We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are popular supplements among athletes and those looking to build muscle. Amino acids help the body build protein, which is vital to build and grow new muscle.
BCAAs may help decrease recovery time after intense workouts and provide the body with the tools it needs to build muscle.
However, they may not be right in every situation. BCAAs may not be necessary for everyone, and there are some alternatives to keep in mind when choosing the best BCAA products.
This article will discuss BCAAs in more detail and provide a list of products that a person may wish to consider trying.
BCAAs are a group of important amino acids for the body.
There are 20 total amino acids, and the body can make many of them by itself.
However, there are nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce. These must come from the diet. These nine essential amino acids are:
People who eat a well-balanced diet will generally get enough of each essential amino acid.
Of the nine amino acids above, three have a chain in their molecular structure that branches off to the side. These are known as BCAAs. They are:
BCAAs make up a large part of the body’s amino acids, especially in the muscles. In fact, one 2019 review notes that BCAAs make up about 50% of the essential amino acids in muscle protein.
As the body breaks down muscle protein and amino acids, such as by working out, having a ready supply of amino acids may help build or repair muscle faster and ensure that there is no muscle mass loss.
The theory behind the benefits of BCAAs is that having them in the body around the time of working out means that they are readily available for use as the body needs them.
This could help repair the muscle and build muscle quickly, leading to more strength and less muscle loss.
Also, people using BCAAs may experience fewer symptoms after a workout, such as soreness or tiredness while recovering. BCAAs may also help with reducing recovery time between workouts, meaning that the person is ready to train again sooner.
Although many people use BCAAs regularly and may feel these benefits, the results of studies testing BCAAs are mixed.
What does the research say?
A 2019 review found that BCAA supplementation reduced delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise.
A 2017 review notes that long-term use of BCAAs may offer some benefit for low-to-moderate muscle damage from exercise. However, there is little evidence for damage from high intensity workouts or major muscle damage.
A 2019 review notes that evidence suggests that BCAAs stimulate muscle protein synthesis after exercise, but that the other essential amino acids are also important for this process.
The researchers note that BCAA supplementation alone does not appear to enhance muscle protein synthesis more than consuming high quality protein sources containing all the essential amino acids.
Other essential amino acids are also important in building and repairing muscle. For example, a 2020 study in rodents found that combining BCAAs with another amino acid, L-alanine, helped increase their availability during exercise.
The researchers behind this study also show their support for BCAA use in general for people who follow a regular, moderate intensity exercise program.
Further research will need to expand on the benefits of BCAAs before scientists can make any broad claims.
Because BCAAs are a natural and essential part of the human diet, there is usually little risk of side effects — particularly if a person follows the manufacturer’s instructions. It is not advisable to exceed the stated dosage on the packaging.
People with medical conditions should consult their doctor before taking BCAA supplements to ensure their safety.
Anyone who experiences serious side effects should stop taking the supplement and speak to their healthcare provider immediately.
The exact dosage will vary based on a few factors. For example, some manufacturers will offer dosing guides with their product, which can help give a range for each person based on their body weight and activity levels.
Typically, a person will mix a scoop of BCAA powder with water, mix it, and then consume it. Capsules are also available.
For the average person following a regular workout routine, it may be best to take BCAAs around the time of exercising, within an hour on either side of the workout.
BCAAs may be best for competitive athletes, people following a restrictive diet, and those who do not get enough essential amino acids from their diet.
Many BCAA supplements are available to buy. Below, we list six products that people may wish to try.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All product information is purely research-based.
Cellucor Alpha Amino Performance BCAAs
This product is a flavorful, low calorie option that contains no carbohydrates. The blend contains electrolyte salts and provides 5 grams (g) of BCAAs per serving.
Optimum Nutrition BCAA 1000 Capsules
These capsules provide a highly convenient form of a simple BCAA blend. Each serving delivers 1 g of BCAAs to help keep the body supplied with BCAAs. People should also follow a healthful diet while taking these capsules.
BPI Sports Best BCAA Powder
This BCAA powder comes in a variety of flavors and provides 5 g of BCAA per serving, in addition to conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Some research suggests that CLA may help reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass.
Naked Nutrition Naked BCAAs
This is a pure plant-based option suitable for vegans and vegetarians. The product is also free from soy and gluten. Each serving delivers 5 g of BCAAs, and the only other ingredient is sunflower lecithin.
NOW Sports BCAA Powder
This BCAA powder is good manufacturing practice-assured, soy-free, non-GMO, and kosher with dairy. The manufacturers state that people should take this product before and after exercise. They also suggest that people can add it to a protein powder shake.
Thorne Research Amino Complex
The manufacturers of this product claim that it contains the purest possible ingredients, and that all products have received third party certification. They also state that the product is gluten-free, has no other major allergens, and contains no soy, dairy, yeast, shellfish, or fish.
Although many people choose to use BCAA supplements for their convenience, the amino acids are also present in foods.
Some good food sources of BCAAs include:
- lean meat
- beans and legumes
Eating a wide variety of natural protein sources such as these may be enough to ensure that the body gets its essential amino acids each day.
BCAA products offer people simple access to some essential amino acids. Although research is still inconclusive, many athletes regularly use BCAAs to reduce their recovery time and decrease symptoms such as muscle soreness.
People can get all the amino acids they need through a healthful diet. BCAAs may be best for those following restrictive diets and individuals who want a convenient supplement.