BCAAs are becoming increasingly popular amongst fitness enthusiasts. Once the preserver of elite athletes and world class bodybuilders, nowadays anybody even half interested in high intensity sports like barbell athletics, martial arts or sprint work should have come across them in one form or another.
They can help you lift heavier, for longer; they can improve your running performance; they can reduce post workout fatigue, speed up recovery and muscle gain; and they can help to diminish incidents of DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness.) Really, BCAAs need to be present in a big way in the diets of anybody wanting to give any degree of solid athletic performance.
Research is constantly ongoing, and constantly causing the range and availability of BCAAs to grow; you can’t go into any health food or supplement shop without seeing several varieties, available in several different forms. With this much research going into them, it’s of no surprise that many BCAAs include added bonuses to increase performance or to plaster over any deficit in your current training or dietary regimen.
Stimulants, adaptogens, micronutrients and extracts all play a key role in setting the various available products apart from one another, and in bringing about a very personalised choice for individual athletes to make. It’s common to see BCAAs mixed in with other supplements- caffeine, glutamine, taurine, beta alanine, citrulline malate all being quite common- all designed to benefit your workout performance.
In this article, I’ll sift through many of these available products with the aim of showcasing six of the top BCAAs, in my opinion, that you can get in today’s market, alongside briefly explaining what makes each individual, and BCAAs more broadly, worthy of consideration as part of your supplement regime.
Top 6 Best BCAA Supplements
The following list is ranked in no particular order. All have their strengths and weaknesses, and all deserve their place on this list.
- IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Powder (Our Top Pick)
- Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder
- BPI SPORTS Best BCAA
- Betancourt Nutrition Plus Series BCAA
- Evlution Nutrition BCAA Energy
- GHOST BCAA Amino Acids
Our Top Pick
Our top pick for the best BCAA supplement is the IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Powder.
I’ve given you six really decent supplements to choose from, and I personally found the choice a hard one: several of those on my list were vying with one another for the top spot.
All six featured BCAAs come with their issues, some of which are common between more than one- the amount of additives, flavourings and preservatives in most products can be a bit of a turn off- but all of them will deliver what they promise.
There will always be a product or two that stand out from the rest, however. For me, IN-KAGED’s vegan friendly approach and ability to rehydrate and pick up energy levels put it head and shoulders about their competitors. It gave me the best feeling during training and yielded, in my opinion, the most impressive results.
How We Picked Our Winner
Beyond the basic- including a decent amount and ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine- looking at the added nutritional and sporting performance perks have been top priority in writing this list.
For products with such fundamental similarities, the sheer volume of products available means that anybody wanting to stand out from the crowd has had to be innovative and offer something fairly unique to consumers. The six on my list have done this, greatly aiding users in areas like hydration, energy levels, power output, longevity and immune support (all those helpful B Vitamins will do you wonders.)
Whilst the quality of the BCAAs themselves were of utmost importance, the main things I was looking for in putting this list together was these added perks. Any one of them will give you a thorough foundation in leucine, isoleucine and valine, but after that your own personal pick will have to reflect your personal preferences- easy to do in such a varied industry sector.
Bearing all of this in mind, as with all the products that we have considered in previous articles, all of our finalists had to:
- Deliver high quality ingredients, including the BCAAs themselves. I only considered candidates whose makeup gives a good, steady stream of healthful benefits and whose effects were well documented both by myself and other consumers.
- Be easy to take and palatable. All of these are pretty tasty and convenient to add either to water or your favourite protein shake, meaning that it should never be a challenge to hit your BCAA targets for any given day.
- Offer something above and beyond the usual. BCAAs are ten a penny- to really stand out, a BCAA supplement has to be tailored to specific requirements. The list above has been, with every item offering multiple, practical benefits that will aid you in your training regime.
For more information on how, when and why to take BCAAs- along with a more detailed breakdown of their benefits- please feel free to check out our BCAA 101.
What Is a BCAA Supplement?
It would be hard to make an informed choice about BCAAs if you don’t know what they are! Let me restate the case for you in brief:
BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acids.
There are twenty basic amino acids that make up proteins. Leucine, isoleucine and valine are three of these. They all have branched, chain structures: hence, branched chain amino acids. These are the three amino acids dealt with by the supplements reviewed below.
The main thing you need to know about them is that branched chain amino acids are three of nine essential acids. This means that the human body cannot produce them, so needs to source them externally through diet. This is why correct supplementation is key in many training programs.
BCAAs are not hard to find. They can be found to some degree or another in most protein rich foods. If you’re eating a good variety of high quality, complete proteins, the chances are that you are getting enough BCAAs into your system to be getting on with.
However, a lot of people struggle to eat a wide enough range of good quality protein, and so won’t be getting their ideal allotment of BCAAs. This especially applies to those athletes who need a particularly high protein diet, like weight lifters or sprinters, as they likely will not be getting the volume of BCAAs they need to cope with recovery. It also applies to vegetarian athletes, as veggie protein sources are typically quite low on BCAA content.
That’s why I’ve written this article for you: supplementing will be important, and the six supplements and brands that follow are some of the best in the business.
Best BCAA Supplement Reviews
Scivation are well known for focussing on low-calorie supplements, trying to give you the most bang for your macro-nutritional buck. To this end, they don’t run any protein powders in their line, so it might be easy to overlook them. However, they are worth checking out: they are a solid bet when it comes to branch chain amino acid supplements. Xtend is their main line and it comes available in capsule, fluid and naturally sweetened powder form.
I would recommend their sweetened powder: it is very tasty and it comes with added bonuses like electrolytes. If, like me, you tend to sweat a lot during training, this added electrolyte boost is very handy! It has the usual ratio layout you would expect of a BCAA supplement- 2:1:1 ratio of L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine. It is also quite weighty, with a full seven grams of BCAA per serving. As well as these, it contains a fair portion of the amino acid L-glutamine, with 2500 milligrams per serving. 32% of the RDI of Vitamin B6, and a gram of citrulline malate, which will deliver benefits to your circulatory system (very useful for post-training nutrient delivery.)
All in all, this is a very solid first start: Xtend powder covers every base and more for your BCAA needs, bringing with it a few welcome additions and a lovely flavour.
BPI Sports present a range of good quality, affordable protein products, alongside their wide variety of supplements. Their amino acid powders are particularly noteworthy, especially their ‘Best BCAA’.
I wanted to look at the ‘Best BCAA’ chiefly because of its fairly unusual processing method. It makes use of oligio-peptide enzymatic technology. Essentially, this means that the BCAA’s processing method structures them in such a way that they are peptide-bonded. BPI claim that this aids them in transportation efficiency, meaning faster absorption and thus recovery. BPI also make a great deal about their CLA Matrix. CLA stands for ‘Conjugated Linolenic Acid’- this is a type of fatty acid that some studies have linked to fat loss. The ‘Best BCAA’ also includes 250mg of agmatine. This may have a vasodilating effect, improving the flow of blood to your muscles during training.
However, the scientific backing for these claims is a little bit spurious. Reports are that results are mixed- this chimes with my own experience.
There are a lot of other, non-active ingredients in the ‘Best BCAA.’ It includes a fair few flavourings, including maltodextrin (a nasty sweetener derived from corn), malic and citric acids and some artificial flavours- sweeteners such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium and blue food dye number one. Obviously, if you’re looking for a more natural approach to your diet- trying to limit chemicals like these- this is not a product for you.
That being said, the BPI Sports Best BCAA has its place in this list. It is a little expensive, and the CLA and the peptide-bonding do very little that is proven, but the base mix of BCAAs with agmatine is sound. The taste is good and the acid mixture itself is top quality.
Betancourt’s advertising material suggests that they are aiming squarely at ‘elite athletes’. With this in mind, they offer great variety, with pre-workouts, testosterone boosters, fat burners and products aimed at improving recovery: they have a good track record with all of these.
Their Plus Series BCAAs deliver a lot. Whilst there is no caloric information available, one serving give 6 grams of BCAAS, giving a slightly higher than normal amount of leucine with a 4:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine. They call this leucine ‘Active L-Leucine™’ and claim that is absorbs more slowly than usual due to its processing. This is to enable prolonged signalling of protein synthesis.
The Plus Series BCAA also delivers far more than the RDI of zinc and vitamins B6 and B12, along with a little potassium and sodium. Again, I train hard and sweat a lot and so found this little sodium and potassium boost is a welcome addition. The rest is excessive and will mostly likely not be utilised- though the zinc could be beneficial in improving testosterone production. I particularly like the ‘Hydration Plus Blend.’
It comes with an additional 1.5 grams of taurine as well as a form of glutamine that absorbs faster than the basic form. This gave a significant boost, allowing me to train longer without suffering from any kind of dehydration. Well worth it. The other ingredients include a run down of flavourings (malic and citric acid, maltodextrin & artificial flavours) the positive or negative of which is again open to personal preference. I liked the flavour as much as the effects.
The IN-KAGED Intra-Workout Powder is great for anybody doing a more energy intensive workout. For me, it comes into its own when used in conjunction with martial arts training, though there is also great application for cross-fitters and those doing HIIT.
There is a very good reason for this: caffeine, taurine and tyrosine are all included, and all help to improve energy levels and cognitive function, whilst beta alanine and l-citrulline is there to help with endurance.
It is also vegan, which will open its appeal to less traditional markets (a big plus for me)- as plant based diets are typically the most at risk of BCAA deficiency, this is a great accomplishment and a great boon to veggie and vegan athletes of all stripes.
The list of flavours is also both impressive and high quality (cherry lemonade is a definite winner for me.) The ingredients themselves are also all of top-shelf quality, meaning that the difference in taking these is noticeable very quickly- DOMS drops off, as does joint stiffness and lethargy, allowing you to put in more gym time off the bat. I really liked the feeling of this one.
Not all is sunny, of course. There portion sizes are stingy: you only get 20 servings per container (even though the container itself is very generously proportioned) with no option to bulk buy and make use of quantities of scale. This means that you will end of spending a little more than is maybe necessary, and that you’ll get through a lot more wasteful packaging than could otherwise be the case. These are relatively minor gripes, however: as a whole, the product is a winner.
Evlution really zero in on BCAAS, selling three different kings. They have the basic BCAA 5000, alongside BCAA Lean Energy and BCAA Energy. Today, I’ll be looking at the latter of this products. In common with many on this list, the BCAA Energy has a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. In addition, however, it contains caffeine and taurine to give you a nice and remarkably smoothly released energy boost, alongside some much needed vitamin input to aid you in recovery.
In full, its profile reads quite nicely, with zero calories per serving, 2,500mg of leucine and 1,250mh each of isoleucine and valine (a little lower than average on all counts, but respectable nonetheless), with an additional 500mg each of beta-alanine, l-alanine and taurine. You get 150% of your RDI of Vitamin C and 500% of your RDI of Vitamins B6 and B12- unnecessarily high, but you will absorb much of it still. There is also a little more caffeine per serving than you would expect of a typical cup of coffee (110mg) originating from coffee beans and green tea extract. This means plenty of phytonutrients and antioxidants, which will further aid sports recovery.
I like this product a lot. Though you get the usual get the usual list of added chemicals, the benefits to be had from the active ingredients more than made up for their presence. The beta alanine and l-alanine should, in theory, help to improve endurance and nitric oxide production, though this is a tentative claim. The taurine and caffeine together allowed for a manageable, non-jittery high: I powered through my training without feeling nervous or losing performance due to impeded technique- a common side effect of caffeinated products.
All in all, a fantastic choice if you’re lacking energy in the gym.
Though Ghost tend to focus their supplements more on pre-workout, their BCAA supplement Amino is designed to deliver both branched chain amino acids and hydration, making it perfect for use either during or post-workout.
Though it’s not the highest rated of products by Amazon reviewers, I personally had a very positive experience with Ghost’s BCAAs.
One serving delivers 10 calories and 2 grams of carbs, with no sugar, and has 5 grams of BCAAs with a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine- all very respectable so far. In addition, there are 3 grams of seven other amino acids, including a gram of citrulline. Ghost’s BCAA also gives you a good helping of calcium, sodium, and potassium- hence it being so good for hydration. I felt this immediately and it gave my workouts a definite kick.
Their ‘Smart Hydration’ blend also contains 1 gram of taurine, a half gram of coconut, 5-HTP, and Alpha-GPC. The taurine will obviously help with energy but can also help in the reduction of muscle cramps whilst aiding hypertrophy by hydrating your muscle cells. The calcium may help to prevent bone deterioration from exercise, whilst keeping them in general good health, whilst the coconut has a few electrolytes to keep you going. Alpha-GPC can aid in the production of dopamine, lifting your mood and power output and decreasing fatigue perception, while 5-HTP aids in serotonin output.
Altogether, this makes for a powerful concoction and a great increase in exercise ability and output. The seven other amino acids are kind of irrelevant here. Citrulline is quite common as it may improve circulation and endurance, and tryptophan might provide mood elevation… but that is the end of it. The rest are unnecessary in supplement form and are widely available in most protein rich food sources. However, this is a slight detraction from an otherwise solid product, and if you’re looking for something to keep you hydrated and keep your mood lifted during a hard training bout, you could do a lot worse than investing in Ghost BCAA Amino Acids.
You will by now hopefully know enough about the range of BCAAs available to make a well-considered, well-informed choice in buying your own. This article has covered all the basics and presented you with a good selection of high quality, affordable supplements: any of those on my list will mark a good purchase. You know my favourite, but do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments below: what BCAA supplement would you recommend?