The BCAA/Amino supplement category is one that has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, though for some reason it has been pretty resistant to innovation. Every company claims they have the best BCAA supplement, but most of them don’t really bring anything special to the table.
Surely there are enough 2:1:1 BCAA Supplements out there. The world doesn’t need anymore of those…
As it turns out, a lot of the claims made by supplement companies about the BCAA Supplements they sell are based on tenuous, or even fabricated evidence.
If you’re under the impression that you need a BCAA supplement to build muscle, we would urge you to do a little more research to determine if you really do or not.
Fortunately (for you), we’ve actually written some great articles on this very subject which take a scientific approach the question of how important BCAAs are for you.
If you’re not sure whether or not you should be taking a BCAA supplement, these articles will clear it up for you:
If you actually read (and understand) those articles, chances are you’re questioning whether you even need a BCAA supplement.
The truth is most people who use BCAAs are probably not deriving much benefit from them because they just aren’t as useful for the things they’re often marketed for.
Most supplement companies that sell BCAAs claim they will
- Increase Muscle Mass
- Improve Performance
- Enhance Recovery
But let’s take a closer look at each one of those claims. When placed under a scientific lens, they’re actually pretty weak…
Increased Muscle Mass – Leucine is the only BCAA that directly stimulates protein synthesis and it’s found in high amounts in various sources of dietary protein. The only study to note an increase in muscle mass with BCAA supplmentation combined it with simple carbohydrate consumption (known to increase strength and muscle mass on it’s own) and was conducted by none other than Jim Stoppani…
Improve Performance – This claim is just nonsense. BCAAs have never been shown to increase strength or improve endurance performance, except when combined with other supplements (including simple carbs), meaning the benefits cannot be attribute to BCAAs at all.
Enhance Recovery – BCAAs certainly play a role in recovery, but if you simply consume protein (chicken, fish, milk, whatever), you’ll get plenty of BCAAs. Combined with other ingredients, such as Taurine (which we discuss further down the page), there is actually some scientific substance to this claim.
Reasons To Take BCAA Supplements
Some of these claims have more merit than others, but one thing’s for sure…If you take a step back and look at all the research on BCAAs as a whole, it’s pretty clear that BCAA supplementation is only really beneficial if:
- You’re Protein Deficient
- You Train Fasted
- You Train For Long Periods Of Time
Just as we did with the exaggerated, unsubstantiated claims above, we’ll discuss each of these potential benefits in a bit of detail in order to determine whether or not you’re likely to benefit from BCAA supplementation.
1 | You’re Not Getting Enough Protein From Your Diet
BCAAs are readily found in many sources of complete protein such as Milk, Chicken, Nuts, and Beans, but if you’re not getting enough protein to support our individual fitness goals (many people aren’t), a BCAA supplement may be useful. If you’re not sure how much protein you should be getting, not to worry! We’ve got a great article that’ll clear it right up for you and let you easily calculate how much protein you should be taking in each day…
The truth is most people probably don’t get enough protein to support their fitness goals, but that can be easily remedied by just eating more protein. You know…Chicken, Cheese, Tuna, Milk, Nuts, Beans, Tofu…The list goes on.
You should really only be turning to BCAA Supplements if you’re already eating as much protein as you realistically can and can’t fit any more in. If that’s the case, BCAAs can help fill the gap and make sure muscle protein synthesis is occurring at an optimal rate around the clock.
2 | You Train Fasted (Increased Muscle Loss)
If you train fasted–that is, training after not having eaten for atleast 5-6 hours,you’re undoubtedly going to experience more rapid rates of muscle degradation than if you just ate shortly before your workout. This is simply because your body is running low on free amino acids which can only be obtained from muscle tissue.
Consuming BCAA Supplements can remedy this situation without sacrificing the benefits that training fasted has to offer.
If you’re someone who works out in the morning, after not having eaten in several hours (because you were asleep), you actually should use a BCAA supplement to negate the muscle breakdown.
3 | You Train For Long Periods Of Time
If you engage in long-duration, moderately intense exercise (like marathon running) BCAAs may help reduce fatigue. Of course, the notion that BCAAs reduce cognitive fatigue is based on the premise that the BCAAs share the same transporter into the brain as Tryptophan, a precursor to the fatigue-inducing neurotransmitter Serotonin. This is currently just a hypothesis, although it would explain random reports of BCAA supplemetation reducing fatigue under certain circumstances.
The Straight Up Truth About BCAAs
Here’s the thing…All of the above are perfectly legitimate reasons to use BCAAs, so don’t let that discourage you. If you fit one or more of those criteria, order some BCAAs right now!
But the truth is those criteria don’t apply to everyone. There are a ton of people who go into GNC and get swindled into buying BCAA supplements that they don’t really need and won’t derive much benefit from just because they’ve become so popular.
If you’re getting plenty of protein, don’t train fasted, and don’t train for 4-6 hours at a time, chances are you don’t need BCAAs. Furthermore, they’re all the same! There are literally thousands of supplements which contain the three BCAAs:
Usually in a 2:1:1 ratio, but the ratio doesn’t matter…The point is that these supplements are all the same. If you want BCAAs, just order bulk powder. It’s cheap as can be and it’ll get the job done if you’re just looking for the basic benefits that BCAA supplements can provide.
There are “BCAA Supplements”, and then there’s what we like to call “BCAA Plus Supplements“. That is, supplements which are BCAA-based (usually containing Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine) but also contain ingredients which bring additional benefits, the kind of benefit that pertain to all people, not just those who fit the criteria described above.
These benefits might include things like:
- Increased Strength/Endurance
- Faster Recovery
- Less Soreness
The list goes on, but the point is that there are some supplements out there which may be considered “BCAA” supplements because they do contain BCAAs, but are really so much more.
In fact, there are quite a few supplements that may be synergistic with BCAAs in such a manner that they provide benefits that can’t be achieved by BCAA supplementation alone.
- Cirtulline my enhance Leucine signaling
- Taurine + BCAAs reduces muscle soreness
- Leucine + Carbs Increases Glucose Uptake
Surely BCAA supplements that contain ingredients that enhance the effects of BCAA, or provide un-related additional benefits beyond those of BCAA alone, are worth considering.
So, we went ahead and compiled this list of BCAA Supplements that are actually worth taking.
OUR CRITERIA IS SIMPLE…
When it comes to evaluating any supplement–whether it be a fat-burner, pre-workout, or protein supplement–There are only a few things that actually matter. It’s important to look past flashy packaging and outlandish marketing claims and just focus on what counts.
The stated ingredients have all been studied extensively (preferably in humans) and have been PROVEN effective for the stated purpose. There are thousands of ingredients used in dietary supplements that have never shown the slightest bit of efficacy in any study, or worse, have been proven INEFFECTIVE in studies.
Unfortunately, the use of these ingredients remains rampant due to the unwillingness of supplement companies to stay current with the research and admit they were wrong…
Scientific research is constantly evolving. It’s time we ditched ingredients like Arginine, which science has revealed to be ineffective, and swap it for Citrulline, which science has revealed VERY effective. Of course, these two ingredients are only examples. There are hundreds more out there which have proven ineffective but are still in use because people just don’t know the difference…what a shame.
Clinical Doses Of Those Ingredients
The supplement contains ingredients at the same doses used in the studies in which were proven effective. It’s not enough to just use research-backed ingredients. Those ingredients must also be dosed effectively.
Many companies try to get away with listing “research-backed” ingredients on the label, but not at the right doses, meaning the supplement may not be as effective as advertised (or at all).
Clinical Dosing is as important as the ingredients themselves. At 5g/day, Creating is a highly effective, reliable muscle-builder. At 1g/day, it does nothing.
The more extensively a supplement has been studied, the more we know about it’s optimal dose. Often times we refer to this dose as the “clinical dose” or “clinical range” and a supplement can only be considered truly effective in the eyes of science if it falls into that range.
100% Transparent Labels
The manufacturer doesn’t hide behind proprietary blends and instead discloses the dose of each individual ingredient. In the early days of the supplement industry, supplement companies used to group all the ingredients together into one “proprietary blend” so that they didn’t have to list the doses of each ingredient. The reason they said they did it is so that competitors didn’t know the exact formula…But that’s a load of BS because the studies in which any ingredient was proven effective is publically accessible, meaning what doses work the best are known by all. It’s not secret.
Nope, the only reason to use a Proprietary Blend is if you have something to hide and your customers are too stupid to ask questions. Any reputable brand has adopted a transparent labeling approach at this point, but there are still plenty that hide behind Proprietary Blends. As a consumer you should NEVER buy any product with a proprietary blend.
Follow The Science And You Can’t Go Wrong
Our approach is purely scientific because science, after all, is the only way to really determine what works and what doesn’t. If the ingredient(s) in a supplement haven’t been proven to work. they probably don’t. That’s why we disregarded all products that don’t abide by the criteria listed above to come up with this list.
We don’t care about flavor, mixability, color, or any of the other ridiculous nonsense that often gets factored into subjective user reviews. This list is based on science and science alone.
It’s time you stop being manipulated into buying that under-dosed nonsense from the sales rep at GNC. Welcome to the world of truly effective supplements…
Momentum Nutrition Amino Beyond
Amino Beyond was formulated by SuppWithThat.com Founder and Momentum Nutrition Co-Founder/CEO, Matt Theis, who spent years analyzing, understanding, and studying the science behind supplements before coming to the unfortunate realization that most BCAA-Based supplements are under-dosed, ineffective, and marketed in a misleading manner.
So, he did the only thing that made any sense–created his own BCAA/Amino Supplement–based on a few simple principle that other pre-workout supplements typically lack…
- Scientifically Proven Ingredients
- Clinicaly Doses Of Those Ingredients
- Honest Marketing
- 100% Transparency
- Third Party Testing
Like all Momentum Nutrition supplements, adhering to these these strict standards places Amino Beyond on an entirely different level than other BCAA-based supplements. It’s FAR MORE than an ordinary BCAA supplement…
Amino Beyond is proof that ‘effective’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘complicated’. The formula is simple, yet extremely comprehensive in that it provides true clinical doses of heavily-researched ingredients which are guaranteed to:
- Enhance Recovery Between Sets AND Workouts
- Increase Endurannce And Performance (More Reps, More Sets)
- Reduce Muscle Soreness
- Encourage Optimal Muscle Breakdown
- Prevent Muscle Loss From Fasted Training/Cutting Diets
If you compare the ingredients and doses of those ingredients to any other “BCAA Supplement”, you’ll find that Amino Beyond, you’ll quickly realize that nothing comes close in terms of versatility and the degree of benefits.
To learn more about why Amino Beyond is truly best in class, see our complete breakdown on the Amino Beyond page.
Otherwise, continue on to see our other top picks for the BCAA/Amino category, all of which are worth considering depending on circumstances and individual preferences.
NUTRABIO INTRABLASTFIND IT HERE
Intra Blast is by far one of the most comprehensive BCAA-based supplements on the market and is worth considering for anyone looking for more of an “all-in-one” intra-workout/recovery aid, as opposed to some of the more simple BCAA supplements out there.
ANS PERFORMANCE AMINO HPFIND IT HERE
ANS has taken the performance and recovery aspect of the Amino HP formula way beyond that of other “just BCAA” formulas. Amino HP is a breath of fresh air in a category (aminos) that hasn’t seen much innovation, despite being one the most saturated. A fine choice for anyone looking to not only support muscle growth/reduce catabolism, but also for those seeking performance enhancement and recovery.
MUSCLE ELEMENTS AMINO FLOWFIND IT HERE
AmiNO Flow, like Amino HP, is no doubt one of the more comprehensive/effective BCAA-based formulas available. It contains much more than just BCAAs, so there may very well be some performance benefits to be obtained, in addition to enhanced recovery, protein synthesis, etc.
ALPHA PRO NUTRITION INTRALOADFIND IT HERE
Intraload provides a seriously hefty dose of muscle-building Leucine as well as moderate doses of Glutamine and Citrulline Malate. Although we would ideally like to see some more EAA’s in the mix (only 1400mg), Intraload makes for a solid all-around BCAA/Amino supplement, worthy of a spot on this list.
360 Cut 360 IntraFIND IT HERE
360 Intra is similar to other BCAA/Amino supplements for the most part, but is unique in that it provides a clinical dose of Creatine in each serving. This adds a dimension of muscle-building and performance enhancement that is generally lacking with BCAA/Amino supplements.
SCIVATION XTEND GOFIND IT HERE
Xtend GO is a homerun for 6Scivation as far as we’re concerned. The BCAA + Energy category has rapidly expanded recently, as clearly there is a demand for amino acid-based products with a little “kick”. The BCAA portion of the formula is no different than any other formula, but Scivation nailed the “kick” aspect, with effective dosing of Theanine and Caffeine.
MAN SPORTS ISO AMINOFIND IT HERE
ISO-Amino didn’t make this list because it is some revolutionary innovation. It made the list because it is what it is…A BCAA supplement. In terms of efficacy, ISO Amino is as good as any other BCAA supplement. It should mix well (instantized) and taste even better since MAN Sports has developed several pretty unique flavors at this point. At about 70 cents per serving, Iso Amino is priced about average.