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.
1. Kaged Muscle Fermented BCAA Powder
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. Because of its simplicity and advanced formulation, it’s a clear winner.
2. Optimum Nutrition BCAA Caps
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.
3. Nutricost BCAA
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.
4. PrettyFit BCAA Burn
Given the name, you might expect this to be a stimulant-packed weight loss powder, but it’s actually a very reasonable pre-workout BCAA supplement designed especially for women.
With 2:1:1 leucine, isoleucine, and valine ratios, plus the three-way combination of glutamine, conjugated linoleic acid, and carnitine, Pretty Fit BCAA Burn increases your caloric expenditure in your workout by increasing your physical performance and shifting your body’s caloric consumption towards burning more fat.
5. Her Aminos by NLA for Her
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.
6. FitGirl RecovHer
FitGirl uses a 2:1:1 ratio for its branched chain amino acids and packs in a small amount of electrolytes alongside the BCAAs and a newer pre-workout supplement called betaine–a derivative of sugar beets that’s thought to increase power output.
It uses a bitter blocker to prevent the astringent taste that you can get with BCAAs, making it a good choice if other BCAA supplements leave an awful taste in your mouth.
7. BPI Sports Best BCAA
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.
8. FitMiss Women’s BCAA Powder
FitMiss is a pretty straight mix of the three key branched chain amino acids your body needs: leucine, valine, and isoleucine. These are provided in a 3:2:1 ratio.
The main downside is the excess of ingredients like sucralose (an artificial sweetener) and artificial flavorings, which hurt it on the purity front.
9. Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder
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
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.
You’ll have to be resupplying a lot if you go with this supplement and you want any reasonable level of BCAA supplementation.
Part Two: Benefits and side effects of branched chain amino acids for women
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.
For most people, however, 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.
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.
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 (6).
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.
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.