What are BCAAs?
BCAAs or branched chain amino acids are the building blocks of protein and muscle.
Branched chain refers to the chemical structure of found in protein-rich foods. There are 22 in all and 9 essential ones that are body can’t produce. Therefore we have to ingest them through various sources.
3 of them (leucine, isoleucine and valine) make up the supplemental BCAAs, which makes these supplements instantly inferior to complete protein sources that contain all of them – eggs, whey or meat.
Now Read: Should you take Whey Protein?
If you’re in a cut, then BCAAs can help with your energy levels and in some studies even to help with fat loss.
This one in particular found that higher BCAA intake was associated with a lower body fat percentage in middle-aged adults.
But their main benefit is to boost muscle growth.
Should I take BCAAs?
Ordinarily I would say don’t waste your money. If you eat a well-balanced, protein rich diet or you’re bulking, then you don’t need them.
Complete, good quality protein sources like eggs or good quality chicken and red meat contain all necessary BCAAs.
And you really don’t need to take a lot of them. In fact, if you take creatine or whey protein you’re likely already getting a substantial amount of them.
So check your current intake before you go and spend more of your hard earned cash on supplements.
If you haven’t already, I would read my guide to supplementation for weightlifting.
But there’s a time and place for BCAA supplements.
If you’re vegan and struggle to get enough good quality protein in your diet, then BCAAs are proven to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and will prevent any potential muscle degradation.
If you struggle to eat consistently (20-30g of protein every 3 hours or so) then BCAAs can stop your body using your muscles as an energy source.
Building muscle is hard work and if you’re time poor, BCAAs are definitely a convenient way to prevent muscle degradation and even build it in the right circumstances.
And certain studies have shown that BCAA consumption post exercise can alleviate DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This study showed that BCAAs + glucose post exercise reduced DOMS in college age females.
And most importantly of all, if you’re in a calorie deficit and need some intra-workout fuel or post-exercise recovery, then I find they act as an appetite suppressant.
All in all, you absolutely need sufficient BCAAs to recover and promote protein synthesis. But there’s a good chance that additional BCAA consumption isn’t necessary because you eat a complete diet with sufficient BCAAs.
What makes a Good BCAA?
Firstly they include the prominent 3: leucine, isoleucine and valine. In a 2:1:1 ratio. Essentially you should have twice as much leucine as the other 2.
Leucine is the MVP when it comes to BCAAs as it plays the most critical role in ‘growth signalling.’ Essentially leucine begins the MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis) process.
So you may think ‘the more leucine the better, so let’s just have a 10:1:1 ratio!’ That hasn’t been categorically proven to be anymore effective than a 2:1:1.
Just because you take more of it, it doesn’t mean it will be more efficient. Once you have reached the right amount, your body cant keep turning it into building blocks.
You may also think that you can just get away with just leucine. If you’re looking for the best possible results, that’s also untrue.
This double blind placebo study found that individuals who took the above 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs provided the best version of protein synthesis when compared to a placebo group and a leucine only group.
Valine actually blocks some of the serotonin production in your body.* Whilst that’s usually a bad thing, serotonin production (in a workout capacity) is designed to signal fatigue.
Hence why BCAAs are said to ‘improve energy levels and performance.’ Technically they don’t. They just block the signals your brain sends when it says ‘stop it you biff, you’re knackered.’
*Actually it blocks tryptophan gets to the brain to be converted into serotonin. But that’s over-complicating shit.
The 7 Best BCAAs on the Market
Which BCAA is best for Muscle Growth?
It’s hard to have a definitive answer on this as it completely depends upon the rest of your diet.
BCAAs can’t save you if you don’t eat enough good quality food.
As long as the product you purchase is at least a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine then you should be fine.
There are studies that claim slightly more leucine may be effective, but that is completely unproven.
Bulk powders do a product called Informed BCAA which has a whopping 18g of amino acids per serving, including 10g of BCAAs in an 8:1:1 ratio.
I’m not saying it’ll be more effective because I think that’s entirely unproven, but it’ll certainly mean you’re not cutting any corners.
In this case I would go with Grenade’s Defend (in strawberry mango) or BPN’s Intra-Flight as I trust them implicity to create a non-propriety blend, quality product.
But largely any of them will do the job.
Which BCAA is best for Weight Loss?
Good quality BCAAs can provide additional energy benefits and aide with weightloss.
However none of it makes a difference if you’re not consistently in a calorie deficit.
BCAAs typically have caffeine and metabolism boosting properties like green tea added.
So if you’re in a calorie deficit and you need assistance getting through your gym sessions, then an intra-workout BCAA supplement can help.
I would personally go with BPNs Intra-Flight or Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard BCAA (cola flavour, obviously).
It’s packed full of immunity boosting nutrients, magnesium, vitamin C and is 0 calories.
Best Flavoured BCAA?
For me flavour is the most important notch on the list. Most of them will do exactly the same thing, so pick a flavour you’ll like.
There have a wonderful array of flavours and I’d highly recommend the newly branded My Protein for all the key products tbh.
I’m also a huge fan of BPI’s Sour Candy. That’s genuinely the most unique flavour. A sour sensation like a cinema trip gone wrong. Definitely evokes childhood memories.
If you’ve never tried them, you’re missing out. If you have, you’ll know how good this will taste.
Best Vegan BCAA?
I haven’t tried any of the vegan BCAA alternatives, but I would stick to one of the above brands for my vegan needs.
Generally they’ve been doing it longer and have a larger budget to spend on testing and creating products.
Vegan products are generally less tested and a lower quality because the market is much less mature. So I would always stick with the tried and trusted.
Best Caffeine Free?
If you feel you’re a little sensitive to caffeine or if, like me, you want to be able to drink them later in the day, then caffeine free options are a great alternative.
BPI’s Best BCAA (terrible name) is a caffeine free alternative from a highly reputable brand. Tastes exactly the same as other top quality products and frankly if you’ve taken a pre-workout or had coffee the last thing you need is more caffeine.
I’m the NOCCO caffeine free BCAA cans. Definitely pricier, but I’m a sucker for convenience. Sugar free, 3-5g of BCAA per serving and the tropical flavour tastes great.
Make sure you actually tick the caffeine free option. Otherwise the extra money definitely wouldn’t be worth-it.
The only difference between this and other BCAA products is the lack of caffeine.
Best Value BCAA?
Bulk Powders products are always incredibly reasonably priced and their BCAA is no different.
At £6.99 per 100g it’s very good value. I’d recommend going for a slightly larger size as you’ll be through it in 2-3 weeks.
But a great starting point.
The My Protein BCAA comes in at the price point just above it. Usually at around £8 per 100g but you can only buy the 250g for around £21.
All very reasonable options and actually most offer deals you can take advantage off.
Best BCAA Cans or Tablets
Whilst cans are a little more expensive, they generally taste great and are far more convenient. The same can be said for the tablets. Outside of taste of course.
If you can afford the luxury of spending a little more on convenience, then I’d 100% recommend it.
The My Protein strawberry and raspberry BCAA drink is zero carb (I honestly couldn’t care less if there are some carbs in it, but I’m sure some of you do) and tastes properly delicious.
For a zero calorie drink I mean. It’s not like coke or chocolate milk, but it’s good.
Tablets wise just make sure you get a 2-3:1:1 ratio that has around 7g of BCAA per serving. close to 5g of leucine could be ideal in stimulating MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis).
So there you have it, the best BCAAs on the market in 2019.
Honestly they’ll all work absolutely fine if you buy a decent quality product.
Don’t spend loads on them and buy from a company you trust. IMO there’s none more trustworthy than My Protein and BPN. They’re my personal choice.