Once a niche athletic supplement, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have exploded in popularity as a means to improve muscle retention, fat loss, endurance, and focus during workouts. Today, hundreds of different BCAAs on the market include stimulants, adaptogens, micronutrients, and extracts to make them stand out from the crowd. Our goal here is to help you find the best BCAA supplements for muscle gain, for keto dieters, for weight loss, and a lot more.
It’s not uncommon to see BCAAs packaged with other supplements like caffeine, glutamine, taurine, beta-alanine, citrulline malate, and other ingredients that may benefit workout performance. In this article, we’ve taken the BCAAs, the extra components, the price, and the taste into account when deciding the best brand depending on your goal.
Best BCAA Supplements
- Best BCAA Powder Overall: Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
- Best Intra-Workout BCAAs: KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Best BCAAs Pills: Performance Lab BCAA
- Best Vegan BCAAs: KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Best BCAAs for Muscle Gain: KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Best BCAAs With Minerals: Sculpt Nation BCAAs
- Best BCAAs for Weight Loss: IdealLean BCAA
- Best BCAAs for Keto Dieters: Cellucor Alpha Amino
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for the diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine.
Best BCAAs Powder Overall
A BCAA formula with zero unwanted artificial flavors, only the essential ingredients, and that’s vegan-friendly is what we decided to be the best
Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
A rare BCAA powder that is both vegan-friendly and comes with some welcome additions like coconut water powder and extra glutamine, Transparent Labs has made a simple supplement that will check a lot of must-have boxes for consumers. It has eight grams of quality BCAAs, with five grams of glutamine, too. It’s also free of artificial flavors, colors, ingredients, and preservatives.
This glutamine supplement is gluten-free, non-GMO, and free of artificial preservatives. Each container provides 30 servings that contain 5000 milligrams of L-Glutamine and 1,535 milligrams of Vitamin C.
Who Should Buy Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
- Athletes looking for a quality vegan BCAA supplement. This one packs eight grams of BCAAS, five grams of glutamine, coconut water powder, and citric acid.
- Lifters who want a supplement without artificial flavors, colors, ingredients, or preservatives. Transparent Labs’ formula has none of these extras.
- Vegans and vegetarians. Transparent Labs’ BCAA product is vegan-friendly.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs BCAA Glutamine
- BCAA Glutamine has some solid additions, but if you’re looking for a supplement with a ton of extra vitamins and electrolytes, other options might be more appealing
- People who want a very sweet tasting supplement regardless of flavor. This one tastes a tad dull.
Not overly complicated, but appealing to many: Transparent Labs has made a BCAA supplement that gets a lot of points for hitting the basics well.
Best Intra Workout BCAAs
Though BCCAs are often thought of as a recovery supplement, there are some varieties that can help facilitate a great workout when taken during training.
KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
KAGED MUSCLE’s In-Kaged formula is just that pick. In addition to packing five grams of three essential BCAAs — leucine, isoleucine, and valine — it also has a “pump” and “focus” matrix. The former facilities enhanced blood flow to the muscles, with the help of l-citrulline and beta-alanine, to ensure your muscles receive more oxygen rich blood (this helps with muscle recovery). The focus matrix includes caffeine (124mg) and l-tryosine and taurine to ensure you’re dialed in and ready to work hard.
A BCAA product that is well dosed in ingredients linked to blood flow and focus, making it a great pick to drink during your workout. Use code BARBEND10 for 10% off your purchase.
Who Should Buy KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Athletes looking for a BCAA supplement to take during their workout.
- Anyone who wants caffeine in their BCAA supplement. This one has 124 mg, which is about a cup and a half of coffee’s worth.
Who Shouldn’t Buy KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Anyone who takes BCAAs frequently. This formula comes in 20-serving containers, so you’ll have to re-up frequently.
Athletes who need to perform at high-levels can benefit from this dialed-in BCAA formula made for intra-workout performance.
Best BCAA Pills
There are a lot of benefits to taking your BCAAs in pill form instead: you can take them with you to the gym or on the road, which is great if you’re going long periods between meals, as you do when you’re out and about.
Performance Lab BCAA
These are our favorite Branched Chain Amino Acid pills. These are extremely straightforward, with very few added ingredients and the 2:1:1 ratio that many customers are looking for in their BCAA supplement. Performance Lab BCAAs are fermented and vegan-friendly.
An incredibly straightforward BCAA supplement in the 2:1:1 ratio many athletes are looking for. The BCAAs are vegan-friendly and in capsule form.
Who Should Buy Performance Lab BCAA
- Travelers. If you’re on a lengthy trip and airplane meals or truck stop snacks aren’t giving you the leucine you need, so BCAA pills in your backpack can be handy.
- Anyone who doesn’t like carrying a shake bottle around.
- People who want a vegan-friendly BCAA supplement.
- Anyone who wants to avoid the artificial sweeteners so common in these products.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Performance Lab BCAA
- People looking to get the cheapest BCAA possible — these aren’t always better value than plain old powder.
- Anyone who doesn’t want to take six pills at a time for a three-gram dose (more to reach a 10-gram dose).
Capsules are a nifty way to get your BCAAs on the go, without a shaker bottle, and everything is precisely measured out to make dosage easier. When you don’t feel like chugging sweetened water, this is a fast and convenient way to spike your leucine.
Best Vegan BCAAs
For plant-based eaters, it’s important to know that what you’re taking is free of any and all animal products.
KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
KAGED MUSCLE doesn’t use any animal products or artificial coloring or flavoring in their BCAA formula. It’s also certified by the Banned Substance Control Group (BSCG), the standard for supplement certification. Each serving offers up 50 calories, one gram of carbohydrates, and a 2:1:1 ratio of l-leucine, l-isoleucine, and l-valine (five grams in total).
KAGED MUSCLE's vegan formula makes this a great BCAA option for vegan and vegetarian dieters. Use code BARBEND10 for 10% off your purchase.
Who Should Buy KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Athletes looking for a quality BCAA supplement.
- Lifters who want a supplement without artificial flavors or colors. KAGED MUSCLE’s formula has none of these extras.
- Vegans and vegetarians. KAGED MUSCLE’s BCAA product is vegan-friendly.
Who Shouldn’t Buy KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- People who are caffeine sensitive. This formula contains 124mg of the stuff.
KAGED MUSCLE has made a quality BCAA supplement that happens to be also vegan friendly.
Best BCAAs for Muscle Gain
If muscle growth is your goal, then your primary concern should be eating enough calories and macronutrients throughout the day. (Here’s a calculator for that.) But when it comes to BCAAs, you might want something that supports in-gym performance and offers optimal BCAA ingredients.
KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
Some BCAA supplements are just that — a product that offers up only branch chain amino acids. That’s fine, but if you’re looking to build muscle then you ned a supplement that will assist you in doing so. What makes In-Kaged that formula is it’s focus and blood flow formula to help you feel and perform better in the gym while also jump-starting the recovery process.
Looking to put on size? The increased blood flow and focus you get from In-Kaged allows you to work harder in the gym for more muscle. Use code BARBEND10 for 10% off your purchase.
Who Should Buy KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Bodybuilders or anyone looking to gain muscle. This formula facilitates that goal better than other picks on this list.
- People who want a pre-workout-like supplement. This can double as that due to its pump and focus matrix, and the added caffeine.
Who Shouldn’t Buy KAGED MUSCLE In-Kaged
- Penny pinchers. This isn’t necessarily expensive, but the low serving size means you’ll need to buy more of this product often.
- Folks who want a more simplistic, straight-forward BCAA supplement.
Streamline how you build muscle by taking a BCAA supplement like In-Kaged that’s designed to assist the process.
Best BCAA With Minerals
This pick is a great all-rounder if you want an effective supplement that contains what it claims and doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles.
Sculpt Nation BCAAs
This BCAA powder has some helpful extras, namely 200mg of an Aquamin™ ineral complex. Its fruit punch flavor packs a delicious wallop, and the product doesn’t contain stimulants. It’s a simple, straightforward formula that’s an enjoyable drink inside and outside the gym.
Sculpt Nation's BCAAs contain 4.5 grams per serving of their amino blend, plus an added mineral complex. The fruit punch supplement packs a great deal of flavor and is best enjoyed shaken and over ice. Get 25% off site wide with code "SculptTB25".
Who Should Buy Sculpt Nation BCAAs
- Athletes who want an “any time” BCAA that doesn’t contain caffeine or other stimulants.
- Folks who are convinced that some extra minerals.
- People looking for a strong fruit punch flavor
Who Shouldn’t Buy Sculpt Nation BCAAs
- If you’re looking for a lot of extra, potentially performance-boosting ingredients in your BCAA supplement, you may want to look elsewhere; this is a simple, straightforward product
- Pro athletes tend to prefer supplements certified free of banned substances by organizations like NSF or Informed Sport.
- People who want lots of choices in flavor variety, as this only comes in fruit punch.
Sculpt Nation’s BCAA product is one of the simplest we’ve tried. For some, that’s a big bonus.
Best BCAA for Weight Loss
Many take BCAAs to help preserve muscle when in a calorie deficit, and some products even add extra ingredients with links to weight loss.
Disclaimer: Please note that none of these products describe themselves as weight loss supplements and should not be taken as such. Please consult with a medical professional before beginning any weight loss protocol.
IdealLean BCAAs for Women
IdealLean BCAAs for Women had the most dedicated weight loss ingredients. This includes evodiamine, a berry extract that’s been linked to fat loss in rodent studies; green tea extract; and CLA, a type of fat that may help with weight management. Note that these ingredients are present in relatively small amounts, but there may be some effect.
This supplement delivers over five grams of 2:1:1 ratio BCAAs to help you retain muscle while on a cut.
Who Should Buy IdealLean BCAAs for Women
- If you’re absolutely committed to losing weight, your calories are in control, and you’d like all the help you can get, it’s possible that the non-BCAA ingredients here might help you on your journey.
Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealLean BCAAs for Women
- Those who are skeptical about supplement dosing, as the ingredients listed, though effective, may be dosed too little.
Weight loss is all about your calories, not your supplements, but IdealLean has put together an impressive BCAA supplement that may be more helpful for weight loss than others.
Best BCAA for Keto Dieters
Ketogenic diets are ultra low carb and often relatively low in protein, so many supplements with branched-chain amino acids to help retain muscle.
Cellucor Alpha Amino
Cellucor Alpha Amino is our top choice for people on a ketogenic diet. It has very few calories and no carbs, so there’s little risk of it kicking you out of ketosis, and it’s also pretty high in magnesium, sodium, and potassium — minerals that are usually recommended as important supplements for people following the high-fat diet.
With zero grams of sugar, this is an ideal formula for anyone on the low-carb, high-fat keto diet. It also packs 750mg of creatine HCL for improved in-gym performance.
Who Should Buy Cellucor Alpha Amino
- If you’re on a keto diet, this product won’t take you out of ketosis.
- The extra electrolytes here may make it a useful supplement for those who want help with hydration.
- Alpha Amino happens to be soy-free, so it’s good if you’re avoiding soy.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Cellucor Alpha Amino
- This one is a little pricier than your average offering at 17 cents per gram of BCAAs. Penny pinchers may want a cheaper product.
BCAAs are particularly popular among those limiting their protein intake. If you’re finding your high-fat meals lacking in protein, BCAAs might be a good addition to your diet.
How We Decide the Best
There are several elements we looked at — and dozens of products — to land on this list of the best BCAAs. Here’s our list that we looked at every time we assessed a supplement’s efficacy.
Amino Acid Ratio
The standard formulation for these products is two or three grams of leucine for every gram of isoleucine and valine. Although some products have many times more leucine, this hasn’t been shown to be more successful than the “classic” ratios.
In addition to BCAAs, many products — including our number one pick — include ergogenic aids or ingredients linked to improved performance. These include citrulline (related to improved circulation), beta-alanine (endurance), and caffeine (explosive power).
Some of the BCAA products we highlighted are because they include extra ingredients that may exert lipolytic or “fat-burning” effects. These include conjugated linoleic acid, green tea extract, and evodiamine. Fat loss is almost entirely about how many calories you burn in a day. Still, some limited research has suggested ingredients like these can help break down fatty acids, particularly during exercise.
Many BCAAs include extra Vitamin B6, which may help with muscle retention and which the body appears to lose during intense exercise. But many others have other B vitamins in addition to other micronutrients: Vitamin C may help to limit oxidative damage during exercise, and sodium may help with hydration.
A well priced BCAA is about 12 cents per gram of BCAAs. If a product costs significantly more, such as IdealLean, it would only make the list if it had additives that justified the price.
What Are the Benefits of BCAAs?
You might have heard that amino acids are the building blocks of protein, but they’re not all alike. The three proteinogenic branched-chain amino acids, meaning BCAAs that are incorporated into proteins during translation, are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Some evidence suggests that supplementing with pure BCAAs can positively affect workouts, mainly if you’re working out on an empty stomach or if you haven’t eaten much protein throughout the day. This is because they may promote muscle protein synthesis, and by preventing a serum decline in BCAAs (which occurs during exercise), they can help prevent fatigue. (1)(2)(3) They’ve even been linked to increased fat loss and quicker reaction times. (4)
Note that if your priority is muscle mass, you still need to eat enough calories and protein, get enough sleep, eat the right micronutrients, and so on. Nonetheless, on days when you haven’t been hitting every macronutrient goal, many athletes find BCAAs useful.
What’s In Your BCAA?
We know that supplements, particularly ones like these, can involve a lot of jargon and be tough to understand for the average person. Let’s break down what you’re most likely to see on your ingredients label, starting with the three branched-chain amino acids.
Perhaps the most highly prized of all the amino acids, leucine has the closest link with boosting muscle protein synthesis. While your total calories are essential for muscle growth and muscle retention, muscle protein synthesis is a vital part of the puzzle.
Used in the biosynthesis of proteins, this branched-chain amino acid may prevent muscle breakdown, and promote fat burning.
Another essential amino acid, valine, has some links to endurance and focus. Interestingly, suppose you have difficulty digesting it and there’s more of it in the blood. In that case, this is seen as a sign of insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and other conditions.
Then there are these other amino acids that aren’t BCAAs, but often accompany them in supplements:
A conditionally essential amino acid (remember amino acids are building blocks of protein) glutamine is enormously popular in supplements because it has some muscle gain links. However, most research has only seen this among people whose bodies are in trauma, like victims of burns or stab wounds — it hasn’t translated to gains for gym-goers.
A ubiquitous addition to pre-workouts, one-and-a-half to four grams of the stuff has shown to improve endurance and possibly hypertrophy. It’s possible that it also has some anti-aging effects, as it increases the amount of carnosine, an antioxidant, in the body.
An amino acid that’s prevalent in watermelons (along with legumes and organ meats), citrulline appears to improve nitric oxide metabolism, which leads to better circulation and blood flow. In workouts, this means better endurance and power output. It’s also common in erectile dysfunction supplements.
This amino acid may reduce muscle damage caused by high-intensity exercise. It also has links to longevity, as it may improve mitochondrial function, and it could help retain lean muscle mass and enhance aerobic output.
This vitamin may reduce cell damage that occurs during exercise.
The bevy of B vitamins have been thought to increase one’s energy but without jitters or unwanted sleep loss.
What to Know Before Buying BCAAs
If this is a brand new supplement for you or even if it isn’t, there’s information you should be aware of before going ahead and adding these to your daily regimen. Read on for a few pro tips on taking BCAAs.
Calories Are King
Many take supplements like BCAAs and fat burners because they hear they help with weight loss and muscle gain. BCAAs may help you retain muscle, but it’s essential to keep in mind that losing weight only happens if you’re in a calorie deficit. BCAAs can help with energy levels and make it easier and more productive to work out on an empty stomach — but your total calories will be what makes or breaks your fat loss.
BCAAs Aren’t Necessary
BCAAs are not necessary if you have a sufficient protein intake. Still, they’re often used as supplements to boost muscle protein synthesis between meals or enhance performance and retain muscle when exercising on an empty stomach. If you’re eating macro-friendly meals throughout the day, these supplements may not be necessary.
Always speak with your physician before undertaking a new supplement regimen.
We tried dozens of branched-chain amino acid supplements when putting together this list — weighing price, taste, ingredients, and effectiveness along with many other factors. Plenty of people have different ideas about what constitutes a “quality” supplement, but we think we’ve put together the most comprehensive guide to aid you in picking the perfect BCAA supplement for your goals.
What are BCAAs?
It stands for branched chain amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the branched chain amino acids are those most closely associated with muscle protein synthesis, the process by which protein is produced to repair and retain muscle.
What are the benefits of BCAAs?
Evidence suggests that BCAAs may help to retain muscle and improve workout performance, particularly if you’re exercising on an empty stomach or if you haven’t eaten much protein lately. By preventing the serum decline in BCAAs, they may also help to reduce fatigue and muscle soreness during workouts.
Do I need to take BCAAs?
Probably not, so long as you’re eating plenty of protein and calories throughout your day. If that’s the case, taking extra BCAAs around a workout probably won’t serve much extra benefit. Where BCAAs appear to have the most use is when the athlete is exercising on an empty stomach, isn’t eating much quality protein with a meal, or wants to retain their muscle during a fast or during a long period without protein. If you fall into those categories, BCAAs may be useful.
Are BCAAs vegan?
Usually not. Most BCAAs are made from hair or feathers. However, if you look for brands with fermented BCAAs, such as KAGED MUSCLE, then you can be confident it’s vegan friendly.
- Zheng L, et al. Effects of Supplementation of Branched-Chain Amino Acids to Reduced-Protein Diet on Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Degradation in the Fed and Fasted States in a Piglet Model. Nutrients. 2016 Dec 28;9(1).
- Matthews DE, et al. Observations of branched-chain amino acid administration in humans. J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6 Suppl):1580S-4S.
- Blomstrand E, et al. Administration of branched-chain amino acids during sustained exercise–effects on performance and on plasma concentration of some amino acids. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1991;63(2):83-8.
- Wiśnik P, et al. The effect of branched chain amino acids on psychomotor performance during treadmill exercise of changing intensity simulating a soccer game. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Dec;36(6):856-62.