The 5 Best BCAAs of 2021, According to a Dietitian

How to choose a BCAA supplement that is right for you

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Best BCAAs

Verywell / Chloe Jeong

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.

“Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are a group of three essential amino acids that work to support protein synthesis in muscle and liver, enhance exercise performance and recovery, and encourage healthy brain function and immunity for peak athletic performance and beyond” says Michael A. Smith, MD, Director of Education at Life Extension. “Research shows that BCAAs help to both maintain and build muscle strength and endurance, support physical performance and brain function, and promote muscle recovery – the perfect way to restore your muscles after a tough workout," he says.

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.

What to Look for in a BCAA

Consistency 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. 

Quality:

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.

BCAAs Dosage

Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.

There are no current recommendations for BCAA supplement dosage. Studies have shown no safety concerns with doses up to 20 grams per day for up to six weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should you take BCAAS?

    There is limited research about the best time to take BCAAs, but you probably experience similar effects whether you take them before or after working out. However, one study did find that participants experienced less muscle soreness when they took BCAAs before exercise, compared to those who took the supplement afterward.

    When to take BCAAs also depends on when you last ate a meal with protein. If you ate within one to two hours of working out, the timing may be less significant. However, if there is a longer span of time between eating and exercise, taking BCAAs before working out may have a greater effect. Overall, take BCAAs whenever it is easiest and most convenient for you.

  • Do BCAAs have caffeine?

    BCAAs do not naturally contain caffeine. However, some products may have caffeine added to them. If you are looking for an energy boost before a workout, you may want to consider a product that has added caffeine. 

  • Do BCAAs expire?


    Most supplements don’t expire to the point of causing sickness, but they may lose their potency over time. The FDA doesn’t require that dietary supplements have an expiration date on the packaging. 

    Some companies will choose to include a “use by” or “best by” date. If your BCAA packaging has a “use by” or “best by” date, it’s best to consume the supplement within that date.

  • Can you take too much BCAAs?

    For most people, BCAA supplementation is safe and comes without side effects. There are no established recommended dosage or upper limits for BCAAs, but most consumers have no issues taking up to 20 grams per day.

    People with a certain health condition called maple syrup urine disease (MSUD) should limit BCAA consumption because their bodies are not able to break down these amino acids.

  • Do BCAAs build muscle?

    The BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, and valine are all essential amino acids that are important for muscle growth. However, all nine essential amino acids are needed for protein synthesis and therefore muscle growth. 

    While BCAAs supplements are capable of protein synthesis and muscle growth, it’s important to include sources of the other essential amino acids for maximal growth. You can get these essential amino acids in foods or with a complete protein supplement.

How We Select Supplements

Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here

We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science, as well as clinically tested and approved for use in humans. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. These attributes include non-GMO, Organic, and allergy-friendly products that are free of most artificial ingredients including colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners. When possible, we recommend products that are third-party tested and certified.

It's important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.

Here, the best BCAA supplements:

Best Powder: Thorne Research Amino Complex

Thorne Research Amino Complex
Pros
  • Includes all nine essential amino acids

Cons
  • Expensive

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.

Key nutrients: Valine, leucine, isoleucine | Vegan: No | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO? No | Additives: None

Best Hypoallergenic: Pure Encapsulations BCAA Powder

Pure Encapsulations BCAA Powder
Pros
  • Suitable for consumers with most common food allergies

Cons
  • Not third party tested

If you have allergies, it can be hard to find a quality supplement that is 100 percent 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 1,500 milligrams of leucine and 750 milligrams 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.

Pure Encapsulations BCAA powder is not third-party tested. However, we like this brand for its transparency about Good Manufacturing Processes and testing for purity.

Key nutrients: Valine, leucine, isoleucine | Vegan: No | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO? Yes | Additives: None

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

Muscle Feast BCAA Powder 4:1:1 Ratio
Pros
  • Suitable for vegan diet

Cons
  • Unflavored; may not be palatable for some

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 3630 milligrams of leucine and 907 milligrams 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.

Key nutrients: Valine, leucine, isoleucine | Vegan: Yes | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO? Yes | Additives: Sunflower lecithin

Best Flavored: Vital Proteins Recovery BCCA Powder

Vital Proteins Recovery BCCA Powder
Pros
  • Formula contains all nine essential amino acids

Cons
  • Made without artificial sweeteners

It's hard to find a flavored BCAA supplement that tastes great and doesn't use questionable sweeteners. Vital Proteins combine 20 grams of their well-known collagen powder with 8 grams of essential amino acids and 5 grams 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, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 18 grams of protein. The delicious blend features many electrolytes and vitamins, including 50 percent 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.

Key nutrients: Collagen, valine, leucine, isoleucine | Vegan: No | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO? No | Additives: None

What Experts Say

“70 percent 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

Best Plant-Based: Nutiva Hemp Seed Protein Powder

Nutiva Hemp Seed Protein
Pros
  • Hemp protein is a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids

Cons
  • High fiber content may not be suitable for pre-workout supplementation

Many BCAA supplements contain milk or other non-vegan-friendly ingredients such as bovine gelatin in the capsules. If you're looking for a more natural, plant-based product, try Nutiva Hemp Seed Protein Powder. The USDA Organic, Cold-Pressed, Raw Protein Powder contains 15 grams of protein per 3-tablespoon serving, containing 0.5 grams isoleucine, 0.8 grams leucine, and 0.7 grams valine.

The vegan, non-GMO product tastes great and is easy to blend into your favorite smoothie. While this product may contain lower amounts of BCAAs than other supplements on this list, hemp is a high-quality superfood that has additional benefits such as dietary fiber, magnesium, and iron.

Key nutrients: Hemp protein | Vegan: Yes | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: Yes | Non-GMO? Yes | Additives: None

Final Verdict

For an excellent BCAA, try Thorne Research's Amino Complex (view at Amazon). It contains not only the branched-chain amino acids, but all the essential and conditionally essential amino acids. If you prefer unflavored supplements, Muscle Feast (view at Amazon) is a very good BCAA supplement to try.

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11 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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