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Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are supplements that are popular among athletes and those looking to build muscle. Amino acids help the body build protein, which is vital for building and growing new muscle.

A quick look at 9 of the best BCAA Supplements

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.

BCAAs are a group of important branched chain amino acids for the body.

The body needs 20 total amino acids and can make many of them by itself.

However, there are nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce and that must come from the diet. These nine essential amino acids are:

  • lysine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • methionine
  • histidine
  • leucine
  • isoleucine
  • valine

People who eat a 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. Experts refer to them as BCAAs. They are:

  • leucine
  • isoleucine
  • valine

BCAAs make up a large part of the body’s amino acids, especially in the muscles. 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 a 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?

The authors of a 2019 review observed 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.

According to a 2019 review, 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.

BCAAs are a natural and essential part of the human diet, and therefore, there is usually little risk of side effects — particularly if an individual follows the manufacturer’s instructions. It is not advisable to exceed the dosage stated on the packaging.

People with medical conditions should consult a doctor before taking BCAA supplements to ensure their safety.

Anyone who experiences serious side effects should stop taking the supplement and seek guidance from a healthcare professional right away.

The exact dosage will vary based on a few factors. For example, some manufacturers will offer dosing guides with their products, which can help give a range for each person based on their body weight and activity levels.

Typically, a person will combine a scoop of BCAA powder with water, mix it, and 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 or within 1 hour of starting or following the workout.

More recent research suggests that BCAA supplements may provide benefits for up to five hours following exercise.

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.

Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:

  • Price: Products suit a wide range of budgets.
  • Ingredients: Products list all ingredients clearly, with manufacturing processes outlined.
  • Safety: Products contain ingredients deemed safe for ingestion.
  • Reputation: Products are from businesses that adhere to industry best practices.

Many BCAA supplements are available on the market. 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 information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best low-calorie: Cellucor Alpha Amino Performance BCAAs

List price$29.36
Prozero calories per serving
Connot suitable for those who do not want to consume sucralose

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.

The supplement is available in watermelon flavor and uses sucralose as a sweetener.

The nutrition facts of 1 serving (1 scoop, or 12.7 g) of this product are:

  • Calories: 0
  • Total carbohydrates: less than 1 g
  • Total sugars: 0 g
  • Phosphorus: 55 milligrams (mg)
  • Magnesium: 13 mg
  • Sodium: 30 mg
  • Potassium: 110 mg
  • BCAA 2:1:1 blend (L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine): 5,000 mg
  • Essential performance amino acid complex: 3,750 mg
  • Alpha Amino hydration blend: 1,750 mg

Best for pre-workout: Optimum Nutrition BCAA 1000 Capsules

List price$26.84
Pro capsules may be more convenient than powder
Consome people may have difficulty swallowing the capsules

These capsules provide a 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 healthy diet while taking these capsules.

The supplement is available in 60 and 400 counts.

At the time of publication, Optimum Nutrition BCAA 1000 Capsules cost $7.98 for 60 capsules, and $26.84 for 400 capsules.

The nutrition facts of 1 serving (2 capsules) of this product are:

  • Micronized L-leucine: 500 mg
  • Micronized L-isoleucine: 250 mg
  • Micronized L-valine: 250 mg

Best for post-workout: BPI Sports Best BCAA Powder

List price$21.95
Prothe company states this product has zero calories
Connot suitable for those who do not want to consume sucralose

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.

This supplement is available in grape flavor and uses sucralose as a sweetener.

The nutrition facts of 1 serving (1 scoop, or 10 g) of this product are:

  • Glycyl-alanyl-lysine L-leucine: 2.5 g
  • Glycyl-alanyl-lysine L-isoleucine: 1.25 g
  • Glycyl-alanyl-lysine L-valine: 1.25 g
  • Omega-6 fatty acids and CLA matrix (proprietary): 1 g
  • Agmatine sulphate: 250 mg

Best for vegans and vegetarians: Naked Nutrition Naked BCAAs

List price$34.99
Prosuitable for vegans and is free from gluten and soy
Conis not available in any additional flavors

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.

The supplement is unflavored and unsweetened.

The nutrition facts of 1 serving (1 scoop, or 5 g) of this product are:

  • L-leucine: 2,500 mg
  • L-isoleucine: 1,250 mg
  • L-valine: 1,250 mg

Best kosher powder: NOW Sports BCAA Powder

List pricearound $26
Prothis supplement is suitable for those who require a kosher diet
Conis not available in any additional flavors

This BCAA powder is good manufacturing practice-assured and kosher with dairy. It is also free from soy and genetically modified organisms.

The manufacturers state that a person should take this product before and after exercise. The company also notes that an individual can add it to a protein powder shake.

The supplement is unflavored and contains no sugar or sweeteners.

The nutrition facts of 1 serving (1.5 teaspoon, or 5.2 g) of this product are:

  • L-leucine (free form): 2.3 g
  • L-isoleucine (free form): 1.1 g
  • L-valine (free form): 1.1 g

Best for different flavors: Thorne Research Amino Complex

List pricearound $40
Profree from major allergens
Concontains some sweeteners

The manufacturers of this product claim that it contains the purest possible ingredients and that all products have received third-party certification. The company also states that the product is free from major allergens and contains no gluten, soy, dairy, yeast, shellfish, or fish.

The supplement is available in lemon or berry flavor. It does not contain any sweeteners.

The nutrition facts of 1 serving (1 scoop, or 7.7 g) of this product are:

  • Calories: 25
  • Total carbohydrates: less than 1 g
  • L-leucine: 1.25 g
  • L-lysine: 650 mg
  • L-isoleucine: 625 mg
  • L-valine: 625 mg
  • L-threonine: 350 mg
  • L-histidine: 150 mg
  • L-cystine: 150 mg
  • L-phenylalanine: 100 mg
  • L-methionine: 50 mg
  • L-tyrosine: 30 mg
  • L-tryptophan: 20 mg

Best for a GMO-free supplement: Designs for Health BCAA Powder with L-glutamine

List pricearound $59
Progluten and GMO-free
Conmore expensive than some other options

Designs for Health states it only sources quality ingredients. This supplement is free from GMOs and gluten, and is suitable for vegetarians.

The supplement is available in orange flavor. It does not contain any sweeteners.

The nutrition facts for one serving (1 scoop, or 9 g) of this product are:

  • L-leucine: 2.5 g
  • L-glutamine: 2 g
  • L-isoleucine: 1.2 g
  • L-valine: 1.2 g

Best for vitamins and minerals: Vital Performance Recover Powder

List price$35.99
Prohas various flavors
Conhigher calories per serving than some other options

The company states that this product may help improve the health of muscles, tendons, bones, and joints. Additionally, this supplement is NSF Certified for Sports.

This BCAA supplement is available in watermelon blueberry, lemon grape, and guava lime flavors. Additional ingredients include a range of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, niacin, zinc, and potassium.

The nutritional facts for one serving (2 scoops, or 38 g) of this product are:

  • Calories: 100
  • Collagen peptides: 20 g
  • L-Glutamine: 970 mg
  • Taurine: 135 mg
  • Vital Proteins EAA blend: 8 g

Best for people with allergies: Pure Encapsulations BCAA Powder

List pricearound $54
Profree from most common allergens
Conmore expensive than some other options

Pure Encapsulations states that it makes this unflavored supplement with premium clean ingredients.

Additionally, this supplement is free from most common allergens, such as wheat, eggs, tree nuts and peanuts, and gluten. It is also free from artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.

The nutrition facts of one serving (1 scoop, or 3.3 g) of this product are:

  • L-Leucine: 1,500 mg
  • L-Isoleucine: 750 mg
  • L-Valine: 750 mg

The following tables compares the BCAA supplements in this article.

BCAA contentServing sizePrice
Cellucor5,000 mg1 scoop, or 12.7 g$29.36
Optimum Nutrition1,000 mgtwo capsules$26.84
BPI Sports5,000 mg1 scoop, or 10 g$21.95
Naked Nutrition5,000 mg1 scoop, or 5 g$34.99
NOW Sports4,500 mg1.5 teaspoon, or 5.2 garound $26
Thorne Research4,000 mg1 scoop, or 7.7 garound $40
Designs for Health6,900 mg1 scoop, or 9 garound $59
Vital Performance8,970 mg2 scoops, or 38 g$35.99
Pure Encapsulations3,000 mg1 scoop, or 3.3 garound $54

People may wish to consider the following when choosing BCAA supplements:

  • Ingredients: Not all BCAA supplements are suitable for every diet. People who are vegan or vegetarian, or those who require a kosher diet, should carefully read the ingredients to ensure they can consume the product.
  • Third-party testing: People may wish to ensure the product they purchase has undergone third-party testing for safety.
  • Taste: Many supplements are flavored. People may wish to purchase flavors they like if they wish to use the supplements regularly.
  • Price: People may wish to ensure the product fits their budget.

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
  • fish
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • yogurt
  • grains
  • beans and legumes
  • seeds
  • nuts

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.

Here we answer some common questions about these supplements.

Is it safe to take BCAA supplements every day?

There is no evidence that it is unsafe to take BCAA supplements every day.

However, people with medical conditions should consult their doctor before taking these supplements.

Do you have to exercise to take BCAA supplements?

People do not need to exercise to take BCAA supplements.

However, most studies on these supplements are conducted on participants who also exercise. People who exercise while taking BCAA supplements may see more benefits.

At what age can you start taking BCAA supplements?

The FDA does not regulate supplements, so the organization does not state whether BCAA supplements are safe for all ages.

People should speak with a doctor before giving children any supplements. Additionally, those with medical conditions should also contact a doctor to ensure the supplements are safe to use.

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 healthy diet. BCAAs may be best for those following restrictive diets and individuals who want a convenient supplement.