Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a popular supplement for women taken to boost muscle growth and improve performance during exercise. It comes in either pills or artificially flavored powder form.
BCAAs are a group of three unique essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These building blocks of protein are the only three that have a chain leading off to one side (hence the name branched-chain).
BCAAs are essential because you cannot manufacture them – you must ingest them – yet they make up a large chunk of the body’s total amino acid pool (up to 40%) (1).
Further, BCAA’s are not broken down in the liver, like other unbranched amino acids. Instead, they are mostly broken down in the muscle, which provides evidence that BCAA’s may play a role in energy production during exercise.
Based on their role in the muscle tissue, BCAA’s may also play a role in regulating your blood sugar levels by sparing glucose from the liver and the muscles and even increasing sugar uptake in muscle cells to lower your blood sugar when needed.
BCAAs may also improve fat loss, boost recovery, fight disease, and improve lifespan.
Best BCAAs For Women
1Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine
There are plenty of reasons the Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine makes the very top of our list as the best BCAAs for women. Every serving includes 8,000 mg of vegan-friendly BCCA’s in its 2:1:1 ration in addition to 5,000 mg of pure l-glutamine and 1,000 mg coconut water extract. The active ingredients, all backed by clinical research, are included at clinically effective dosages associated with published scientific research, and contain zero colored dyes, unnecessary fillers, or harmful additives.
Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine aids in absorption of glucose and helps to boost your metabolism and fuel your muscles. The ingredients also serve to give your immune system a boost. You will be hard pressed to find a more pure and potent product on the market.
2Kaged Muscle Fermented BCAA Powder
Kaged Muscle uses a clean processing system to create their BCAA Powder. It is processed using fermentation which serves to extract amino acids and leads to a better tasting and mixing BCAA powder. Kaged Muscle is also scientifically formulated to be free from artificial colors, flavors and banned substances.
Each 5g serving (in the optimal 2:1:1 ratio) of rapidly, dissolving BCAAs helps to boost strength and accelerate muscle recovery. Kaged Muscle BCAA powder is also suitable for vegans as it does not use any animal sources in its processing and is free of BSE and TSE.
3Performance Lab SPORT BCAA
This Sport BCAA from Performance Lab 100% plant-based, with prebiotic-infused Plantcaps from fermented tapioca. It’s BCAAs are fermented from Sunflower Lecithin for easy digestion and high bioavailability, helping to raise BCAA levels in muscle tissue more efficiently than standard BCAA forms.
Each serving of Sport BCAA comes in the optimal 2:1:1 BCAA ratio for muscle growth and health. It is also free of gluten, soy and synthetic additives and is non-GMO.
The blend supports healthy immune defenses against athletic demands and gym environments. Performance Lab Sport BCAA’s are safe, natural and well-tolerated to best support long-range fitness programs.
AlaniNU BCAA’s which are available in a refreshing range of flavours support muscle recovery and get you back in the gym faster. Satisfy your sweet tooth with sour candy or strawberry kiwi flavour. Packed with aminos to aid in workout recovery, our BCAAs are the best way to up your fitness game.
The blend contains an optimum ratio of aminos including into L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, L-Valine and L-Glutamine. AlaniNU also contains turmeric root extract for its anti-inflammatory properties which helps with muscle soreness and recovery.
Nutricost BCAA offers a total of 6 grams of BCAAs in each serving in the ideal ratio 2:1:1 of Leucine, Isoluecine and Valine. Nutricost BCAA is gluten-free, non-GMO and 3rd party tested and is manufactured in an FDA registered, GMP Compliant facility.
It comes in various delicious zero calorie flavors including grape, green apple, raspberry lemonade, pineapple, unflavored, watermelon, and strawberry kiwi.
6Optimum Nutrition BCAA Powder
Available in a mouth-watering range of flavours Optimum Nutrition have been amongst the top sellers of BCAA for years. Boasting 5g of BCAAs in 2:1:1 ratio, the formula also includes Vitamin C to support immunity which is ideal for those with strict training regimes.
Optimum Nutrition’s BCAA’s also include magnesium to fuel hungry muscles and to reduce tiredness and fatigue. Their unique formula also contains Rhodiola rosea, Wellmune and supporting electrolytes to keep your immune system strong and your body hydrated.
Optimum nutrition BCAA powder is light, refreshing and easy to drink.
7Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder
At the heart of XTEND formula is 7g of BCAAs in the nature-designed and research-proven 2:1:1 ratio. XTEND have also included glutamine and citrulline malate making it an all-inclusive amino acid drink.
What’s more is that XTEND also includes a proprietary blend of electrolytes keeping you effectively hydrated when you need it most. XTEND is sugar-free and friendly on the waistline making it the ideal way to fuel your body during a workout and help anyone grind through the most grueling of gym sessions. It also comes in a ton of delicious flavors.
8Raw Synergies Amino Slim
Amino Slim is an all-natural vegan BCAA and weight management powder that support the metabolism and helps to reduce cravings. It uses some unique ingredients along side BCAAs to achieve this. Satiereal® is a patented, clinically-studied satiety ingredient derived from saffron. The satiated feeling induced by Satiereal® encourages weight loss while eliminating frustration.
KSM-66 is the highest-concentration extract on the world market today that is drawn using only the roots of the ashwagandha plant, which may help promote a healthy response to everyday stress, over-work and fatigue; support normal levels of mental clarity, concentration and alertness, support normal levels of vigor and performance, and enhance sports performance.
Combined with the BCAAS and glutamine powder, Amino Slim helps you burn fat and recover faster. This BCAAp powder is caffeine free and can be consumed at any time of day.
9RSP Nutrition Amino Slim
AminoLean is an amino acid weight management supplement that combines essential amino acids along with BCAA’s. This combination allows for an increase in focus and energy and includes ingredients that aid in natural weigh management. There also nine flavor options including Blackberry Pomegranate, Blue Raspberry, Fruit Punch, Green Apple, Lemon Lime, Passion Fruit, Pink Lemonade, Strawberry Kiwi and Watermelon.
There are no calories, carbs or excess sugars included in this product. It is also gluten-free and third party tested.
10Evlution Nutrition BCAA5000
Evlution Nutrition BCAA 5000 offers a 2:1:1 ratio of BCAA’s (2500 mg of Leucine, 1250 mg of Valine, and 1250 of Isoleucine) in 5g per serving to aid your muscles in recovery. It’s also stimulant free BCAA that includes no sugar or carbohydrates.
This formula is gluten-free and comes in nine different flavors and two servings size options. The flavors are delicious and include Cherry Limeade, Blue Raz, Acai Berry, Furious Grape, Lemon Lime, Mango, Peach Lemonade, Pineapple and Watermelon.
How We Rank
The first thing we looked at, when ranking the best BCAA for women, was the ingredients. Every product needed to have BCAAs, but more than that, we preferred them to be in the optimal 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine, Iso-leucine and valine. Ideally free of sugar, soy, dairy, yeast, gluten and additives. Companies like Evlution Nutrition and RSP amino lean provided this and more, and thus earned a spot on our list.
We also looked for products that included complementing ingredients. Ingredients like glutamine and ashwagandha were highly favored since they helped promote recovery, which is why Raw Series Amino Slim ranked higher. Transparent Labs also shined here, and took top spot, by including coconut water extract as well as glutamine along side their potent BCAA formula. AlaniNu added turmeric root extract for its anti-inflammatory properties which helps with muscle soreness and recovery.
Next we looked at how the BCAA’s were synthesized. Performance Lab Sport BCAAs are naturally fermented from Sunflower Lecithin for easy digestion and high bioavailability, and thus earned a top spot on our list.
We also briefly looked at flavoring. While it was important to taste good, it was more important that the product didn’t include unnecessary fillers and or sugars. You won’t see popular companies like MyProtein because of this.
Lastly we looked at purity. We preferred companies that conducted 3rd party testing, like Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine, because it showed a commitment to purity and quality. It is one of the many reasons they took top spot.
After all this, we determined the top 10 best BCAAs for women on the market.
1BCAAs for women decrease physical and mental fatigue. Research from 1997 (done on humans, not animals) showed that when given BCAAs during exercise, subjects report up to 15% less fatigue compared to a placebo (2).
Another more recent 2011 study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness shows that the BCAA group exercised up to 17% longer than the placebo group (3).
Lastly, research done in 1998 demonstrated that subjects who consumed BCAAs cycled 12% longer compared to the subjects in the placebo group (4).
It must be noted however that the effect of BCAAs on exercise fatigue is much more significant in untrained individuals compared to trained individuals (5).
2BCAAs for women can reduce muscle soreness and delayed onset muscle soreness. BCAAs work to lower blood levels of two enzymes, creatine kinase, and lactate dehydrogenase; which are involved in the muscle damage pathways.
A 2000 study showed that by reducing these enzymes, BCAAs could improve your recovery by protecting against increased muscle damage (6).
A few more studies tested this by putting subjects through a workout and asking them to rate their level of muscle soreness. Placebo groups rated their muscle soreness levels as much as 33% higher compared to those given a BCAA supplement (7, 8, 9).
3BCAAs for women can increase protein synthesis and muscle mass. A popular use of BCAA supplementation is to increase muscle mass. This claim is supported by research done in 2006, that illustrates BCAAs do increase enzymes that build lean muscle mass (14).
Specifically, a 1999 study showed that of all the BCAAs, leucine caused the most muscle growth and increase in protein synthesis. Therefore, BCAA products with more leucine resulted in higher levels of overall muscle building (15).
Unfortunately, there is no research supporting that supplementing with BCAAs is more effective than consuming BCAAs from your diet or even from a less expensive protein powder.
4BCAAs for women help maintain normal blood sugar levels and reduce diabetes prevalence. Two studies (2005 and 2006) showed that leucine and isoleucine are the two BCAAs that may increase insulin production to support your muscles by taking in more sugar from your blood to ultimately lower your blood sugar levels (16, 17).
However, a different 2005 study published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism demonstrated evidence for these claims to be mixed (18).
Another 2009 study published in Cell Metabolism showed that if you have a high-fat diet, then consuming BCAA supplements can lead to insulin resistance (19).
The good news is that the effect of high-fat diets on BCAA supplement’s effectiveness in the body is tested mainly on animals or cells. Thus, the results may not accurately depict what occurs in the human body as everybody’s biochemistry will ultimately determine the end result.
For instance, one 2012 study showed that 10 liver disease subjects who supplemented with 12.5 grams of BCAAs three times a day that had their blood sugar levels reduced while 17 saw no change (20).
At the end of the day, more research is needed to draw out a definite conclusion.
5BCAAs for women promote fat loss and even fight off obesity. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition demonstrated that subjects consuming just 12g per day BCAA through their diet had a 30% higher risk of obesity than those who consumed 15g daily from a BCAA supplement (21).
One study on competitive wrestlers saw that consuming a high protein calorie-restricted diet lost 3.5 pounds and 0.6% more body fat when they added in BCAAs over 19-days (22).
More research shows that weightlifters supplementing with 28 grams of whey protein daily lost less body fat over 8 weeks versus those given 14 grams of BCAAs daily. The subjects consuming BCAAs also saw more than 4lbs of muscle mass gained over the control group – which helps burn more fat down the line (23).
This is especially beneficial to women since, more often than not, they lack adequate dietary protein on a daily or weekly basis.
6BCAAs for women can improve the symptoms of patients with liver failure in women. A common complication from liver failure is hepatic encephalopathy (HE). HE causes confusion, coma, and lack of consciousness.
One 2014 study provides evidence that patients who suffer from liver disease and take BCAA supplements can reduce the severity of their HE (24).
Another 2014 study showed that subjects undergoing liver surgery and had been taking a BCAA supplement decreased the duration of their hospital stay reduced the risk of complications from the surgery, and even improved their liver function (25).
Additionally, BCAA supplements are seen to improve resistance to fatigue which translates to improving weakness, quality of sleep, and even cramps in patients with liver disease (26).
One study also showed a 7% reduction in premature death when BCAAs were supplemented for the treatment of liver cancer (27).
7BCAAs for women can extend your life. In addition to being therapeutic, BCAAs have an anti-aging effect because they increase the formation of new mitochondria. In rodent studies, BCAAs have been found to extend lifespan in the same way caloric restriction does, while simultaneously supporting cardiac health (28).
In a 2011 review on BCAAs and human health, scientists write that BCAAs will help you live longer if you get enough of them. Specifically “behave as evolutionary conserved modulators of lifespan.”
8BCAAs help support hormone balance during strenuous exercise in women. BCAAs support hormone balance, which plays a role in an athlete’s ability to respond to extreme training loads.
For example, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that BCAA supplemented athletes had higher testosterone, lower cortisol, and less inflammation in response to high-intensity training versus the placebo group (29).
A second study (2011) published in the Chinese Journal of Physiology found that trainees had a better hormonal profile, lower cortisol, and higher testosterone after strenuous exercise if they consumed a mixture of carbs, BCAAs, and arginine versus a placebo group. They also recovered more quickly and expressed lower levels of fatigue (30).
9BCAA’s for women may prevent muscle loss in women during endurance training. In addition to improving endurance performance, BCAAs prevent muscle loss during ultra-endurance exercise. For example, it was found that trained athletes who performed a 24-hour-long exercise trial that included 12 cycles of running, cycling, and kayaking experienced significant muscle protein degradation and had evidence of metabolic stress linked with muscle damage (31).
There was a pronounced drop in plasma levels of BCAAs over the exercise trial, which is linked with muscle loss. Scientists suggest that providing “simultaneous nutritional support” with BCAAs or a high-BCAA containing protein will prevent catabolism by improving the overall energy-burning pool so that amino acids aren’t released from muscle tissue.
10BCAA’s for women may prevent heart failure. In a 2015 rat study, BCAA supplementation improved outcomes after induced heart failure (32).
A 2016 human trial demonstrated that BCAA breakdown deficiencies are linked to increased heart disease risk (33).
11BCAA’s for women may improve breathing. A 1988 study published in Critical Care Medicine showed that BCAA supplementation increases ventilatory response, which allows the body to process and receive oxygen at higher rates. BCAA’s also decreased blood CO2 levels by 9% and increased average oxygen intake (by 19%) and minute ventilation (by 22%) (34).
12BCAA’s for women may decrease reaction times. A 2011 study involving 10 soccer players, showed a decrease of up to 10% in reaction time when players were given BCAA supplements compared to the controls (35).
13BCAA’s for women may improve sleep. In a 1991 human study involving 7 patients, BCAA supplementation at night increased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and decreased end-tidal CO2 levels, which are important for dreaming and respiratory function during sleep (36).
14BCAA’s for women can support the kidneys. BCAA supplementation may reduce the chances of kidney failure by up to 40% by increasing amino acid levels but not protein intake, which decreases kidney damage (37).
15BCAA’s for women may reduce perceived pain. Norepinephrine is released in the brain to manage pain. BCAA supplementation in rats increased norepinephrine, thereby, reducing pain (38).
16BCAAs for women can help in appetite management. Leucine is the most critical component of suppressing cravings. Leucine works to activate mTOR, and enzyme that serves to regulate cell growth and that impacts the body’s ability to synthesize protein. Having an increased level of mTOR lets your body know that you’ve had your nutritional requirements met and helps naturally suppress your appetite.
17BCAAs for women can help to support a healthy pregnancy.
BCAA’s can serve to support a healthy pregnancy. They obviously support the mother’s needs but during pregnancy, they can also support the needs of the fetus. The fetus needs a constant supply of essential amino acids. Those must be obtained from the mother’s diet and then delivered to the fetus through the placenta.
The nutrients and proteins needed by the fetus can play a role in building organs and tissues. Proper consumption of amino acids can aid in the healthy development of a fetus in utero (39).
18BCAA’s can help improve HIIT training and sprint performance. BCAA’s are great to use for speed and high intensity training. A 2015 study looked into the effects of combined BCAA and arginine supplementation on intermittent sprint performance over 2 consecutive days.
The study consisted of 7 females and 15 males who had all had success competing at a national or international level in handball. The study involved participants playing simulated handball games over 2 consecutive days.
The investigators found that intermittent sprint performance on the second day was significantly better in the athletes who had taken the supplement, compared with those who had taken the placebo (40).
19BCAA’s help prevent muscle wasting during illness. BCAAs, particularly leucine, can help to maintain muscle mass in people with chronic conditions. According to a review a high-protein diet that provides additional leucine can help maintain muscle mass in people with chronic diseases such as cancer (41).
1To date, there are no significant or recurring side effects from the consumption of BCAA powders and capsules. That being said, BCAAs may only be effective if normal dietary protein is inadequate.
2BCAA supplements are not recommended for those with ALS. Those suffering from ALS should not take BCAAs. Plus, there’s a rare congenital disorder known as maple syrup urine disease where subjects should limit their intake of BCAAs because the body cannot process BCAAs effectively.
3BCAA’s can cause brain damage in alcoholics. Dietary use of branched-chain amino acids in alcoholics has been associated with liver disease leading to brain damage (hepatic encephalopathy).
4BCAA’s might affect blood sugar levels and complicate surgery. Branched-chain amino acids might affect blood sugar levels, and this might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop using branched-chain amino acids at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
5BCAA’s might interfere with sleep. Exercise increases levels of serotonin which is one of the reasons you are tired post workout. Serotonin also happens to be critical for sleep as it helps with melatonin production. One study showed that BCAAs decrease serotonin production by competing with tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin (42).
This leads to the theory that BCAAs may interfere with sleep when taken at night. However, more studies are needed to confirm this.
Consuming at least 9grams of BCAAs per day is considered safe and adequate for women (43).
The best time to take BCAA supplements is before and/or after your workout. Many people who are trying to gain muscle also take them in the morning and before bed.
However, the dosage of BCAAs you take will depend on your goals and body. A report from the World Health Organization in 1985 recommends a daily dose of BCAAs based on mass at 15 mg of BCAA per pound (44).
Remember, patients with ALS or maple syrup urine disease should strictly limit their intake of BCAAs.
Note that BCAAs are found in protein-rich foods so that extra BCAA supplementation is not necessarily needed to reach these amounts. BCAA requirements may be higher in highly active women, making supplementation beneficial.
People who include sufficient protein-rich foods in their diets most likely do not need to take supplements.
Should women take BCAAs before, during or after a workout? Research shows it’s more beneficial to ingest BCAAs just before and sip on them during your workout so that your blood is full of them during your training session. You can still take them after as well, but if you had to pick one or the other, definitely go with before training.
What are the best food sources for BCAA’s? The best food sources include meat, fish, poultry, milk, beans, cheese, eggs, and various seeds and nuts.
Are BCAAs helpful with weight loss for women? While the main benefit isn’t for weight loss, research shows that BCAAs do indeed provide a good amount of weight loss benefits, especially in women.
Are their side effects for BCAAs? No, to date studies haven’t shown any major side effects from consuming BCAAs. There has been reports of nausea and IBS symptoms, but it’s hard to say for certain that it’s a result of BCAA consumption or something else altogether.
Can BCAA cause hair loss? No, there is no research to show that BCAA’s cause hair loss of any sort.
Will BCAAs make me freakishly big and muscular like a man? No, (some) men are muscular, and all have the potential to be because they have much more of the anabolic hormone testosterone running tough their veins. Even if you worked out every day and 100x your BCAA dose, you would never get even close to the potential that men have.
Are BCAAs safe for the liver? Yes, BCAA’s have never shown any liver toxicity.
Is glutamine a BCAA? No, glutamine is another conditionally essential amino acid that is often added to BCAA formulations to enhance their effectiveness.
Are BCAAs safe for women with diabetes? Yes, BCAAs are safe for women with diabetes. Data suggest that a high intake of BCAAs may be associated with a decrease in the risk of diabetes.
Are BCAAs powder or capsules better? Both are equally effective, and it’s more important to choose the one you will actually use.
Which is the best BCAA? Out of the three BCAA’s, leucine has been shown to have the most muscle and strength supporting benefits.
Does BCAA raise blood sugar? A lot of low carb, paleo or ketogenic dieters are often concerned that BCAAS may raise blood sugar. No, BCAAS do not raise blood sugar or spike insulin.
Can you take BCAA’s on an empty stomach? Yes, in fact, an empty stomach may provide an advantage as absorption will be better. However, some people may report an upset stomach from consuming BCAA’s on an empty stomach. Those people should take it with food.
Do I need BCAA’s for cardio? No, you do not need to consume BCAA’s for cardio. However, it may be a good insurance policy to help prevent any muscle breakdown or at the very least minimize it. This is especially true when performing fasted cardio.
Is it okay to take BCAA’s on non-training days? Yes, BCAA’s are okay to consume on non-training days. They may even be helpful at expediting recovery on off days.
Do BCAA’s make you sleepy? No, BCAA’s have not been shown to induce fatigue. Rather they have been shown to help fight it off.
Can you take too many BCAAs? In general, BCAAs are pretty safe. In fact, taking them every day is largely believe to increase their overall effectiveness. However, excessive use can lead to potentially negative side effects. These include loss of coordination, fatigue, nausea, increased insulin resistance and headaches (45).
How long does it take for BCAAs to work? The level of BCAAs in your blood will peak about 30 minutes after taking your supplement. There are plenty of factors that can impact that window of time, including if you’ve eaten a meal or have taken a protein supplement prior to your exercise (46).
Will BCAAs break a fast? Technically, yes consuming BCAAs will break a fast. However, with that said, consuming BCAAs during a fast will not tactually reduce the potential health benefits of your fast. For example, if you are fasting to burn fat or restrict calories, you aren’t going to ruin that by consuming BCAAs.
How can I choose the BCAA supplement that is best for me? There are a variety of different types of BCAAs on the market and we’ve highlighted the options here. You can get BCAA’s in powder, tablets, 100% plant-based, gluten-free different proportions of each of the BCAAs, certified 100% pure and lactose-free. You will want to consider your specific needs, especially as it relates to any existing dietary restrictions, when identifying which is best for you.
Do BCAAs affect hormones? All amino acids, but particularly BCAA’s, can have an impact on hormonal secretion and action. There is new data to suggest that BCAAs can regulate gene translation and transcription. Much of the specific nature of how BCAAs affect hormones is still undefined.
Are BCAAs bad for your heart? Much of the effects of BCAAs on the heart are still being established. However, BCAAs aren’t just a crucial nutrient source, they are also signaling molecules. BCAA catabolism requires that there be activity in the brain, kidney, diaphragm and cardiac muscle which plays a part in metabolic regulation in heart failure.
How much BCAA should be consumed in food form? A good 3-5 gram serving of BCAA’s is appropriate for most women. You can meet this guidelines by eating three to four ounces of animal protein. There are plenty of foods that have all three kinds of CCAAs in just one serving. These include eggs, whitefish, turkey breast, low fat Greek yogurt, cod, trout, haddock, canned tuna, flank steak, chicken breast, and lean beef. Because BCAA’s are available in animal protein, the supplements we highlighted here are great options for vegans and vegetarians.
Branched-chain amino acid supplements demonstrate a variety of beneficial effects in the body including more muscle mass, enhanced fat loss, and longer life expectancy. Even better is that if your diet is high in protein, you won’t need a BCAA supplement because protein has high amounts already.
However, if you’re a competitive athlete or even just a regular woman who want an edge, adding just 10-20g of BCAAs is a simple, cheap and effective way to do it.