Labdoor analyzed 24 best-selling BCAA supplements in the United States. Our analysis quantified levels of individual amino acids, minerals, and heavy metals (antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, and silver).
Valine was the most commonly overstated active ingredient in this category. 17 out of 24 products overstated valine content, measuring on average 30.2% less valine compared to label claims. 16 products overstated isoleucine content, measuring on average 28.5% less isoleucine vs. label claims. Leucine content deviated from label claims an average of 21.2%.
Samples of every BCAA supplement passed all six heavy metal assays. Products received reduced Ingredient Safety ratings for the presence of key watchlist ingredients, including artificial sweeteners (acesulfame potassium, sucralose) and coloring agents (FD&C Red No. 40, titanium dioxide).
16 of 24 tested products recorded less isoleucine than claimed. 9 of those products measured 75% or less of their claimed isoleucine content.
Tested products recorded significant label claim variances for branched-chain amino acid content. On average, products deviated from label claims for leucine content by 21.2%, from isoleucine label claims by 26.2%, and from valine label claims by 56.2%.
17 of 24 tested products recorded less valine content than claimed, 3 of which recorded less than 70% of the valine that was claimed on the label. 17 products recorded less leucine content than claimed, 5 of which recorded less than 70% of the leucine that was claimed. 16 products recorded less isoleucine content than claimed, 8 of which recorded less than 70% of the isoleucine that was claimed.
All 24 BCAA supplements tested in this batch passed heavy metal screens for arsenic, lead, cadmium, bismuth, antimony, and silver (below 1 PPM).
All products in this report were screened by Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP)-based techniques for the presence of heavy metals. Samples of each product passed all six heavy metals assays, indicating that samples contained under 1 PPM (parts per million) each of arsenic, lead, cadmium, bismuth, antimony, and silver compounds.
No products were found to contain added sugars or fats.
Labdoor's Nutritional Value calculations are largely based on macronutrient ratios, with added sugars, sodium, and cholesterol being penalized in this rating. Most BCAA supplements recorded low values across the board here.
6 of the 24 tested products had significant quantities of vitamin B6 and 2 products recorded significant amounts of vitamin E. Iron was the most commonly added mineral in BCAA supplements, present in 12 products, followed by calcium, in 9 products.
A small percentage of tested BCAA supplements recorded low ingredient safety scores due to the addition of controversial artificial colors and sweeteners.
The estimated Tolerable Upper Limit (UL) for BCAA intake is set at 500 mg/kg bodyweight (~35 g/daily for average weight males), based on graded intakes of leucine (50 - 1250 mg/kg bodyweight) in young, healthy males. Intake in excess of this limit has been shown to cause an increase in serum ammonia. No tested products exceeded this limit in our batch analysis: the largest quantity was seen in Legends Body Sports Smart Recovery, which recorded 8.31 g of BCAA content per serving.
5 products recorded natural and/or artificial flavors. 8 products contained either acesulfame potassium or sucralose, artificial sweeteners. 3 products used the artificial coloring agent, FD&C Red 40, linked to allergies and hyperactivity. 2 products used titanium dioxide, a whitening agent classified as “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the US FDA despite being linked to cancer and neurological damage.
The average supplement recorded 3750.9 mg of BCAA content, at a 2.4:1:1.1 ratio of leucine:isoleucine:valine.
BCAA intake has been shown to enhance muscle growth in those with low dietary protein intake and stave off fatigue during prolonged exercise in untrained/lightly-trained individuals. However, many protein sources (including meat and eggs) are naturally rich in BCAA content; supplementation may be unnecessary for those consuming adequate quantities of protein (1-1.5 g/kg/day).
The standard dosage for leucine is 2-10 g and that of isoleucine is 48-72 mg/kg of body-weight (3.4 - 5.04 g; assuming a non-obese individual). Studies doses in the context of muscle mass gain and fat loss include 4 g of isolated leucine daily for 12 weeks in untrained men given a workout program (result: increased power output, no change in fat mass and lean mass relative to placebo) and 14 g BCAA daily for 8 weeks in trained men performing routine resistance training (result: increased muscle mass gains and fat loss). The latter study was funded by Scivation, a supplement manufacturer, included supplementation with glutamine and citrulline, and lacked a documented/controlled diet regimen; therefore, results are promising but not conclusive. Additionally, 100 mg/kg of BCAA’s in a 2:1:1 ratio favoring leucine given to 12 untrained women prior to high volume squat exercises lead to reduced soreness when measured 2 days post-exercise. Evidence is also promising that BCAA supplementation prior to aerobic exercise (high doses for prolonged activity such as hiking) may reduce mental and physical fatigue; this effect seems to occur primarily in untrained or light trained people.
The average product contained 3750.9 mg of BCAA content, consisting of 1494.2 mg of leucine, 613.1 mg of isoleucine, and 659.8 mg of valine. This follows a 2.4:1:1.1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. Generally, dose depends on individual goals, though leucine is typically favored due to its role in cellular protein synthesis. Optimal ratios require further research. Worst offender in this category: Ultrachamp Fitness & Lifestyle Powerflex BCAA, recording just 57.0 mg of leucine, 12.0 mg of valine, and no isoleucine content.