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Ranking the best BCAAs for women of 2021

Written by John Davis

Last updated: November 26, 2020

Branched chain amino acids, also known as BCAAs, are a great way to improve your recovery after a tough training session, and they might even help you lose weight, too.

These qualities make them especially attractive to women. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that branched chain amino acids are only for bodybuilders.

A good BCAA supplement can help you get toned, perform better in endurance exercise, and gain muscular strength. They might even help boost the functioning of your immune system.

Want to take your gym sessions to the next level? Our research team took an in-depth look at the best branched chain amino acid supplements for women and came up with the best ten.

Rankings

1. Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine

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Is it too much to want it all from your BCAA? Transparent Labs suggests it isn’t with BCAA + Glutamine.

Simply put, BCAA + Glutamine has everything you need from the right sources in the right amounts.

A whopping 8 grams of vegan-friendly fermented branch chain amino acids. An extra 5 grams of l-glutamine to aid recovery, reduce soreness, and negate BCAA metabolism. A gram of coconut water powder to aid hydration.

Available in 5 delicious, all-natural, naturally sweetened flavors you can’t go wrong. This is our top pick for reducing soreness and promoting muscle recovery in women.

2. Performance Lab SPORT BCAA

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If you want a no-nonsense BCAA supplement, this is the one for you.

Performance Lab SPORT BCAA showcases the efficacy of pure, high-quality BCAAs created from fermented sunflower lecithin – which is much easier for your body to absorb than other sources of BCAA.

With 3g of BCAAs included in the optimum 2:1:1 ratio, Performance Lab BCAA helps women preserve muscle mass during high-intensity exercise and reduce soreness. If you’re looking to build muscle, it can promote protein synthesis too.

It comes in prebiotic infused capsules to improve digestive health, and there are no artificial sweeteners or coloring in this product either. Ultimately, Performance Lab BCAA is a great, all-natural, product that is vegan-friendly.

3. Kaged Muscle Fermented BCAA Powder

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Kaged Muscle sells a highly pure and scientifically advanced branched chain amino acid formulation. It’s very simple, with just four ingredients (and three of them are BCAAs).

The main innovation in this product is the fermented nature of the branched chain amino acids, which makes them easier for your body to process and digest. In other words, you get a greater benefit from the same dose of BCAAs.

Aside from leucine, valine, and isoleucine (provided at a 2:1:1 ratio), the only other ingredient is sunflower lecithin, which helps prevent clumping when you mix it into a protein shake. It’s simply a great pick.

4. Optimum Nutrition BCAA Caps

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If you hate the taste of BCAA powder, Optimum Nutrition offers the best solution with its mega-sized BCAA capsules. Each capsule has 500 mg of branched chain amino acids in a 2:1:1 leucine:isoleucine:valine ratio, and the only other ingredients are cellulose, magnesium stearate, and gelatin.

That last ingredient will be a turn-off for strict vegetarians, and it definitely isn’t the right solution if you need a large amount of BCAAs, but as far as capsule-based BCAA supplements, this one is the best.

5. Nutricost BCAA

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When it comes to simple and straightforward, Nutricost has it covered.

This supplement has only three ingredients, and they are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, in a 2:1:1 ratio. It’s not the cutting edge of supplement innovation, but if all you need are branched chain amino acids with no frills, this is the best choice.

6. Her Aminos by NLA for Her

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NLA for Her offers a broad-spectrum amino acid supplement which includes the three branched chain amino acids your body needs for workout performance and recovery, as well as several other performance-boosting supplements like citrulline and beta alanine.

This is a good choice for women who do intense, high-powered workouts and want peak performance as well as optimal recovery.

7. Type Zero Clean Vegan BCAA

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If plant-based amino acids are important, and you want some extra ingredients to support both workout performance and workout recovery, check out Type Zero Clean Vegan BCAA.

In addition to a 2:1:1 blend of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, you get a mix of electrolytes, arginine, and acetyl-L-carnitine for peak performance.

8. BPI Sports Best BCAA

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BPI Sports Best BCAA is what you might consider a “maximalist” branched chain amino acid supplement. Its branched chain amino acid ingredients are pre-processed with enzymes to improve absorption, and it also includes several power and endurance boosting supplements as well. 

This makes it a solid choice for an all-around pre-workout supplement, but less well-suited for supplying branched chain amino acids after your workout has finished.

9. Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder

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SciVation make a BCAA that provides leucine, valine, and isoleucine at a 1:1:1 ratio, alongside L-glutamine for better muscle recovery after tough workouts.

In addition it includes an electrolyte mix and some B vitamins, but the problem with this supplement is its excess of dyes, colorants, and synthetic flavors. Especially if you are sensitive to these ingredients, you’ll want to seek out something else.

10. Nature’s Design BCAA

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Nature’s Design is a capsule-based branched chain amino acid supplement, which is good news for women who don’t like the taste of powder-based BCAAs, but it falls short of some of its competitors due to an excess of fillers and bulking agents in the capsules, in addition to the small number of servings per bottle.

Category winners

Best overall BCAAs for women: Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine

Transparent Labs makes a BCAA supplement that’s great both for female athletes and for women just trying to lose weight. You get the fat-burning effects of amino acids, plus the muscle-recovery effects of glutamine, all in one package. 

Best BCAAs for women over 40: Kaged Muscle Fermented BCAA Powder

Women over 40 need to focus more on maintaining muscle mass with a simple, high-dose BCAA supplement. Kaged Muscle delivers on that front with an easy-to-mix BCAA powder.

Best BCAAs for women trying to lose weight: Performance Lab SPORT BCAA

Performance Lab pairs BCAAs for fat oxidation with prebiotics to sustain gut health—a massively overlooked issue in athletes who are losing weight. These capsule-based BCAAs are great if you want to keep your calorie intake low by avoiding mixing BCAA powder into a shake. 

Best BCAAs for female athletes: Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine

The combo of glutamine and BCAAs make Transparent Labs really shine when it comes to athletes who are training hard. Both BCAAs and glutamine contribute to muscle recovery, meaning this supplement is great for working out harder and recovering better afterwards.

Best women’s BCAAs for protein shakes and smoothies:  Kaged Muscle Fermented BCAA Powder

If you want to add a BCAA boost to your usual protein shake, Kaged Muscle is a fantastic way to do it. Its BCAAs are fermented for optimal absorption, and a small amount of emulsifier makes it blend well with protein powder into shakes or smoothies. 

Best capsule-form BCAAs for women: Optimum Nutrition BCAA Caps

If mixing powder is too much of a headache, go for Optimum Nutrition BCAA Caps. These capsules offer 500 mg of the three essential branched-chain amino acids, in a 2:1:1 ratio—no messy powder and protein shaker cleanup to worry about.

Who should buy BCAAs for women?

Women can benefit from branched chain amino acids if they are increase muscular strength, boost post-workout recovery, or drop body fat while maintaining lean body mass.

BCAAs make up three of the nine essential amino acids, and since amino acids are the building blocks for pretty much all of the structures in your body, women who are physically active require higher levels of BCAAs than sedentary women in order to build or maintain muscle strength.

On top of that, BCAAs play important regulatory roles in core biological processes like insulin regulation. This is the avenue through which BCAAs might help play a role in weight loss: protein in general is known to be useful for weight loss, as it helps increase feelings of satiety and fullness, while requiring more calories to break down.

This increase in thermogenesis after consuming protein powder is partially attributable to the caloric expenditures that’s needed to break down the chemical bonds in BCAAs. As such, BCAAs are great for women who work out, whether it’s for fitness or for weight loss.

How we ranked

The market for BCAAs for women is surprisingly broad, so to formulate our rankings, we had to review and rate a lot of products. Broadly, we parsed out the BCAA options for women into powder-based supplements and capsule-based supplements, since both of these forms have their advantages and disadvantages.

After grouping the products, we eliminated anything whose primary focus wasn’t the branched chain amino acids. More general protein-focused products, even those that were enriched with BCAAs, were dropped. We also eliminated anything that didn’t include all three of the branched chain amino acids: leucine, valine, and isoleucine.

Among the remaining products, we rated the powder-based BCAA products on their taste as well as purity. In a powder-based supplement, flavoring is great, as long as it doesn’t negatively affect the purity and efficacy of the supplement.

BCAA powders for women that had too much flavoring, coloring agents, and sweeteners were eliminated. We applied similar purity criteria to the capsule-based BCAAs for women. Flavor obviously is not an important factor in the quality of a capsule based supplement, so we put an even stronger emphasis on purity for these supplements. As a result, fewer capsule-based products made the final rankings.

We had a slight preference for capsules made out of cellulose as opposed to gelatin, as women who are vegetarians and vegans often take BCAA supplements—meat, eggs, and dairy are common dietary sources of BCAAs.

Finally, we analyzed the balance of branched chain amino acids, with a strong preference for products that provided a 2:1:1 leucine:isoleucine:valine ratio, as this is a research-backed strategy for optimal BCAA delivery.

We also boosted the scores of products that had extra perks, like the fermented BCAAs provided by Kaged Muscle Fermented BCAA Powder or the glutamine, conjugated linoleic acid, and carnitine provided by Pretty Fit BCAA Burn.

Benefits

What woman doesn’t want to get stronger, drop fat mass, and recover better after a taxing workout? That’s exactly what branched chain amino acids can help with.

Though BCAA supplements are usually something that’s associated with weight-lifting enthusiasts, they have benefits that extend across to all categories of fitness.

Amino acids are the basic constituents of protein. There are nine “essential” amino acids, which are named as such because they are necessary for life and your body cannot synthesize them from other components.

Of these nine, three have a special type of structure which gives them the designation of “branched chain amino acids,” or BCAAs. These three amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Given the biological necessity of these proteins, they have been researched as potentially useful supplements for everything from mental performance to liver disease to recovery from surgery.

The benefits of a BCAA supplement are most relevant in three areas: workout performance, workout recovery, and immune function. On the performance front, a 1991 article in the European Journal of Applied Physiology details how BCAAs can improve performance during long cardio sessions (1).

The article details two different experiments in which runners in an 18-mile cross country race and runners in a marathon were given a branched chain amino acid supplement and were evaluated both on their physical performance as well as their mental acuity after completing the race.

The branched chain amino acid supplement improved both aerobic endurance and mental acuity. The authors proposed that the BCAA supplement altered the protein metabolism in the participants of their study, enabling them to function better both physically and mentally during high-demand exercise.

BCAAs might help improve your strength, too. A research paper in the Journal of Nutrition in 2006 demonstrated that availability of branched chain amino acids is a key component in triggering your body to synthesize greater amounts of muscle proteins–the building blocks of greater muscular strength (2).

The authors demonstrate that the presence of leucine, just one of the three branched chain amino acids, is not sufficient–all three need to be present for optimal muscular strength gain benefits.

The findings of this study also suggest that BCAAs might help improve muscle recovery and prevent muscle damage during a tough workout.

This was exactly the finding of a 2012 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (3).

The study used twelve men who were randomly assigned either a BCAA supplement or a placebo and were tasked with completing a set of 100 drop-jumps to induce soreness.

The researchers found that, in the days following the soreness-inducing protocol, those who were taking the branched chain amino acid supplement maintained a greater proportion of their initial strength and reported less delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Another and perhaps more surprising benefit of branched chain amino acid supplementation is that may help you with weight loss. According to a study by researchers at the University of Illinois, leucine–one of the three branched chain amino acids–plays a critical role in regulating insulin use in your body.

Since your insulin levels dictate how well your body burns sugars and carbohydrates for energy, the researchers suggest that increased levels of leucine could decrease insulin resistance and stabilize blood glucose levels during periods where your carbohydrate intake is low (as it probably will be if you are losing weight) (4).

While direct experimental trials on BCAAs as a weight loss supplement haven’t been conducted, it might prove to be a useful adjunct to your weight loss routine, especially in conjunction with exercise.

Recent scientific research has also looked into whether BCAAs can improve your immune function. This seems to be the case–research published in the Journal of Nutrition detailed several pieces of evidence supporting the idea that higher branched chain amino acid levels are good for immune function (5).

The paper notes that immune cells use BCAAs as a part of their cellular structure, and also cites studies on post-surgical patients which connect BCAA supplementation with improved immune function. Could a BCAA supplement help you stay healthy? It looks like a very real possibility.

BCAAs help your body adapt to high altitudes. If you’re an avid hiker, backpacker, or mountain climber, you know that exposure to high altitudes can take a real toll on your body.

Periods of several days at high altitude, particularly when accompanied by the kind of physical exertion that you get when you are hiking, backpacking, or climbing, can spur your body to absorb muscle tissue, leading to decreases in muscle strength. A study published by researchers in Italy and Switzerland and published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology tested whether a BCAA supplement could help prevent some of these changes (6).

The researchers used a group of subjects who were undertaking a 21-day trek at over 10,000 feet of elevation above sea level. The subjects were randomly assigned to either an 11.5 gram BCAA supplement, or a placebo, and the researchers tracked the muscular cross sectional area before and after the trekking trip.

The researchers found that the group of hikers taking the BCAA supplement experienced a smaller loss in muscle strength and muscular cross-sectional area. Thanks to these results, you might want to pack a BCAA supplement for your next hiking, skiing, or backpacking trip, if it’s going to take you to high elevations.

Side effects

Since they are a natural component of many different foods, branched chain amino acids have an excellent safety profile.

You’re no more likely to suffer negative effects from branched chain amino acid intake than you are from chicken, egg, or fish intake (given that these foods are high in BCAA content).

The only thing you should watch out for is your intake of any other ingredients in your BCAA supplement. Some contain other supplements, like beta alanine, which can cause side effects like tingling and flushing when their dosage exceeds a certain threshold.

In this case, you’ll have to check your ingredients list closely, and if you are having trouble with side effects, opt for a branched chain amino acid supplement that has a cleaner and simpler design.

Recommended dosage

In research studies, the typical dose of a branched chain amino acid supplement ranges from 5 grams per day to 10 grams per day.

Often, studies will scale this according to body weight, so that heavier participants in a study will receive a greater amount of BCAAs to account for their greater mass.

As far as the optimal ratio of the three branched chain amino acids relative to each other, the best evidence supports a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. This was derived mostly from clinical experience treating patients with liver disease, and was later tested in bodybuilders (7).

Still, it’s an extremely difficult topic to research, and small deviations from this ratio (e.g. 3:2:1) are not likely to make a big difference as long as your overall intake of BCAAs is high enough.

The real key is to ensure your overall dosage is high, and to make sure you are getting a reasonable amount of each of the three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

FAQ

Q: How should women use BCAA pills?

A: Dosing with BCAA is pretty straightforward: for optimal performance results, you should shoot for enough BCAA pills for five to ten grams per day.

In capsule form, you don’t need to worry much about delivery; you can just take the capsules with a glass of water. Spreading your dosage out for the day tends to deliver a more even dosage, but if you are looking for workout benefits, you should be taking your BCAAs right before, or right after your workout.

This is in contrast with taking BCAAs for weight loss, where you want to take a solid dosage in the morning, afternoon, and evening to best leverage the appetite suppressant and thermogenic effects of BCAA pills for women.

Q: When should women take BCAAs?

A: The timing of a BCAA supplement depends on your overall goals. Are you trying to boost workout recovery? In this case, you want to take your BCAA supplement as soon as possible after finishing your workout.

Are you trying to prevent soreness from a difficult training session? If so, you should take your BCAA supplement right before your workout.

On the other hand, if you are looking to lose weight, the best option is to spread your dosage out throughout the day. The difference between taking BCAAs for weight loss and taking BCAAs for workout benefits is that you are taking advantage of fundamentally different properties of the amino acids.

For workout related purposes, you are using the amino acids to directly repair your muscles, while for weight loss, you are leaning on the slower and more energy-intensive digestion process that is required for branched chain amino acids, plus the appetite suppressant effects of the amino acids.

Q: Should women who want to tone up and lose weight take BCAAs?

A: Yes, BCAAs are great for both toning up and losing weight. Supplementation with branched chain amino acids is a great way to decrease your appetite and increase your energy expenditure, which provides a two-pronged approach for losing weight.

At the same time, branched chain amino acids are great for toning up, as they have been proven to help repair muscle and increase muscular strength.

The lower total protein content and the focus on only branched chain amino acids, versus protein overall, will help make sure that you don’t bulk up too much, as you might if you were taking a standard protein powder for women or a mass gainer.

Q: Should you drink your BCAAs before or after a workout?

A: The precise timing of BCAA supplementation depends on your goals. Do you want to reduce muscular damage and soreness during your workout? In this case, research suggests that you should take a BCAA supplement before working out—anywhere from an hour before to right before.

On the flip side, if your goal is to optimize your strength gains, some muscle damage during the workout is desirable. If that’s your goal, take your BCAA supplement after you work out (within 30 minutes of finishing).

This will allow your muscles to get the stimulus they need during your workout, but also supply them with the building blocks they need to repair themselves afterwards.

Q: How much BCAAs is too much for women?

A: Since BCAA supplements have been repeatedly demonstrated to be safe, even in fairly high doses, the issue of taking “too much” of a BCAA supplement is less about safety and more about diminishing returns in terms of efficacy. On the scientific research front, there aren’t any solid studies that support doses of more than about ten grams of BCAAs per day.

Beyond that threshold, you’ve quite likely ventured into diminishing or nonexistent return territory. This means that you are just going through your BCAA supplement supply faster, without any additional benefits. Most of the research points to a dose more along the lines of five to ten grams of BCAAs per day, whether they come in pill or capsule form.

Q: What do BCAAs do for women?

A: Women in particular can benefit from BCAAs on two fronts. First, because of their vastly lower levels of testosterone, women can have a harder time building and maintaining muscle mass.

If a woman is trying to get toned or get stronger, a BCAA can help shore up this drawback, since the branched chain amino acids in BCAA supplements are used directly by your body to build stronger muscles.

Second, women also have a harder time keeping their energy expenditure high enough to drop body fat. BCAAs, thanks to the increase in caloric expenditure they generate during digestion, can help address this issue as well.

Q: Are BCAAs safe for women?

A: BCAAs are found naturally in foods like milk, beef, eggs, chicken, and lima beans, so a BCAA supplement poses no more risk than any of these foods. BCAAs have been successfully used in health, performance, and medical research without any reports of adverse effects attributed to BCAA supplementation.

One thing to watch out for, though, is the presence of other compounds in a BCAA-focused supplement. Sometimes, more general pre-workout supplements might have ingredients like caffeine, guarana, or other stimulants which do have documented side effects. Check the ingredients to make sure there aren’t any ancillary ingredients which could could cause problems for you.

Q: How do BCAAs work?

A: Branched chain amino acids are special for a few reasons. Like any other amino acid, branched chain amino acids have the advantages of promoting thermogenesis through energy that needs to be expended to break down the chemical bonds that keep them together.

Additionally, BCAAs promote satiety, which is a trait they share with all other essential amino acids. But, moreover, BCAAs promote better control of insulin levels, because leucine, isoleucine, and valine are uniquely involved in the regulation of blood sugar levels in your body.

BCAAs also play a particularly important role in muscle tissue synthesis and repair, which is why there is a large amount of research focused on using BCAAs to promote athletic gains following a workout, or prevent muscle damage during the workout.

Given the more sophisticated role of BCAAs in the body compared to a plain old protein supplement, they’ve been explored for more unique applications as well.

Take, for example, research on using BCAAs to prevent muscle loss during trips to high altitude. While the exact mechanism by which this works is unknown, the targeted effects of BCAAs on muscle likely have a lot to do with their efficacy in this situation.

Q: Can BCAAs for women give you more energy?

A: BCAAs are common ingredients in energy drinks, but their direct energy benefits when taken alone are less well-studied.

Proteins in general, and amino acids in particular, aren’t usually the first choice when it comes to providing energy, because they don’t have a direct stimulus effect on your body like caffeine does, and while you can burn branched chain amino acids for energy, the energy you get from them isn’t delivered nearly as quickly as it would be from sugar or complex carbohydrates.

Nevertheless, BCAAs can be a good add-on for women who want to stabilize their energy levels, on top of a shake or smoothie with more traditional energizing ingredients like matcha or ginseng.

Related articles

Recap

Branched chain amino acids are great for improving performance in endurance workouts, increasing strength gains, and fighting off soreness and poor performance after a tough workout.

Women will especially like the blood sugar stabilizing effect that BCAAs seem to have when you are on a restricted diet, since this will help improve your mood, reduce food cravings, and keep you feeling good during exercise.

A BCAA supplement could even improve your immune function, helping fight off infection. If all of these are goals you’d like to achieve, a branched chain amino acid supplement might be exactly what you need.

For BodyNutrition‘s #1 BCAAs for women recommendation, click here.

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John Davis

John Davis is a Minneapolis-based health and fitness writer with over 7 years of experience researching the science of high performance athletics, long-term health, nutrition, and wellness. As a trained scientist, he digs deep into the medical, nutritional, and epidemiological literature to uncover the keys to healthy living through better nutrition.