BCAA supplements (Branched Chain Amino Acids) contain Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, and are designed to promote protein synthesis and boost lean muscle growth. Together, they make up about one-third of muscle protein.
Since the 1980’s there has been high interest in BCAAs from sports nutrition scientists, for their ability to boost recovery after intense exercise. Today, there are hundreds if not thousands of supplements containing BCAAs to some degree.
So how can you find the best BCAA supplement on the market?
Pure BCAA supplements are an obvious choice, where the only ingredients are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. But you also have powders that add L-glutamine to the mix, and whey protein powders that combine BCAAs and creatine.
Then you have to consider the ratio and dosage of BCAAs. How much leucine do you need? Should you take BCAAs pre-workout, post-workout, intra-workout, or all three to see the best results?
By the end of this guide you’ll know how to choose the perfect BCAA supplement. It includes everything you need to know about the best brands, cost-per-serving, flavors, amino ratios, and how to find the lowest price.
We also analyzed ingredients from more than 50 BCAA powders and capsules, then created a top 10 list of the best on the market. BCAA supplement reviews and products suitable for vegetarians and vegans are included.
What are BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) increase the rate of protein synthesis, as well as the cell’s capacity for protein synthesis. Combine this with their ability to reduce the rate of protein breakdown and you have a supplement that’s crucial to muscle gain and maintenance.
The three essential amino acids that make up BCAAs are L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine. Essential aminos can’t be made by the body, which means your intake must come from dietary sources such as supplementation.
So, what exactly makes BCAAs so popular for muscle building and recovery?
- As the most abundant of the three branched chain amino acids in muscles, it’s no surprise that Leucine is the most studied. This is likely to be because leucine has a higher oxidation rate than isoleucine or valine, and stimulates protein synthesis in muscle.In most BCAA supplements it’s also at the highest end of the ratio. Taking 2:1:1 as an example, 2.5 grams would be Leucine, 1.25 grams are Isoleucine, and 1.25 grams would be Valine.Leucine is also classed as an mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) activator. mTOR controls cell growth and metabolism, and is stimulated by nutrients and growth factors to ensure cells only grow in favorable conditions.Natural food sources containing Leucine include soybeans, hemp, beef, peanuts, fish, and almonds.
One study looked at supplementing with two different concentrations of leucine; 3.5 grams (leucine-enriched group), and 1.87 grams (essential amino acid group).
Adults in the study completed two separate bouts of cycling. During the first bout, they consumed the leucine enriched drink, and during the second bout consumed the drink containing essential aminos.
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) was found to be 33% greater in the leucine-enriched group. Whole-body protein breakdown was also found to be lower.
Numerous other studies have been carried out to investigate the health benefits of Leucine. Both L-Leucine and D-leucine were found to protect mice against seizures, while d-leucine terminated seizures in mice after they started.
- Isoleucine is the second of the branched chain amino acids, which is used to keep energy levels stable by helping to regulate blood sugar.As with Leucine, it’s an essential amino, which means any intake must come from your diet. This can either be from high-protein foods, such as nuts, meat, eggs, and fish, or from a BCAA supplement.Most BCAA supplements combine their amino acids in a 2:1:1 ratio, but some – such as Rich Piana’s All Day You May, use a 10:1:1 ratio. Every BCAA product contains a much smaller amount of Isoleucine compared to Leucine.
- Valine works together with the other two BCAAs (Leucine and Isoleucine) to promote normal growth, repair tissues, regulate blood sugar, and provide the body with energy.As one of 9 essential amino acids, Valine can’t be synthesized by the body naturally. Supplementation with a BCAA powder or tablet is the easiest way to up your intake, but you can consume smaller amounts directly through food.Unfortunately there are still relatively few studies into the health benefits of Valine in isolation. However, several studies have highlighted the benefits of BCAA supplementation.One study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that a higher dietary BCAA intake was associated with a lower prevalence of overweight adults.
Top 10 BCAA supplements
Finding the best BCAA supplement isn’t easy, especially if you’re looking for something beyond the standard leucine, isoleucine, and valine combination.
There are hundreds of products available, many of which have their own unique combinations of ingredients. Depending on your goal, you might want to combine your BCAAs with an energy and focus blend, CLA matrix, glutamine, vitamins, citrulline malate, or an electrolyte complex.
Even if you find the perfect supplement, is it better to buy powder or capsules, and can you get the same dose for a lower price elsewhere?
These are just a few of the important factors we’ve considered when selecting our top 10 BCAA supplements.
After weighing up the ingredients, doses, cost per serving, customer feedback, and scientific research, we believe the supplements listed below represent the best on the market right now.
1. Scivation Xtend
Scivation is a company built on BCAAs. Their original Xtend formula is also available as Xtend Free (No artificial colors or sweeteners), Xtend Raw (unflavored, unsweetened), Xtend Go (with caffeine), Xtend Perform (Peak Performance Blend), and as an RTD, for when you want a ready-made BCAA drink.
- 7 g of BCAAs in 2:1:1 ratio
- 0 carbs, 0 calories, 0 g sugar
- 12 Delicious flavors
- 2.5 g L-Glutamine
- 1 g Citrulline Malate
- 1140 mg Electrolyte Blend
- NSF Certified
You’re getting a slightly lower dose of BCAAs compared to Optimum Nutrition Pro BCAA, but the price is more affordable. The PhytoBlend and vitamin C found in O.N. Pro BCAA is also replaced with an electrolyte blend, and 1,000 mg of citrulline malate.
After comparing the ingredients, price, and ingredients from more than 100 top BCAA supplements, Scivation Xtend has one of the top 10 highest doses of BCAAs per serving.
Scivation are also hugely flexible in their tub sizes and flavors. There are 16 choices available, including unflavored (Raw) for if you want to mix the powder in with your protein shake.
In addition to the range of flavors, you can choose from a 30-serving or 90-serving tub. The 90-serving tub represents unbeatable value for money, when priced for around $40. This gives you a BCAA powder that’s cheaper than MusclePharm, MuscleTech, Universal Nutrition, and Sheer Strength Labs, to name a few.
2. Nutricost BCAA Powder
Nutricost have a reputation for developing affordable supplements with minimal ingredients. Their BCAA powder is strictly leucine, isoleucine, and valine, with no added blends, complexes, or energy stimulants.
This helps keep the price down, especially if you’re buying a 1 kg tub. At the time of writing this review, each serving was priced at $0.24, which is excellent considering you’re getting 6 g of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio.
- 6 g of BCAAs in 2:1:1 ratio
- Available in both powder and capsule form
- Unflavored and flavored powder available
- One of the cheapest BCAA supplements on the market
- Made in the USA
Smaller 250 g and 500 g bottles are also available, for a slightly higher cost per serving. You also have a choice of three flavors; Grape Hydration, Green Apple, and Watermelon, in addition to their unflavored version.
Nutricost aren’t the only company that offers a pure 2:1:1 BCAA supplement, but they are the cheapest. AMRAP, Dymatize Nutrition, Kaged Muscle, MusclePharm, and NOW Foods all have products with no added ingredients.
While some of these companies have the same BCAA ratio as Nutricost, they’re all more expensive. AMRAP had the highest price at the time of writing, costing more than $1.10 per serving, for just 5 g of BCAAs.
Universal Nutrition have a huge choice of amino supplements. Not only do they have products marketed under their own name, such as BCAA Pro and Atomic 7, they also have the Animal Pak supplements, such as Animal Fury and Animal Juiced Aminos.
With 30 years of experience in the sports nutrition industry, Universal put a wealth of experience into their products.
- 8 g BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio
- 4 g L-leucine, 2 g L-isoleucine, 2 g L-valine
- Also includes citrulline malate (1 g), L-taurine (500 mg), vitamin B6 (10 mg)
- Available in 5 flavors and 2 sizes (30-serving and 70-serving)
- Improves exercise performance and recovery
- Made in the USA
If you’re on a strict budget and only want 5 g of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio, the closest you’ll get is their BCAA Pro capsules. Each serving delivers 0.5 g leucine, 0.25 g isoleucine, and 0.25 g of valine, in addition to 2 mg of vitamin B6.
But if you’re looking for the best value, we recommend the 1.24 kg tub of Universal Nutrition Atomic 7. You’re still getting the 2:1:1 ratio, but with a much higher dose of BCAAs (4 g: 2 g: 2 g). Each serving also contains 2 g of glutamine, 1 g of citrulline malate, and 500 mg L-taurine.
The ingredients are enough to rival Scivation Xtend, which also has 1 g of citrulline malate, but 1 g less BCAAs. At the time of writing, a serving of Xtend cost $0.48, whereas Atomic 7 cost $0.53. This is likely due to the added taurine, and we still consider Universal’s supplement excellent value for money.
4. Evlution Nutrition BCAA Energy
Evlution Nutrition have a selection of BCAA powders and capsules to choose from, including BCAA Energy, BCAA 5000, EVL Lean BCAA, and Amino-10.
Amino-10 is the complete package. You get a high ratio of BCAAs (4:1:1), mixed with 3075 mg of Muscle Performance Ammo – a combination of L-arginine, L-citrulline, and L-taurine. Evlution have also included L-alanine and L-lysine as part of a recovery booster.
However, the price is at least 50% higher than their other BCAA supplements.
Evlution BCAA 5000 is your basic 2:1:1 ratio, with 5 g total BCAAs. Evlution BCAA Lean Energy sits between the two, combining 5 g of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio with 1600 mg of their Energy Lean Matrix (CLA, ALA, Maca Powder).
As a side note, Evlution Nutrition also have some of the cheapest BCAA capsuleson the market. The formula and ratio is the same as their BCAA 5000 powder, but in capsule form. The only downside is that you need to take 8 capsules to get the full dose.
5. MuscleTech Amino Build Next Gen
MuscleTech have 4 main BCAA supplements; MyoBuild 4X Amino BCAA, Platinum BCAA 8:1:1, Amino Build Next Gen, and Cell Tech Hyper-Build (4:1:1 BCAA ratio, with glutamine, creatine, taurine, and electrolytes).
Platinum BCAA 8:1:1 is pure BCAAs, with 800 mg leucine per caplet. Hyper-Build is the high-end strength and size supplement, while Amino Build Next Gen is the middle ground – a combination of BCAAs and strength enhancers for under $0.80 per serving.
- 4 g of BCAAs per scoop, in a 2:1:1 ratio
- Cell-Volumizing and Recovery Complex (Taurine, glutamine, alanine)
- Strength-Enhancing Compound (Betaine anhydrous)
- Electrolyte Blend (Sodium, coconut water, watermelon juice)
- 4 flavors; Fruit Punch, Icy Rocket Freeze, Watermelon, White Raspberry
- ‘Energized’ version also available, containing naturally-sourced caffeine
- Made in the USA
If you’re looking for an all-in-one BCAA, we would have to recommend Cell Tech Hyper-Build. When you work out the cost of each ingredient, it’s actually good value for money. But for BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio with strength and recovery elements, Amino Build Next-Gen is the best option from MuscleTech.
Amino Build Next Gen is also available as an ‘Energized’ version, which simply adds 50 mg of caffeine, sourced from Robusta coffee beans. This is quite a small dose compared to other supplements. BSN Amino X Edge adds 125 mg of caffeine anhydrous, while MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2 Energy adds 100 mg.
BSN have two amino supplements; Amino X, and Amino X Edge. The only difference with the Edge version is that it contains 325 mg of an Energy and Focus Blend (caffeine anhydrous, londan extract, lindera extract).
The label on the American version lists an ‘Amino Acid Interfusion’, but without breaking down the individual doses of aminos. We bought the same supplement in Europe, which shows you’re getting 4 g of BCAAs per scoop, in a 2:1:1 ratio (2 g of leucine).
- 10 g of amino acids per serving
- Includes L-Leucine, L-Valine, L-Isoleucine, L-Alanine, Taurine, Citrulline
- 2 g Efforsorb EnDura Composite (includes citric acid, malic acid)
- 500 IU Vitamin D per serving
- No sugar or caffeine
- 4 flavors; Blue Raz, Watermelon, Green Apple, Fruit Punch
- Amino X Edge version also available, with 125 mg caffeine
Taurine is also present in a large enough dose to be significant (2.5 g). A study published in the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology journal reported that the BCAA and taurine combination reduced the effect of DOMS and the extent of muscle damage during exercise.
So, what about price? Fortunately, BSN have focused only on ingredients that are proven to boost endurance, recovery, and have a real impact on your training.
At the time of writing this guide, each serving in their 1 kg tub cost around $0.57. It’s a lower dose of BCAAs than Scivation Xtend, but with a more complete amino profile that will benefit your workouts in other ways (reduced DOMS from taurine, L-alanine for glucose metabolism, vitamin D for maintenance of healthy bones).
Optimum Nutrition Pro BCAA is one of the only supplements to have more BCAAs than Scivation Xtend (8 g vs. 7 g). It also has double the amount of glutamine, a high dose of vitamin C (230 mg), and 160 mg of PhytoBlend.
However, it’s also one of the most expensive BCAA supplements on the market, with a price of around $1.13 per serving. After calculating the cost of buying the glutamine separately and combining it with Optimum Nutrition BCAA, we believe the pure BCAA version is better value for money.
- 5 g of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio
- 2.5 g Leucine per serving
- Designed to boost intra-workout performance
- 6 flavors, including Apple & Pear, Cola, and Peach & Passionfruit
- Informed-Choice certified
You still get a 2:1:1 ratio (2.5 g:1.25 g: 1.25 g), and at around $22 for a 380 g tub, it’s one of the cheapest BCAA supplements on the market. If you wanted to top-up with 5 g of glutamine, to bring it more in-line with their Pro BCAA supplement, Optimum Nutrition Glutamine powder costs just $0.20 per serving (1 kg tub).
8. MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2 Energy
MusclePharm have a full range of amino supplements, including Amino 1, BCAA 3:1:2, and BCAA 3:1:2 Energy. The Energy version simply means you’re getting a dose of caffeine anhydrous, which is mixed with 50 mg of green tea leaf extract and 50 mg of panax ginseng root powder.
Amino 1 only delivers 3 g of BCAAs, but in the same 3:1:2 ratio as their other amino supplements. BCAA 3:1:2 doubles this to 6 g of BCAAs, for a much lower cost per serving.
- 6 g of BCAAs in a 3:1:2 ratio
- 3 g Leucine per serving
- 2 g of carbs, 5 calories per serving
- Energy Complex includes 100 mg caffeine, 50 mg green tea extract
- Also available without natural stimulants (MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2)
- 2 flavors; Blue Raspberry and Watermelon
- Intra-workout support for lean muscle growth and recovery
MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2 is pure BCAAs, with no added ingredients. The 3:1:2 ratio was created by dropping 0.5 g of isoleucine and adding 0.5 g of valine, which is a patent-pending formula that MusclePharm claim is more effective for muscle development than 2:1:1.
MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2 also ranked highly in LabDoor’s quality rankings, but crucially wasn’t compared to Nutricost. Nutricost also have a BCAA supplement that delivers 6 g of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, in a 2:1:1 ratio, for half the price of MusclePharm ($0.24 vs. $0.48 per serving, at time of writing).
Cellucor have two BCAA supplements; Alpha Amino, and Beta BCAA. A 30-serving tub of each will usually set you back around $30, giving a cost per serving of just over $1 (at time of writing). Alpha Amino is also available in a 50-serving tub, which can cut the cost per serving by as much as 20%.
- 5 g of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio
- 2.5 g Leucine per serving
- 3750 mg Essential Performance Amino Acid Complex (11 essential aminos)
- Includes L-glutamine, taurine, L-alanine, L-citrulline, L-arginine
- 1750 mg Alpha Amino Hydration Blend
- Includes BetaPower Betaine (1250 mg) and coconut water powder
- Replenish lost minerals and electrolytes during intense workouts
Beta BCAA is the more expensive of the two, despite having far fewer ingredients (1.6 g CarnoSyn, 3 g citrulline malate). In comparison, Alpha Amino contains 14 amino acids, including L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine in a 2:1:1 ratio. This is designed to preserve muscle glycogen stores and reduce protein breakdown.
Alpha Amino also contains a Hydration Blend. Although it sounds like the Amino Hydration System used by MusclePharm in their Amino 1 supplement, the only ingredient they share is coconut water. The Cellucor blend is designed to increase the concentration of fluid in muscle tissue.
Although the label reports a 2:1:1 ratio, this isn’t what’s shown on the ingredients per serving (800 mg L-leucine, 230 mg L-isoleucine, 398 mg L-valine). The level of isoleucine is barely half of what a 2:1:1 ratio requires.
Isoleucine is typically only useful for increasing glucose uptake, and doesn’t induce muscle protein synthesis in the same way that leucine does. ATP is made from glucose, which is an important fuel for contracting muscles.
Despite the lower level of isoleucine, Bulk Supplements still have one of the most popular BCAA supplements on Amazon, with thousands of highly rated reviews.
- 1500 mg BCAAs per serving
- 800 mg Leucine
- Pure BCAA powder with no caffeine or stimulants
- Available in both powder and capsule form
- Sizes from 100 g up to 25 kg
- One of the cheapest BCAA powders on the market
Although Bulk Supplements are renowned for offering the cheapest supplements on the market, it’s still important to check other companies before buying. When we compared Nutricost BCAA to Bulk Supplements, Nutricost delivers more BCAAs, in a 2:1:1 ratio, at a cheaper price (unless you buy 1 kg or 25 kg bags from Bulk Supplements).
Who should take BCAAs?
If you’re training on a low-calorie diet, consider supplementing with BCAAs to protect against muscle catabolism.
Leucine is considered to be the most important amino acid, as it helps promote protein synthesis and prevent protein breakdown. While you can get leucine from natural food sources, if you’re dieting, you may not be eating enough leucine-rich food to have a sufficient intake.
The second reason why you might want to supplement with BCAAs is if you’re currently on a low-protein diet. Protein naturally contains amino acids, including leucine, though the concentration varies by food source.
When is the best time to take BCAA?
BCAAs in tablet form are designed to spike blood plasma amino levels, whereas BCAAs in whey protein are protein bound aminos. They also have an impact on blood sugar levels.
Whichever BCAA supplement you choose should have a ‘recommended use’ section, or something similar, advising you when to take it. Most bodybuilding forums recommend loading up on BCAAs pre, intra, and post-workout.
If you’re not training on a particular day, taking a serving when you wake up and one before you go to sleep is the best option.
The only caveat with taking BCAAs before bed is that it should be a pure BCAA supplement, not a pre-workout powder with BCAAs in. That’s because some pre-workout supplements contain a mix of BCAAs and stimulants, such as Nitric Oxide or caffeine, which will make it difficult to sleep.
Which is the best ratio of BCAA?
The big difference between most BCAA products is the ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Although most fitness articles and bodybuilding forums suggest a 2:1:1 ratio (Leucine : Isoleucine : Valine), is there any scientific evidence to back this up?
It’s not unusual to see supplement companies break away from 2:1:1, to include higher dosages of leucine. Some use 4:1:1, 8:1:1, or even, in the case of Rich Piana’s AllDayYouMay, 10:1:1.
The fact is that there’s simply not enough scientific evidence to support higher dosages. That’s not to say they don’t work, or that they’re unsafe. It’s just that most of the muscle building benefits seen in tests come from leucine.
- Ingestion of a supplement containing BCAAs as part of a resistance training program decreases body fat percent, increases lean mass, and boosts strength gains better than a whey supplement or a sports drink. [study 1]
- BCAAs taken during a standardized cycle ergometer exercise reduces ratings of perceived exertion and mental fatigue. [study 2]
- Leucine supplementation of 50 mg/kg bodyweight/day, supplementary to a daily protein intake of 1.26 g/kg bodyweight/day, appears to prevent the decrease in the serum leucine levels in power-trained athletes. [study 3]
L-Leucine is also much cheaper to produce than Valine or Isoleucine. This means that if a company sells a BCAA supplement with 7 grams of BCAAs for $30, they’ll make more money by using a 4:1:1 ratio than they will with a 2:1:1 ratio.
But isn’t it true Leucine is the most studied BCAA, and the most anabolic?
It’s certainly the most studied, but there’s a limit to how much you can consume without negating the effects of the other two BCAAs. Based on the evidence presented in the studies above, 3.5 grams seems optimal in a 2:1:1 ratio formula.
Using a higher proportion of Isoleucine also helps boost its fat loss role, while a higher proportion of valine is better for increased endurance and energy.
Supplements with high BCAA leucine ratios:
- All Day You May by 5% Nutrition (10:1:1)
- MuscleTech Platinum BCAA 8:1:1
- MuscleTech Cell Tech Hyper-Build (4:1:1)
- MuscleTech Myobuild Amino BCAA (4:1:1)
- Evlution Amino-10 (4:1:1)
- Gaspari Nutrition BCAA 6000
Supplements with a 2:1:1 ratio:
- Scivation Xtend
- BPI Sports Best BCAA
- Universal Nutrition Atomic 7
- Optimum Nutrition Pro BCAA
- Nutricost BCAA Powder
- NOW Foods Branched Chain Amino Powder
- Naturo Nitro Atlas
- Evlution BCAA Lean Energy
- Evlution BCAA 5000
- Cellucor Alpha Amino
What results can you expect from BCAA supplements?
Building muscle with BCAA supplements
Adding leucine to carbohydrates and protein post workout boosts body protein balance from negative to positive, producing a more anabolic environment. Leucine is one of three amino acids considered to be a branch chain amino acid (study, 2005).
BCAA supplementation increases lean muscle and strength while decreasing body fat, more so than by supplementing with protein or a sports drink. This research was performed by Jim Stoppani in 2009, five years before he began Jym Supplement Science (study, 2009).
A Leucine enriched amino acid drink increased protein synthesis by 33% in soldiers cycling (study, 2012).
BCAA supplements not only trigger an anabolic muscle response, but also reduce muscle breakdown (catabolism). In 2012, a Swedish study gave 6.8 grams BCAAs to 7 individuals doing leg press whom had never trained before. In comparison to not taking BCAAs, participants showed scientific indications of greater anabolism and reduced catabolism while taking BCAAs based on growth markers (study, 2012).
In elderly patients, 12 grams per day of leucine supplementation increased protein synthesis in low protein diets (study, 2012).
Leucine supplementation is believed to in part be a myostatin inhibitor which increases muscle growth outside of the standard protein synthesis pathway. It is believed that leucine still directly effects protein synthesis as well (study, 2014). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25132809
BCAA supplementation containing 6 grams of leucine increased lean muscle mass in the elderly without exercise. Lesser quantities did not have the same lean muscle promoting effect (study, 2015).
Increase endurance with BCAA supplements
Leucine enriched protein was found to increase strength gains by 30% over the course of 8 weeks in participants doing leg extension resistance training (study, 2005).
In a very detailed leucine enriched protein study performed by the Airforce, Leucine enriched protein (comparable to BCAA + protein) was found to be mildly effective at increasing strength and lean muscle in comparison to air members not supplementing (study, 2009).
Japanese researchers found that BCAA supplementation before strenuous exercise increased endurance. Of interest, however, is that the greatest effect occurred after prolonged BCAA usage, leading them to believe the body must adapt over a period of time to fully utilize BCAAs for increasing endurance (study, 2009).
Juvenile athletes taking BCAAs and glutamine experienced better recovery after intense rowing, as well as greater performance (study, 2014).
Difference between BCAA and amino acids
There are 21 proteinogenic amino acids in total, which can be split into 3 main groups; essential amino acids, conditionally essential amino acids, and nonessential amino acids.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are essential amino acids that stimulate protein synthesis in the muscles.
Complete list of amino acids:
Essential Amino Acids
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
Nonessential Amino Acids
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid