Beginners Guide to the Best Rated BCCA Powder Supplements in 2018
If you can't decide the best BCCA supplement for you, its probably because your missing certain information that's causing doubt in your mind. Reading this guide will definitely help you make a better informed decision.
When you look at the science, branched amino acids are essential for building muscle and strength. They're the building blocks of protein, which is the building block of muscle growth.
This fact, however, means a lot of hype and strong claims about the results BCAA's can deliver. As with most supplements, certain factors determine whether they'll benefit you or waste your time and money.
There's a plethora of anecdotal evidence suggesting branched chain amino acids can help increase muscle mass, boost performance, burn fat and prolong endurance.
Unfortunately, most people rarely experience these results because they haven't a clue how to use them properly.
In this guide you'll learn why supplementing with essential amino acids are important, how to maximize their benefits, and in our honest opinion, the 3 top BCAA supplements for 2017.
What are Branched Chain Amino Acids
BCAA's refer to the three essential amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. These combined, stimulate protein synthesis, boost lean muscle growth, fight fatigue and enhance recovery.
BCAA stands for branched chain amino acids and refers to their molecular structure. Their forked protrusions look like branches of a tree.
What are amino acids ?
Amino acids are individual organic compounds used to form protein - the building blocks - of the body. They have many vital functions, but for bodybuilding, they're essential for muscle recovery, growth, and building strength.
There are around 500 separate amino acids that are known, but only 23 are involved in creating proteins. These protein producers are known as proteinogenic amino acids. From this group, 9 are essential and 14 or non-essential amino acids.
The body does not produce essential amino acids, so you need to get these from food. In contrast, non-essential amino acids are produced by the body, so you don't need to get them from food.
Of those essential nine, Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine are the branched chain amino acids.
Why are Branched Chained Amino Acids Important for Muscle Building?
BCAA's are important for muscle growth because of their essential role in protein synthesis, energy production, and endurance.
Another significant difference between amino acids and BCAAs is how the body metabolizes them. Amino acids are metabolized in the liver and then transported to parts of the body where they're needed.
In contrast, branched-chain amino acids are metabolized in the muscle cells and tissue. This is important for muscle growth because muscles rapidly use amino acids, convert them into energy and through ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) power muscular contractions.
BCAA's are the easiest digested and quickly absorbed of all amino acids. Leucine helps maximize protein synthesis - a process responsible for muscle repair, growth and nitrogen retention and maintaining the body in an anabolic state.
BCAA Benefits - Can They Build Muscle?
It's no surprise these organic compounds play a vital role in helping build muscle and strength because up to one-third of muscle tissue comprises of branched chain amino acids.
However, can supplementing BCAA's have the same effect?
Fortunately, some scientific studies show that branched-chain amino acids do support muscle growth.
In one randomized study (1), 36 athletically fit men were split into groups and supplemented with either BCAA's, whey protein or carbohydrates over while performing an eight-week resistance and anaerobic exercise training program.
When the trial ended the results revealed the BCAA group gained significant weight, lean muscle mass, strength and even fat loss compared to the protein and carb group.
Let's look at the benefits:
Research singles out Leucine as the principal protagonist in stimulating protein synthesis. Leucine can be compared to the key that unlocks protein synthesis inside the muscle cells.
For example, one study (2) Leucine was found to activate mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), a unique protein linked to muscle growth and rejuvenation. It seems the activation of mTOR causes the cells in the muscles to increase protein synthesis.
Combined with intensive resistance training BCAA supplementation can help boost testosterone levels and human growth hormone - key players that drive anabolic activity in the muscle cells.
But that's not all, as leucine triggers the release of insulin by stimulating the beta cells of the pancreas. For bodybuilding, this is important because insulin is an anabolic hormone that stimulates protein synthesis.
Intensive exercise, especially weight training, increases cortisol, a stress hormone known to accelerate muscle tissue breakdown.
If you're not controlling cortisol's catabolic (muscle wasting) effects, you're going to lose your hard earned gains, increase the risk of injury and slow down recovery times.
What's more, training hard on a calorie restricted diet can accelerate the catabolic effect due to the lack of proteins and amino acids in the diet.
Fasted Training and Calorie Restricted Diets
Training hard on a calorie restricted diet can accelerate the catabolic effect due to the lack of proteins and amino acids in the diet.
Fortunately, BCAA's can help because they've been found to limit and may even prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue during intense resistance exercise.
For example, a study (3) investigating the effects of intensive resistance training on muscle damage found that athletes who supplemented with branched aminos had lower cortisol levels and higher levels of testosterone during and after exercise.
Lean Muscle Preservation
Did you know - during a workout the body breaks down muscle into amino acids which are converted into fuel for energy?
In fact, these essential amino acids act as a backup fuel source, so your body does not resort to burning muscle.
Power and Strength
If stimulating muscle growth wasn't enough, branched amino acids help increase muscle strength.
According to a 2003 study (4) by the University of Rome, Italy, 12 healthy men supplemented with BCAA's over two consecutive days increased their arm and grip strength. In contrast, the non-BCAA placebo group experienced no improvement in strength.
A review paper published by the University of Jyvaskyla , Finland (5) stated that a daily dose of 3 grams of leucine while performing intense resistance training increased strength and lean muscle mass by reducing muscle protein breakdown.
Enhancing endurance and combating fatigue is where branched chain amino acids excel.
Rapid Energy Source and Fatigue Fighter
BCAA's are absorbed directly into the bloodstream creating a readily available energy source that can be tapped into during intensive exercise.
What's more, they combat fatigue by inhibiting tryptophan an amino acid the brain uses to produce serotonin a 5-hydroxytryptamine, a neurotransmitter for signalling fatigue and tiredness.
Valine and tryptophan are constantly competing with each other to gain entry to the brain. When you have more Valine, less tryptophan gets in and you feel more energised.
There's a growing belief in the scientific community that human endurance limits, are in many cases, triggered by serotonin. The release of serotonin signals the brain that you've had enough rather than the muscles being exhausted.
For example, a 2014 Korean study (6) investigated the effects of BCAA on fatigue in rowers. After supplementing with branched-chain amino acid powder, rowing athletes experienced improved performance levels and faster recovery times compared to a non-BCAA group.
Often, BCAA's are recommended during a cutting cycle or fat loss program.
The latest research suggests that branched chain amino's offer, even more, fat shredding benefits.
Several studies support these claims. For example, the International Journal of Sports Medicine (7) conducted a study on 25 elite wrestlers on a calorie restricted diet.
After the 19-day trial, the BCAA group reduced their body fat % including a significant reduction in abdominal fat. There was also no deterioration in performance levels.
The muscle pain you feel the day after a workout is known in athletic and bodybuilding circles as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS for short.
However, the discomfort should be the least of your worries because DOMS can negatively affect performance levels, prolong recovery times and make you less motivated to train. Not a good recipe for building the ultimate body.
But can BCAA's help?
Let's look at what we've learned so far. Muscle cells are abundant in BCAA's, which have a vital role in protein synthesis but, they also deplete rapidly during intense resistance training.
Wouldn't it make sense to maintain levels at optimum levels to promote muscle repair and growth?
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (8) proves this to be the case. The study involved 36 untrained men divided into separate placebo, BCCA, Taurine and a BCCA/ Taurine groups.
The BCAA dose of 3.2 grams and a Taurine dose of 2 grams were administered three times a day for two weeks before and during exercising and then continued for three days after.
The findings revealed the combined group of BCAA's and Taurine experienced significant reductions in muscle soreness and swelling two days after exercising.
So, when taken on a consistent basis, BCAA's with Taurine could help reduce the negative effective's of muscle soreness.
How To Take A BCAA Supplement
How effective a BCAA supplement works for you depends on these key factors:
Let's start with ratios.
When it comes to muscle-building Leucine is king. So, a supplement powder with a higher leucine ratio to isoleucine and valine is ideal. That's why the most popular recommendation is either 2:1:1 or 3:1:1.
You can buy BCAA supplements with ratio's as high as 5:1:1 or even 8:1:1 however, more leucine doesn't always result in greater gains.
The majority of studies indicate that 5 to 7 grams of leucine is the optimal dosage for maximizing protein synthesis. Anything above that dosage and the law of diminishing returns kicks in.
Also, Isoleucine and valine play a significant role in fighting fatigue and boosting endurance.
The fact is, the real power comes from each amino acid working in synergy, not in isolation from each other.
Best Time To Take BCAA
Unlike most workout supplements, BCAA's can be taken at any time during the day.
Because of their many benefits, you can take a BCAA powder shake before, during and after your workout sessions. They're the ultimate pre-intra-post workout supplement.
For example, if you're in a cutting phase or fasting a powder shake before and during the workout will help keep energy levels up and cortisol levels at bay.
What's the Best BCAA Dosage
The best dose depends on your circumstances and goals.
When bulking, the primary source of amino acids should come from the protein in your diet.
However, 5 grams a day taken before and after the workout is ideal for giving you that extra pump.
If you're cutting the optimal BCAA dosage for fat loss and muscle preservation isn't clear cut due to the lack of science.
Although, 15 to 20 grams a day is recommended as the best range to work within.
Tracking Your Results
You're best bet is to test and monitor the doses yourself.
Track your results over six weeks to determine if a lower or higher dosage is needed.
What I can say, is that cutting or fasting cycles require strict calorie restrictions and you'll benefit from a higher dose of branched chain amino acids to replace the lack of protein in your diet.
What's more, BCAA's are low in calories, they improve fat oxidation, and their lean muscle preservation properties make them an ideal supplement to take during a calorie restrictive diet.
No clear evidence suggests the long-term use of BCAA powder supplements causes serious side effects. There have been complaints of digestive discomfort, flatulence although, these have been isolated cases rather than a trend.
As long you follow the recommended dose, have no existing medical conditions and are not pregnant, then branched amino acids are a relatively safe supplement to take. Of course, if in doubt, always speak to a doctor.
Do You Need To Supplement with BCAA's?
Are they essential for building muscle?
It depends. If you're getting the required amount from your diet, then supplements aren't going to make much of a difference.
But in certain situations, BCAA supplements can be useful.
Over the age of 30
Protein is essential for preserving muscle retention and maintaining physical functionality, and this gets more important as you age.
A study (9) conducted by Leeds University and University Glasgow found that older adults between the ages of 65 and 75 increased their lean muscle mass and improved their physical performance after taking Leucine over a 12 week period.
Cutting Cycle/Training in a Fasted State
The risk of muscle loss and fatigue are greater during cutting cycles and intermittent fasting because you're in a calorie deficit. In these situations, supplementation can lower the risk and help combat fatigue.
Leucine, in particular, is essential for protein synthesis. However, leucine levels deplete rapidly during and after an intensive workout.
A lack of the three amino acids in the body means you won't have enough proteins to recover and rebuild muscle quickly.
A BCAA powder shake taken during and after a workout, can help maximize protein synthesis (muscle growth).
As well as preserving lean muscle mass, BCAA's can help burn fat. In particular, Isoleucine improves your tolerance to glucose, while leucine boosts energy metabolism and fat oxidation.
What's more, BCAA's have appetite suppressing properties that makes cutting calories much easier.
Buyers Guide To BCCA Supplements
Before choosing the best BCAA supplement, there are a few things you need to be aware off.
Unfortunately, the sports supplement market is full of junk that's under dosed, ineffective and overpriced.
Follow the guidelines below and avoid buying a product you'll regret.
Quality of Ingredients
Don't be taken in by a supplement because the packaging looks cool or the name has come straight out of a superhero comic. Always use your due diligence and dig deeper.
Many supplement companies deliberately under-dose the active ingredients that are suppose to deliver the main benefits. Always check the label to see the ingredients and the amount your getting per serving.
An Effective Dose.....
For an effective dose look for a minimum of 5 grams of BCAA's. From that total 50 to 70% should contain Leucine, because the majority of studies suggest, this to be the minimum requirement for stimulating protein synthesis.
Regarding the best amino acid ratio, stick with the well and tested 2:1:1.
Extra Ingredients - Do You Need Them?
Nowadays, supplement companies are adding extra ingredients to boost sales.
Again, be diligent.
Many are a waste of money, but a few are worth having.
HICA: (alpha-hydroxy-isocaproic acid):
HICA also referred to as Leucic acid is a byproduct that follows the metabolism of Leucine and is considered to be highly anti-catabolic.
A study (10) into the effects of HICA on DOMs and athletic performance monitored a group of soccer players. Football training can be highly catabolic, and the players were given HICA supplements to test its effects on muscle breakdown.
The studies findings revealed that a daily dose of 1.5 grams of HICA led to an increase in lean muscle mass while performing intensive training and reduced the effects of DOM.
Also known as trimethylglycine (TMG), betaine is an amino acid with a reputation for increasing power (11) output and limiting the catabolic nature of cortisol. It's no wonder betaine is a favorite ingredient in Pre and Intra workout supplements. According to most studies, an optimal dose is 3 to 5 grams of betaine per day.
Citrulline Malate (CM) is two separate components. Firstly, Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid derived from watermelon. Secondly, malate is a derivative of malic acid.
CM is known to boost aerobic metabolism by limiting the lactic acid that causes muscle tiredness. Initially, CM was used as an antiasthenic drug in the treatment of muscle weakness and fatigue caused by diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome. CM's fatigue-fighting properties will help reduce muscle soreness while improving training capacity so you can train harder for longer.
Taurine is a non-essential amino acid linked to cardio health, glucose control, and a healthy immune system. Its hydration qualities aid the transportation of much-needed fluids and nutrients to muscle cells.
A healthy body produces taurine in large quantities. However, vegetarian/vegan diets and aging deplete taurine levels.
What's more, intensive resistance training can burn through your taurine reserves rapidly. For these reasons, a BCAA powder combined with taurine is worth considering.
Nice to Have
Glutamine was once held in high esteem within the bro-science community as a primary ingredient to reduce recovery times. However, scientific evidence supporting these claims are few and far between and conflicting at best.
Furthermore, if taken without L-Alanine, glutamine is destroyed in the stomach before it reaches the intestines.
Once touted as a potent nitrogen booster, arginine promised to increase blood oxygen and deliver greater pumps.Unfortunately, arginine never lived up to the hype. Newcomers on the block such as L-Citrulline are now considered to be more efficient NO (nitro oxide boosters).
Sodium Based Electrolytes
Electrolytes are essential for hydration. However, they're often and wrongly promoted as helping improve athletic performance.Most electrolytes in BCAA powder supplements are sodium based. The theory, is it replaces the salt lost through perspiration. But when you take into consideration the high levels of sodium already in the Western diet do we need more?
Flavorless or natural BCAA powders don't taste great. In fact, some can taste like blended cardboard.
Popular flavors such as fruit punch don't work very well with BCAA powders. Although there is one exception.
Fortunately, companies are getting better at masking the bitter taste of raw BCAA powder. There's also a greater choice of flavors including watermelon, lemon, white grape and tropical fruit, to name just a few.
With a great tasting product, there's often a compromise. If the taste is important, then be prepared to accept added sugar and artificial flavors.
Top 3 BCAA Supplement Reviews
Best For Bulking
Muscle Elements Amino Flow (Pre and Post Workout Formula In One!)
If I could pick one BCAA powder supplement that's ideally suited for weightlifters, this would be it.
Muscle Elements have created something unique by combining two products into one to form what they call an Amino Oxide supplement.
There have been many pretenders that claim to be a 2:1 Amino acid Nitric Oxide supplement. But, with closer analysis, these formula's have fallen short because the claims are based on a single ingredient rather that a more potent nitro oxide formula containing a combination of ingredients.
The motivation behind Muscle Elements was to create a supplement that not only delivers a powerful dose of BCAA's but also a cocktail of nitro oxide protagonists. This makes Amin-Flow highly versatile because you can use it as a pre-workout, intra-workout and even a post-workout supplement.
The nitric oxide profile starts with a generous 2 grams of pure L-citrulline to deliver serious pumps to your workouts. L-citrulline converts to arginine which our body needs to produce the gas nitric oxide.
The citrulline is complimented with 250 grams of Agmatine Sulfate which has the dual effect of helping increase muscle pumps by improving blood circulation while acting as a natural stimulant.
You also get a 125mg dose of L-histidine and L-Ornithine to support muscle growth and fight fatigue. All in all, the NO formula helps increase oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells.
The increase in blood flow makes for more powerful and prolonged muscle pumps that will help push you through your workouts. But that's not all. After you've knocked yourself out in the gym, the 3:1:2 BCAA formula combined with 1 gram of Taurine promotes protein synthesis and reduces recovery times.
There's also 75mgs of grape seed extract per serving. It turns out that grape seed extract contains polyphenols which may reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress while boosting nitric oxide.
Amino Flow is caffeine free. If you're prone to the jitters or you workout at night, this is an ideal stimulant free amino acid supplement.
- Dual formula that builds pump and muscle
- 5 grams of BCAA per scoop
- Contains Taurine
- 4 grams of pure citrulline
- Muscle hydrating electrolytes
- Stimulant free
- Mixes well
- Pleasant taste
- Artificial sweeteners
Click here for more details and current prices for Amino Flow pre and post workout supplement
Best BCAA For Weight Loss - Cutting or Fasting
Branched amino chain amino acids are ideal for cutting and fasting because they help prevent muscle loss.
Pumping iron on a zero or restricted calorie diet may sound like madness, but it makes sense when you take an intra-workout BCAA powder.
The amino acids promote muscle recovery and growth by preventing muscle protein breakdown. Without these vital nutrients, you progress will hit a wall.
Scivation Xtend Review
Scivation's Xtend BCAA supplement has a huge following and an impressive ingredient profile. At 7 grams per serving, you're easily going to exploit the restorative properties of BCAA's.
The 2:1:1 ratio means your getting double the amount of leucine which is what you need for muscle repair and growth. The 2:1:1 ratio is widely researched and considered the most efficient at promoting protein synthesis and boosting athletic performance.
Scivation contains 2.5 grams of glutamine which is necessary for muscle preservation. Using more glutamine than you're producing creates a higher risk of muscle wasting. Also, glutamine is essential for a healthy nitrogen balance because it transports nitrogen to the muscle cells.
A negative nitrogen balance, which can be the result of stress or fasting, can compromise muscle repair and slow down recovery (12)
To combat fatigue 1 gram of citrulline malate is added to boost energy levels. In theory, the addition of malate (malic acid) increases blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscle cells to help enhance performance levels during intensive exercise.
There's also a 1,190 mg electrolyte blend to help maintain a healthy fluid balance in the muscles, and vitamin B6 ensures a greater absorption of BCAA's during training.
With zero sugar, carbs and calories fat loss should be a formality.It's also free of caffeine, which is a real bonus if you train at night.
- Promotes muscle growth, endurance, and fat loss
- Energy booster
- Zero carbs and calories
- No sugar
- No caffeine
- Pleasant tasting
- Good value
- Low dose of CM
Click here for more details and current prices for Scivation's Xtend 2:1:1 BCCA workout powder supplement
Best for Fast Recovery
A deciding factor in building muscle as fast as possible is the speed of recovery. If your slow recovery times are negatively impacting you're the rate of progress, then BCAA's can certainly help.
However, there are a number of key ingredients that speed up recovery rates.
- L-Carnitine L-Tartrate
- Citrulline Malate
Rich Piana's 'All Day You May' By 5% Nutrition.
The best on the market containing these beauties is Rich Piana's All Day You May By 5% Nutrition.
All Day You May is more than a BCAA supplement. In fact, it covers many bases from muscle growth and recovery, immune support, liver protection, joint support and more.
Unlike many supplements, these ingredients have not been thrown together to create an impressive ingredient list. Rich has put considerable thought into adding ingredients that bodybuilders can use.
With Rich Piana's All Day You May you're getting a massive 10:1:1 BCAA ratio, which works out to 5 grams of Leucine per dose. As you know, Leucine is the most important amino acid of the three for promoting muscle growth and recovery.
In addition to the BCAA's, there's also an essential amino acid blend containing L-Carnitine L-Tartrate and N-Acetyl-Cysteine. These three amino acids have highly underrated recovery properties. LCLT has shown to aid recovery and promote muscle growth following resistance exercise.
Then you have N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) another underrated ingredient. NAC is a modified amino acid with powerful antioxidant properties. But, this is no ordinary antioxidant because its protective benefits are delivered directly to the muscle cells, where weightlifters need it the most.
NAC is a ferocious scavenger of muscle cell destroying free radicals and also increases levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant with liver protecting properties.
Steroid use and high protein diets increase liver enzymes, a stress signal. Therefore it's important to protect this vital organ.
This increased anti-oxidant protection is necessary for controlling muscle damage caused by heavy resistance exercise. But more importantly, antioxidants strengthen the immune system to stop you getting sick. When you're sick you can't train so; a healthy immune system keeps you in the gym.
NAC is also a fatigue fighter (13) that helps delay muscle fatigue, so you can perform more muscle contractions before tiredness kicks in.
The Lactic acid buffering component includes beta-alanine which will help you get past the burn to finish that last set.
What's more, you're getting L-glutamine to help the muscles recover and maintain a positive nitrogen balance and Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) for joint and cartilage protection. There's also vitamin B12, a natural energy booster, to help prevent post-workout energy crashes, bromelain to aid digestion, coconut water concentrate to keep muscles hydrated and multivitamins to keep you healthy.
Overall, Rich has piled in a lot of quality ingredients into this supplement, which means it's not cheap. There are 30 servings per tub, and Rich recommends four scoops a day diluted in a gallon of water.
This means one tub will last just over a week. That can get very expensive. But, Rich is massive and in our honest opinion, the dose is too big for most guys. From our research, most guys are getting great results within the 1 to 2 scoop range.
If DOMS and slow recovery times are hampering your progress, 'All Day You May' his is worth a test run.
- Powerful 10:1:1 BCAA ratio
- Delays fatigue
- Supports Immune system
- Digestive support
- Good mixer
- Great taste
- Artificial sweeteners
- Proprietary blends
Click here for more details and current prices for Rich Piana's 'All Day You May' BCCA and Joint Recovery supplement.
(1) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition - Consuming a supplement containing branched-chain amino acids during a resistance-training program increases lean mass, muscle strength and fat loss.
(2) Department of Physical Therapy, University of Texas - Leucine-enriched nutrients and the regulation of mammalian target of rapamycin signalling and human skeletal muscle protein synthesis.
(4) University of Rome, Italy - The effects of acute and chronic BCAA's on muscle performance and energy metabolism.
(5) University of Jyvaskyla,Finland - Leucine supplementation and intensive training.
(6) Laboratory of Exercise Physiology, Department of Physical Education, College of Sports Science, Dong-A University, Republic of Korea - Effects of Supplementation with BCAA and L-glutamine on Blood Fatigue Factors and Cytokines in Juvenile Athletes Submitted to Maximal Intensity Rowing Performance.
(7) International Journal of Sports Medicine - Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers.
(8) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition - Combined effect of branched-chain amino acids and taurine supplementation on delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle damage in high-intensity eccentric exercise.
(9) The Carnegie Faculty, School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK/University of Glasgow - Double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot trial of L-Leucine-enriched amino-acid mixtures on body composition and physical performance in men and women aged 65-75 years.
(10) Hospital Orton, Helsinki, Finland - Effects of alfa-hydroxy-isocaproic acid on body composition, DOMS and performance in athletes.
(11) Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut - Betaine supplementation enhances anabolic endocrine and Akt signaling in response to acute bouts of exercise.
(12) www.allmaxnutrition.com - Nitrogen Balance: The Key to Continuous Gains
(13) Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut - Androgenic responses to resistance exercise: effects of feeding and L-carnitine.