No supplement regimen is complete without a good protein powder, and there’s a good chance you already have your post-workout fix locked down. But when it comes to building a more well-rounded and complex stack of supplements, a great place to start is with branched-chain amino acids (also known as BCAAs).
First, a quick science lesson: all proteins are made up of 20 different amino acids. Your body can’t make nine of these amino acids, which means you can only get them in your system through a proper diet. Of those nine, three are called “branched-chain” amino acids: valine, leucine and isoleucine. They’re primarily found in protein-heavy foods but are also available isolated as a supplement.
There are several vital benefits to BCAAs. They aid significantly in the recovery process, especially when it comes to decreasing muscle soreness. Incorporating BCAAs into your diet will also contribute to muscle growth and prevent muscle wasting. And they reduce muscle fatigue, meaning you can go at it harder and longer at the gym. Unlike pre-workout supplements and protein powder, which should be taken before and after workouts respectively, BCAAs can be taken before, during or after workouts and provide the same benefits all around. They’re available as a separate supplement or as an additive to other supplements like protein powder.
Here are some of the top BCAA supplements personal trainers embrace.
Neil Thomas, a trainer located in Richmond, Virginia, sticks with Clean Machine’s Clean BCAA. “I’m always quick to jump ship and try something new with supplements, but [they’re] the one I go back to the most,” he says. He first tried the brand when preparing for a deadlift meet a few years ago, and he stuck with it when he noticed notable gains during his prep: “I used it with a turmeric and ginger green tea, and saw solid gains that I don’t notice with other supplements.”
Clean Machine is also a favorite of Shauna Godwin, a trainer who operates out of Boone, North Carolina. Shauna sticks with Clean Machine because of their transparency regarding the sourcing of their ingredients. Their BCAAs are 100 percent natural, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and devoid of artificial flavors. “I love knowing where my BCAAs come from,” she notes, citing studies that have shown certain brands deriving their product from less-than-savory sources.
Josh Habeck of Root 18 Crossfit keeps caffeine out of his diet, so he had some trouble finding a BCAA that worked for him as many products on the market come caffeinated. Eventually, he stuck with a brand called Alani Nu, which makes BCAAs in a variety of flavors. “I’ve tried pretty much everything out there, and this is the only one I like,” he says. Habeck notes that Alani Nu BCAAs are super effective and don’t utilize caffeine, making them ideal for his supplement regimen.
A London-based trainer, Izzie von Köhler, lives a vegan lifestyle. As such, finding an effective supplement regimen that didn’t come loaded with sugar or make for grainy, lumpy mixes was a challenge. She eventually found Vivolife supplements and has stuck with them ever since. Von Köhler’s BCAA fix comes from her Vivolife protein powders, which are derived from hemp and split pea. It’s 100 percent vegan, and a great way to get both protein and BCAAs all in one (the average serving contains 25 grams of protein and 6 grams BCAA). “It’s all raw and bio-fermented, so I never feel bloated after taking it,” she says. That Vivolife only sweetens their products with stevia makes them all the more appealing to athletes looking to cut out sugar.
Long Island-based trainer Kevin Wasson gets his BCAA fix through Xtend BCAAs. “They’ve been my go-to for a while,” he says. The brand’s BCAA powder comes in with a whopping 7 grams of BCAAs per serving, which helps Wasson’s strength gains and recovery greatly. X-TEND is also full of electrolytes, which he finds beneficial to his hydration during especially intense workouts.
Redcon1 Breach Branch Chained Amino Acids
Freddy Vidal is not only a personal trainer but also a high school wrestling and football coach. As such, he’s an extremely active guy who can’t afford to let soreness or a lack of energy get in the way of his workouts. To combat those hangups, he takes Redcon1’s Breach BCAAs. “So many BCAAs just have this chalky texture when you take them, you know?” he says, “But it’s never been an issue with Breach.” It’s available in six delicious flavors, but Vidal recommends Watermelon or Strawberry Kiwi.