The 7 Best BCAAs of 2020, According to a Dietitian

Support muscle recovery with these top supplements

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Our Top Picks
"The delicious berry-flavored powder is sweetened with stevia and uses no artificial flavors."
"In addition to being in optimally absorbed form, each serving contains 20mg of vitamin B6, a vitamin that supports the metabolism of amino acids."
"Budget-friendly capsules have two quality assurance certifications: Informed-Choice and Informed-Sport."
"Certified vegan and free of gluten, soy, and GMOs."
"Free of wheat, gluten, egg, peanuts, soy, dairy, shellfish, artificial colors and sweeteners."
"Muscle Feast adheres to strict standards and is third-party tested by Labdoor."
"Great post-workout recovery drink sweetened only with monk fruit."

When you perform intense workouts, it’s important to rest, recover, and fuel your body with the right nutrients, especially protein. While you can meet most—if not all—of your dietary needs through proper nutrition, some athletes choose to supplement with branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs. BCAAs represent three essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine. These essential amino acids are commonly found in protein-rich food such as meat, dairy, and legumes, but they are also bundled together in capsule or powder form and sold as a dietary supplement.

There's little evidence to support the claim that BCAAs improve endurance performance; however, research shows BCAAs may help build muscle size and support recovery when used with a resistance training program. In fact, the International Society of Sports Nutrition supports the use of branched-chain amino acids as a means to meet the increased protein needs of athletes but recommends choosing whole food options as the primary protein source.

Here, our nutritionist reviewed the top picks for BCAA supplements.

Best Powder: Thorne Research Thorne Amino Complex

If you're looking for a high-quality, great-tasting BCAA powder, Thorne's Amino Complex is a fantastic choice. The delicious berry-flavored powder is sweetened with stevia and uses no artificial flavors. Each scoop contains eleven amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids (which includes the three BCAAs) as well as cysteine and tyrosine. These two amino acids are known as conditionally essential amino acids, which are needed in higher quantities during times of physical stress, such as exercise recovery.

The powder is free of gluten, dairy, and soy. The product is NSF Certified for Sport, meaning that it is tested to be sure it is free of banned substances and compliant with label claims. Thorne recommends mixing one scoop with at least six ounces of water.

Best Capsule: Solgar BCAA Plus

Powder supplements are not for everyone, including those who are sensitive to super sweet or intense flavors. Fortunately, BCAAs also come in a capsule, like this one from Solgar. The capsules are kosher, certified gluten-free, and non-GMO. They're also free of soy, dairy, yeast, sugar, and sodium, as well as artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and colors.

Packed full of 1,200 milligrams of BCAAs per serving, these easy-to-swallow veggie capsules contain leucine, valine, and isoleucine. The "free-form" amino acids in Solgar's formulation are pre-digested and ready to be used by the body. In addition to being in optimally absorbed form, each serving contains 20mg of vitamin B6, a vitamin that supports the metabolism of amino acids.

Best Budget: Now Foods NOW Sports Branched-Chain Amino Acids Capsules

High-quality supplements, including BCAAs, can be pricey. NOW Sports Branched-Chain Amino Acids are an affordable option that doesn't sacrifice quality. In fact, the budget-friendly capsules have two quality assurance certifications: Informed-Choice and Informed-Sport. These trusted credentials assure that the supplement is tested for over 220 banned substances and screened for safety, potency, and identity, providing the highest level of assurance for athletes.

Each four-capsule serving contains roughly 1300mg of leucine as well as 650mg each of isoleucine and valine. The free-form amino acids are easily digested and assimilated to give your muscles the amino acids they need quickly. The capsules are produced in a GMP Quality Assured facility. Note that the non-GMO capsules contain gelatin.

Best Vegan: NAKED nutrition Naked BCAAs Amino Acids Powder

Many BCAA supplements contain milk or other non-vegan-friendly ingredients such as bovine gelatin in the capsules. The 100% plant-based BCAA powder from Naked Nutrition is certified vegan and free of gluten, soy, and GMOs. True to its name, the Naked BCAAs are also free of artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors.

Plus, the product only contains BCAAs (with some sunflower lecithin for mixability) that can help you reduce recovery time. Each serving contains 5 grams of BCAAs, including 2500mg of leucine and 1250mg each of isoleucine and valine. Naked recommends mixing 1 scoop of the 2:1:1 formula with 10 to 12 ounces of your favorite beverage.

Good to Know

BCAA supplements come in different ratios of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine is generally in higher ratios, such as with the common 2:1:1 (leucine: isoleucine: valine) ratio, as it is thought to be especially good at supporting skeletal muscle synthesis.

Best Hypoallergenic: Pure Encapsulations BCAA Powder

If you have allergies, it can be hard to find a quality supplement that is 100% free of your specific allergens. Pure Encapsulations is devoted to formulating products using the purest ingredients to deliver top quality, hypoallergenic products. Their BCAA Powder is no exception. The BCAA powder is free of wheat, gluten, egg, peanuts, soy, dairy, shellfish, magnesium stearate, hydrogenated fat, and artificial colors and sweeteners.

One scoop of the 2:1:1 (leucine:isoleucine:valine) ratio powder provides 1,500mg of leucine and 750mg each of isoleucine and valine. Pure Encapsulations recommends mixing one scoop of the non-GMO powder with 10 ounces of water or juice once daily.

Best Unflavored: Muscle Feast BCAA Powder 4:1:1 Ratio

Many BCAAs come in super strong fruity flavors that don't appeal to all taste buds. Additionally, some supplements use artificial flavors and sweeteners which may be detrimental to your health. Choosing an unflavored variety, like the Muscle Feast BCAA Powder, is a good choice to reap the benefits of BCAAs without unnecessary flavors and ingredients.

Muscle Feast's Unflavored BCAA Powder comes in a 4:1:1 ratio and is keto-friendly, vegan, and sugar-free. The supplement contains only BCAAs and sunflower lecithin for mixability. Specifically, one scoop contains 3630mg of leucine and 907mg of isoleucine and valine. Muscle Feasts recommends mixing one scoop with 12 ounces of water or your favorite beverage.

If you're concerned about manufacturing, Muscle Feast adheres to strict standards and is third-party tested by Labdoor. The gluten-free, soy-free powder is made in an FDA-registered facility.

Best Flavored: Vital Protiens Recovery BCCA Powder

It's hard to find a flavored BCAA supplement that tastes great and doesn't use questionable sweeteners. Vital Proteins combine 20g of their well-known collagen powder with 8g of essential amino acids and 5g of BCAAs to create a great post-workout recovery drink that's sweetened only with monk fruit. This plant-based sweetener is GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA and is less sweet than other sugar alternatives on the market.

The gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free powder comes in five flavors, including guava lime, lemon grape, passionfruit, watermelon berry, and yuzu clementine. Each two-scoop serving contains 100 calories, 6g of carbohydrates, and 18g of protein. The delicious blend features many electrolytes and vitamins, including 50% of your daily value of vitamin C and vitamin B6. Natural electrolytes from coconut water powder help to rehydrate, while taurine and glutamine support muscle recovery.

What to Look for in a BCAA Supplement

Mixability and flavor: Nothing says yuck like a powder supplement that won’t mix. When shopping for a BCAA powder, look for a product that mixes well in water. You should also consider the flavor. You can find BCAA powder unflavored or in flavors like fruit punch, grape, and lemon-lime. Depending on your taste buds, you may want to take the safe route and opt for unflavored.

Other ingredients: In addition to valine, leucine, and isoleucine, several BCAA products include extra ingredients. Be on the lookout for artificial flavors, sweeteners, fillers, and artificial coloring. One way to avoid some of these ingredients is to choose an unflavored product. Also, pay attention to other dietary supplements they may include, such as caffeine. If you only want BCAA, make sure there are no other supplements listed on the label. 

Pills vs. Powder: BCAAs come in a powder and capsule. BCAA powder seems to be the top choice, especially since companies can pack more BCAAs into each serving. However, some people prefer swallowing a pill. Just know that you may have to take quite a few pills to equal the same amount of BCAAs found in powder. 

Dosage: Always speak with your physician or health care provider prior to adding any dietary supplement, including BCAAs, to your routine. According to the National Institute of Health, supplementing with up to 20g per day of BCAAs for up to 6 weeks should be safe.

Quality and Testing: To ensure that you're choosing a high-quality product, look for a supplement that has been third-party tested. Companies like Labdoor or ConsumerLab perform reviews. Some products are NSF Certified for Sport or tested by similar anti-doping companies.

What the Experts Say

“70% of the amino acid pool that makes up muscle tissue is BCAAs. One of the BCAAs, leucine, is the key amino acid that drives the muscle protein synthesis (MPS) pathway, which means better recovery and a greater anabolic response from exercise.”—Shawn Wells, MPH, LDN, RD, CISSN, FISSN

Why Trust Verywell Fit

A personal note on my recommendations written above. As a dietitian, I am not always comfortable recommending supplements. After spending time reviewing the most current clinical research and looking at multiple products, however, I came up with a list of products that I would recommend to someone looking to add branched-chain amino acids into their routine.

I aligned with best clinical practices and recommendations set forth by Sports Nutrition experts and the International Society of Sports Nutrition and reviewed test results from Labdoor. I am careful to recommend supplements, and I believe the BCAA supplements in the round-up are made by trusted brands that are devoted to product purity and are composed of high-quality ingredients. Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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