The market for sports supplements can be a confusing bowl of alphabet soup to say the least, but if you’re serious about fitness, then the letters “BCAA” are worth the hunt. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three essential amino acids the body does not produce itself: L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine. As all good muscle fans know, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is the building block of muscle. Proteins also do most of the body’s work at the cellular level in terms of regulating the function of tissue and organs by way of coding by our genes. And whereas other amino acids can be produced within the body, BCAAs cannot, meaning we need to consume them regularly through food to form complete proteins. Any exercise, weightlifting in particular, causes some muscle breakdown and requires nutritional support to the body for recovery and rebuilding. This is why many athletes supplement their diet with BCAAs. And as with anything marketable, there are lots of options out there. When shopping around for a BCAA supplement mix, you’ll want to look at the product label for some key ingredients. First, the ratio of L-leucine to L-isoleucine and L-valine should be at least 2:1:1. You’ll also want to see L-glutamine and perhaps L-citrulline in the mix, and perhaps some other goodies. Watch out for artificial flavors and problematic additives. And as always, consider volume and price.
Price per serving
BulkSupplements.com BCAA 2:1:1 (1.1 lbs)
Optimum Nutrition BCAA Capsules
MusclePharm Essentials BCAA Powder
Scivation XTEND Natural Zero BCAA Powder
Sascha Fitness BCAA 4:1:1
Get It to Hit It
Shaker bottles abound in gyms all over the world, with a variety of workout aids. BCAAs, whether as powders or capsules, are often a top choice for athletes looking to accentuate their performance. Often part of the intra-workout grouping of supplements, the powders-as-drinks make for a good consumable during the entirety of the workout. One of the key benefits to exercise is that muscles broken down in the process rebuild themselves stronger and tougher. However, proper nutrition is key here. The muscles themselves are built of protein, and energy is required for that building process to occur. BCAAs come into play when the intensity of activity has exceeded what a normal diet can handle in terms of repair. By speeding up recovery, the supplements help athletes improve performance faster.
Raise the topic of supplements among any group of novices and of course the question of banned substances and performance enhancers will arise. The fact is, BCAAs are a nutritional supplement, as amino acids are the building blocks of protein. High-leucine foods include: Chicken, beef, pork, tuna fish, tofu, and eggs. The same list is good for isoleucine, while valine-high foods include the same, as well as whole grains. But it’s pretty tough to imagine chomping on a chicken breast in between sets on the bench press, whereas a BCAA mix comes into play quite handily. Health officials always recommend eating a well-balanced diet, but athletes know they need to consume more nutrients than the average person, and getting the amino acids necessary for muscle recovery is a good way to help out.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. BulkSupplements.com BCAA 2:1:1 (1.1 lbs)
This 500-gram unit from BulkSupplements.com generates 333 servings of BCAA with a serving size of 1,500 milligrams, at about 8-cents each. The BCAA ratio is 2:1:1 with 750 mg of L-leucine, and 375 mg of L-isoleucine and L-valine each. A bare-bones supplement, there are no flavors or added nutrients, just straight BCAA. This product’s serving size accompanies instructions to take thrice daily and prior to workouts. The same standardized mix is also available in 2.2 and 11 pound air-tight plastic sacks. The flavor-free pounder mixes easily with water in either a regular glass or sports drink container.
2. Optimum Nutrition BCAA Capsules
This 400-capsule unit recommends two capsules per serving, meaning 200 servings provided here for about 13-cents each. Each serving yields 500 mg of micronized L-leucine, and 250 mg of L-isoleucine and L-valine each, for a 2:1:1 ratio. Flavorless time-released capsules, they should be taken with some fluid. No additional nutrients or additives included, or artificial chemicals, for a total of 1,000 mg of BCAAs.
3. MusclePharm Essentials BCAA Powder
A 3:1:2 BCAA ratio, the MusclePharm Essentials BCAA Powder comes with 30 servings of powder flavored blue raspberry, at this price representing about 50-cents per. The product has been banned-substance tested and certified by Informed-Choice Athletes and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. The product serving size is one 8.6 gram scoop, which delivers 3 grams of L-leucine, 2 grams of L-valine, and 1 gram of L-isoleucine. Other ingredients do include artificial flavorings. Definitely above the 2:1:1 BCAA ratio, debate continues about just how high one should go with the L-leucine relative to the other two amino acids. L-leucine plays such a critical role in muscle growth that some feel getting more is beneficial, but ultimately it comes down to just how hard the work you’re performing is on the muscles in question, relative to the price.
4. Scivation XTEND Natural Zero BCAA Powder
Available in a variety of flavors, this powder mixes readily water. One scoop-sized serving is 14.7 grams and the mix has less than 1 gram of carbohydrates. Each container provides approximately 25 servings, and at this price, that’s about $1 per. The BCAA ratio is 2:1:1, with 3,500 mg of L-leucine, and 1,750 mg of L-Isoleucine and L-Valine each. As an added kicker, the mix has 2,500 mg L-Glutamine for recovery, as well as an 1,140 mg electrolyte blend, 1,000 mg of Citrulline Malate, and 640 mcg of Vitamine B6. Naturally flavored and sweetened, the mix has no sugar, calories, or caffeine.
5. Sascha Fitness BCAA 4:1:1
The Sascha Fitness BCAA 4:1:1 product offers 25 1-scoop servings of 14 grams each, for a cost of $1.40 per. Each serving offers 5000 mg of instantized vegan, non-GMO L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-Valine in a 4:1:1 ratio. The serving also contains 5,000 mg of L-Glutamine and L-Glutamine AKG, and 2,000 mg of L-Carntine Fumarate, CalciumHMB (B-Hydroxy B-Methyl butric Acid), and HICA (a-Hydroxy isocaproic Acid). The powder has a grape flavor and mixes easily with water. The additional L-glutamine is for workout recovery, and the extra dose of L-leucine is to use that recovery for muscle growth. L-carntine is another molecule which aids in energy production, and HMB is a compound used to reduce muscle damage and protein breakdown post-exercise.