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What are BCAAs?

The following essential amino acids are the three Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs: Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine.


BCAAs are a popular and widely available fitness supplement. They are particularly famous in body-building and other sports which require growth of strong muscle tissue.

The body cannot synthesise BCAAs. Therefore we meet our body’s requirements via foods containing protein and supplements. For this reason, scientists class them as essential amino acids.

BCAAs play a pivotal role in human metabolism and are useful in the treatment of liver cirrhosis and in intensive care.


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More about valine…

The branched-chain amino acid valine has industrial applications in the fermentation of alcoholic beverages. It is also a central building block of many important enzymes. It supports the body’s energy provisioning processes and therefore plays an important role in building physical strength and muscle mass.

Foods containing large amounts of valine are very popular with athletes and especially body builders, who aim to accelerate muscle hypertrophy (growth).

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More about leucine…

Leucine plays a central role in the metabolism of muscle tissue. It therefore contributes to both its generation and preservation. It is an important building block for many proteins and therefore supports various healing processes.

Adults should consume 10 to 50 mg of L-leucine per kilo of body weight. A deficiency, however, can be caused by an undersupply of vitamin B6.

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More about isoleucine…

Similarly, the BCAA isoleucine plays a pivotal role in the energy supply of muscle tissue. This is particularly critical during periods of intense exercise or acute hunger.

Unless present in sufficient quantity in the blood, the body will access its storage reserves of isoleucine. This will inevitably lead to a reduction of muscle mass. Athletes trying to build muscle mass need to avoid this effect.

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Top 11 Benefits

  • BCAAs enhance muscle protein synthesis. This results in greater muscle hypertrophy (growth) and maintenance of lean muscle mass during non-training periods. This happens especially when consumed with amino acids including alanine, aspartate and glutamate.
  • Leucine-enriched BCAA mixtures enhance muscle building for older trainees who aim to put on muscle1. The most effective ratio for muscle growth is 2:1:1 of leucine to valine and isoleucine.
  • BCAAs increase fat burning (leucine) and glucose tolerance (isoleucine) for a leaner body composition2
  • They improve hormone balance for greater strength, power and endurance. This happens by increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol in addition to reducing inflammation3.
  • BCAAs may improve strength development with training when more than 4g per day of leucine is consumed, because it increases neuromuscular coordination4.
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  • BCAAs enhance strength, endurance and decrease fatigue. This is because the body burns BCAAs as energy to replenish ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) levels. This is the prime energy molecule in the human body. They also delay fatigue by inhibiting tryptophan receptors in the brain.
  • They preserve the integrity of muscle fibres. This decreases muscle soreness and allows you to train more frequently5.
  • BCAAs reduce muscle catabolism (degradation) by protecting lean muscle tissue. This also prevents muscle mass reduction in endurance sports, where BCAA levels in blood plasma can drop significantly6.
  • BCAAs improve insulin health and metabolic rate for an advantageous body composition. This improved insulin sensitivity may also reduce the risk of diabetes7.
  • BCAAs have anti-ageing properties because they are used in cancer8 and liver disease treatment strategies9. They increase the formation of new mitochondria and thus reduce age related muscle loss10.
  • BCAAs improve cognition, because of their enhancing effect on neurotransmitters and glutamate synthesis 11, 12.

Uses of BCAAs

Muscle energy

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Unlike most amino acids, the body metabolises BCAAs predominantly in the muscles and not in the liver. This is why they are so important in the energy supply of muscle tissue.

They are also useful in treating protein tissue reducing conditions such as tumours. This is because they reduce the natural amino acid catabolism or break down. In chronic liver conditions a sufficient supply of BCAAs is critical, because it can stop the transfer of potential harmful substances from the blood to the brain.

Leucine in particular plays a vital role in the generation and preservation of muscle tissue. It does this by supporting protein synthesis in the muscle and liver. At the same time, it blocks the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Furthermore it regulates the energy supply of the body and plays a part in the synthesis of glucose. Therefore scientists recommend taking BCAA supplements during low carbohydrate diets.

Valine is important in the biosynthesis of protein and the proper conversion of food into energy. This means it is an important muscle nutrient and professional athletes regularly take it in the form of supplements.

Insulin production

BCAAs also stimulate the production of insulin. This controls the blood sugar level and accelerates the absorption of amino acids in the muscles and liver. Supplying the body with too little L-valine can result in disruptive growth and reduction of muscle tissue.

Isoleucine is also a crucial building block for protein synthesis. It can significantly aid the energy supply of the mitochondria, which are the power plants inside each cell. BCAAs also have a role in the consistent maintenance of nitrogen levels inside the body.

Additionally, they are important for the generation of new tissue. This means that BCAAs support healthy growth, especially in children and adolescents. In the very rare case of an overdose, the body excretes this compound in urine.


Scientists recently investigated the effect of leucine supplements on protein synthesis in older patients. The group was given four grams of L-Leucine per day with their meals. They found that the supplements resulted in improved protein synthesis and parallel phosphorylation of particular dietary neurotransmitters important in nutrition 13.

Therefore building muscle tissue is not only relevant for bodybuilders. It is also important for more mature people, who intend to lead an active anti-ageing lifestyle and eat and supplement according to their metabolic needs.

In 2010 a study showed the relationship between a daily supply of BCAAs and a subject’s individual body weight based on BMI (Body-Mass-Index). Specifically, scientists found that a high BCAA concentration correlates with a low occurrence of a fatty heart. This showed that appropriate supplementation can have an extremely positive effect on the subject’s general health14.

BCAAs and amino acids in general play an important role in healthy, sustainable weight loss. Furthermore, it has been shown that an insufficient supply of BCAAs can contribute towards diabetes 15.

The same researchers showed that additional supplementation of L-Leucine, L-Valine and L-Isoleucine can stimulate the production of insulin in existing cases of diabetes. This therefore contributes towards improving the general condition of these patients. Scientists have found similar results in studies looking at links between L-Arginine und L-Carnitine and diabetes.

Dietary sources

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Branched chain amino acids are present mainly in protein rich foods and make up three out of the eight essential amino acids. With a balanced and healthy diet it should be no problem to cover the body’s daily minimum requirements. Certain factors, however, can radically increase this minimum requirement to the extent that supplementation becomes necessary.

Foods particularly rich in leucine are beef (approx. 1690 mg / 100 g), raw salmon (approx. 1615 mg / 100 g), eggs (approx. 1090 mg / 100 g) and wheat products (approx. 920 mg / 100 g). Valine und isoleucine are also present in significant amounts in meat and other animal produce.

Dried peas (approx. 1160 mg / 100 g) and walnuts (approx. 750 mg / 100 g) are particularly good for vegetarians with their high BCAA concentration.

Meat eaters will get large amounts of their minimum daily requirement from chicken breast (approx. 1220 mg / 100 g) and rice (approx. 330 mg / 100 g). A healthy adult needs about 10g per day, but this amount will vary between individuals.


Certain factors can make a deficiency more likely in some people. For example, people on the Flash Diet are more vulnerable. This is because this type of diet drastically reduces the body’s BCAA levels. The body will require urgent replenishment to avoid breaking down muscle tissue to source BCAAs for maintenance or muscle repair elsewhere.

Liver conditions and high intensity exercise will also increase the body’s requirements for leucine, valine and isoleucine. Athletes and patients should therefore consume extra amounts regularly.


If you exercise regularly it is worth considering taking either a dedicated BCAA supplement or consuming them with whey protein powder.

Our team has compared the top 7 whey protein powders to help you find the right one for you:

Read the review here



Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are essential to the human body and critical for muscle hypertrophy (growth) and maintenance. They have a significant positive effect on the generation of various tissues, healing and metabolic processes via the protein synthesis in the liver.

Walnuts and maize as plant-based sources and meat, milk and eggs are most appropriate to cover the recommended daily allowance. If the body does not receive a minimum amount of valine, leucine und isoleucine, which can easily happen in professional athletes, the shortage can easily be compensated for by consuming dietary supplements. These are also beneficial in the prevention and treatment of certain illnesses such as diabetes.

Scientists recommend supplementation especially during periods of highly intensive exercise. This will promote the growth of muscle tissue.

It is also beneficial to use BCAA supplements to complement food during weight-loss diets. This counteracts muscle atrophy as the body may significantly lack certain nutrients. Most of the combination supplements are designed to supply the critical nutrients to the body including valine, leucine and isoleucine. Therefore these are ideal for healthy and sustainable weight loss.


  1. Bajotto, G., Sato, Y., et al. Effect of BCAA Supplementation During Unloading on Regulatory Components of Protein Synthesis in Atrophied Soleus Muscles. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2011. 111, 1815-1828
  2. Glynn, E., Fry, C., Drummond, M., Timmerman, K., Dhanani, S., Volpi, E., Rasmussen, B. Excess Leucine Intake Enhances Muscle Anabolic Signaling but Not Net Protein Anabolism in Young Men and Women. The Journal of Nutrition. 2010. 140(11), 1970-1976.
  3. Sharp, C., Pearson, D. Amino Acid Supplements and Recovery from High-Intensity Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010. 24(4), 1125-1130
  4. Peltier, S., Vincent, L., et al. Effects of Carbohydrates-BCAAs-Caffeine Ingestion on Performance and Neuromuscular Function During a 2-H Treadmill Run. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. December 2011. 8(22)
  5. Sharp, C., Pearson, D. Amino Acid Supplements and Recovery from High Intensity Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010. 140(11), 1970-1976″
  6. Borgenvik, M., Nordin, M., et al. Alterations in Amino Acid Concentrations in the Plasma and Muscle in Human Subjects during 24 Hour of Simulated Adventure Racing. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012
  7. Shah, S., Crosslin, D., et al. BCAA Levels are Associated with Improvement in Insulin Resistance with Weight Loss. Diabetologia. February 2012. 55(2), 321-330
  8. Hayaishi, S., Chung, H., et al. Oral BCAA Granules Reduce the Incidence of Hepatocellular Carcinoma and Improve Event-Free Survival in Patients with Liver Cirrhosis. Digestive Diseases. 2011. 29(3), 326-332
  9. Plauth, M., Schutz, T. BCAAs in Liver Disease: New Aspects of Long Known Phenomena. Current Opinions in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. January 2011. 14(1), 61-66
  10. Walker, D., Dickinson, J., et al. Exercise, Amino Acids, and Aging in the Control of Human Muscle Protein Synthesis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. May 2011. Published Ahead of Print
  11. Valerio, A., D’antona, G., at al. BCAAs, Mitochondrial Biogenesis and Healthspan: An Evolutionary Perspective. Ageing. Max 2011. 3(5), 464-470
  12. Cole, J., Mitala, C., et al. Dietary BCAAs Ameliorate Injury-Induced Cognitive Impairment. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. January 2010. 107(1), 366-371
  13. Casperson SL et al.: L-Leucine supplementation chronically improves muscle protein synthesis in older adults consuming the RDA for Protein; Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb 20
  14. Qin LQ et al.: Higher branched-chain amino acid intake is associated with a lower prevalence of being overweigth or obese in middle-aged east asian and western adults; J Nutr. 2010 Dec 15
  15. Takeshita Y et al.: Beneficial effect of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on diabetes in patients with insulin resistance: Implications for type 2 diabetes. Metabolism. 2012 Apr 19