple supplement that will check a lot of must-have boxes for consumers.
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, and 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
- BCAA Glutamine has some solid additions, but if you’re looking for a supplement with a ton of extra vitamins and electrolytes, other 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 basics well.
Best BCAA With Electrolytes
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.
This inexpensive BCAA powder is packed with helpful extras — like glutamine, electrolytes, citrulline malate, and Vitamin B6 — which may help you crank out a few extra reps. It’s also available in a lot of flavor options and doesn’t contain stimulants. That said, this product isn’t certified to be free of banned substances and the high sodium intake, which is part of the electrolyte formula, might be a turn off to some people.
Who Should Buy Scivation Xtend
- Penny pinchers; Scivation’s BCAA powder costs only 11 cents per gram.
- For anyone who wants a vast variety of flavors to choose from; this product offers about a dozen options.
- 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 are helpful for their goals.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Scivation Xtend
- If you’re trying to minimize salt intake, the 220 milligrams of sodium (nine percent 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 a variety of flavors, Xtend deserves its spot.
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 long periods between meals, as you do when you’re out and about.
Performance Lab BCAA
These are our favorite Branched Chain Amino Acid pills. These are extremely straightforward, with very few added ingredients and the 2:1:1 ratio that many customers are looking for in their BCAA supplement. Performance Lab BCAAs are fermented and vegan-friendly,.
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, so 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 aren’t always better value than plain old powder.
- Anyone who doesn’t want to take six pills at a time for a 3 gram dose (more to reach a 10 gram dose).
Capsules 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.
Best BCAA for the Money
On average, these supplements cost roughly 12 cents per gram. However, there are plenty of products that fall below this price, although many cut corners.
Not this one. 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 a substantial serving size of eight 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.
Who Should Buy Allmax Aminocore
- If you’re cash strapped or you just value, well, value, then this should be your top pick.
- 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 hefty dose of B-vitamins, plus the alpha ketoisocaproic acid could assist with HIIT training. (Although the evidence there is decidedly mixed.)
Who Shouldn’t Buy Allmax Aminocore
- Although there are no artificial colors, it still has the artificial sweetener sucralose. People who want a truly all-natural product may want to steer clear.
- Aminocore doesn’t contain many extra ingredients (like citrulline) that might enhance workouts or recovery.
Aminocore is a reliable 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 good pick.
Best BCAA for Tough Training Sessions
Some BCAAs contain 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, opt for this pick.
KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel
KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel was our favorite for hard training (such as CrossFit or strongman workouts). This is because it has a good hit of caffeine, plus there are taurine and tyrosine to help improve cognition and focus. There’s also beta-alanine and l-citrulline, which have been linked to endurance. It’s performance in a bottle.
Who Should Buy KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel
- If you want a product that combines the benefits of BCAAs with the benefits of pre-workouts, snag this one up.
Who Shouldn’t Buy KAGED MUSCLE IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Fuel
- This isn’t an “any time” BCAAs. 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 BCAAs.
This is the best BCAA product to get you through tough workouts. The combination of citrulline, beta-alanine, taurine, and tyrosine gives it many of the same benefits of pre-workouts combined with the muscle-retention benefits of BCAAs.
Best BCAA for Weight Loss
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
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.
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 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
- Those who are skeptical about supplement dosing, as the ingredients listed, though effective, may be dosed too little.
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 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 calculator for that.) But when it comes to BCAAs, you might want something that supports hormonal health and muscle retention.
Betancourt Plus Series BCAA
Betancourt Plus Series BCAA was our favorite for stimulating muscle growth, and not just because it contains a lot of zinc, linked to healthy testosterone production. It also has not one but two kinds of leucine, the amino acid that’s most closely linked with muscle protein synthesis.
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 instead stick with the more conventional 2:1:1 ratio, go with Scivation Xtend.
Remember, muscle gain comes down to your diet, not your supplements. But with leucine and zinc so closely associated with mechanisms related to muscle retention, Betancourt might be a useful addition.
Best BCAA for Keto Dieters
Ketogenic diets are ultra low carb and often relatively low in protein, so many supplements with branched-chain amino acids to 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.
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 protein intake. If you’re finding your high-fat meals lacking in protein, BCAAs might be a good addition to your diet.
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 two or three 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.
In addition to BCAAs, many products — including our number one pick — include ergogenic aids or ingredients linked to improved performance. These include citrulline (related to improved circulation), beta-alanine (endurance), and caffeine (explosive power).
Some of the BCAA products we highlighted are because they include extra 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.
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 have other B vitamins in addition to other micronutrients: Vitamin C may help to limit oxidative damage during exercise, and sodium may help with hydration.
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.
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. (1)(2)(3) They’ve even been linked to increased fat loss and quicker reaction times. (4)
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 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.
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 essential for muscle growth and muscle retention, muscle protein synthesis is a vital part of the puzzle.
Used in the biosynthesis of proteins, this branched-chain amino acid may prevent muscle breakdown, and promote fat burning.
Another essential amino acid, valine, has some links to endurance and focus. Interestingly, suppose you have difficulty digesting it and there’s more of it in the blood. In that case, this is seen as a sign of insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and other conditions.
Then there are these other amino acids that aren’t BCAAs, but often accompany them in supplements:
A conditionally essential amino acid (remember amino acids are building blocks of protein) glutamine is enormously popular in supplements because it has some muscle gain links. 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.
A ubiquitous addition to pre-workouts, one-and-a-half to four grams of the stuff has shown to improve 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.
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. It’s also common in erectile dysfunction supplements.
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.
This vitamin may reduce cell damage that occurs during exercise.
The bevy of B vitamins have been thought to increase one’s energy but without jitters or unwanted sleep loss.
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 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. 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 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.
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 necessary.
Always speak with your physician before undertaking a new supplement regimen.
Frequently Asked Questions
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. 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. 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. 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.
What are BCAAs?
What are the benefits of BCAAs?
Do I need to take BCAAs?
Are BCAAs vegan?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 about what constitutes a “quality” supplement, but we think we’ve put together the best darn guide to picking the best BCAA supplements on the internet.
- 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).
- Matthews DE, et al. Observations of branched-chain amino acid administration in humans. J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6 Suppl):1580S-4S.
- 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.
- 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.