Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are one of the most widely used supplements on the market. Their benefits include immunine system support and reducing fatigue. Both of which are key to athletic performance. With so many difference BCAA products on the market, how do you know which is right for you, or if you would even benefit from taking additional BCAA?
First let’s look at what certain BCAAs do. I’m going to do my best to explain this in plain English and use as little scientific terminology as possible, to make the explanation as basic as possible. The important BCAAs I want to address in this article are : L-leucine, L-valine, L-isoleucine, and L-Glutamine.  In my opinion these are the ones that are MOST beneficial to my specific clients.
When L-leucine, L-valine, L-isoleucine are present in the blood, they help to maintain plasma glutamine levels and production of interleukin-1. Basically, the interleukin-1 supports the immune system, and the added Glutamine helps to maintain muscle proteins. Most people know that while regular exercise IS healthy and necessary for the body, over time the stress of intense training can wear down the immune system. This leads to one question I get a lot of over the winter: “I’m in much better shape now but I got sick for the first time in years, why?”  Well, to bluntly answer that, your body is stressed from intense exercise and it’s not properly fueled for recovery, so your immune system is weakened. So let’s address this issue.
One thing that can be done to combat the weakening of your immune system from strenuous exercise is to increase the amount of glutamine present in your system, since glutamine levels are directly correlated to immune function. So, will taking a glutamine supplement prevent you from catching a cold? No, but it will ensure your immune system is stronger to fight off that cold better than it could without the additional glutamine. Basically, if you don’t have enough glutamine in your system you can experience muscle catabolism, which will lead to a weaker immune system. Glutamine is not expensive and sold in every nutrition store, and also comes in just about every BCAA supplement I’ve researched. Now you’re probably thinking, great I can go buy a bottle of glutamine powder and my chance of getting sick is lower; which isn’t exactly true. It’ll simply just help your immune system fight off invasion, but not totally prevent you from getting sick.
So why not just take a glutamine supplement? why get a bcaa supplement instead? Remember when I mentioned reducing fatigue?  We aren’t talking about being able to train extra crazy lengths, or lift 20 more kilos, but if your body has enough BCAAs present in the blood stream, it can and will delay fatigue. If you don’t have enough BCAAs in your system, enough meaning more BCAAs in your blood than 5-hydroxytryptomine while exercising, it will result in greater serotoninergic neurotransmitter activity, which causes fatigue. Therefore, while exercising, if you want to maximize your workout results, it is important to ensure you have an adequate amount of BCAAs.
So how do you know what BCAA product to buy?  Having to state the obvious first, make sure it’s from a reputable brand. Supplements are not approved or inspected by the FDA so you can never really be sure what’s in that powder your mixing in with your water. However, the big name supplement brands are big name brands for a reason. They’re in business and have lots of sales because their products work, and people trust them. So for starters, don’t buy any supplement from that Instagram celebrity promoting their product. Get something that’s reputable. Secondly, read the label. If it has. The four BCAAs I mentioned in this article and those are the main ingredients (first ones listed on the label) you’re probably good to go. Personally, I use two brands of BCAA, Optimum Nutrition and FNX-FIT. I have taken the Optimum Nutrition product for years, probably since 2010ish.  It’s a great brand, and has exactly what most people need. It’s also energy formulated with a good amount of caffeine (about what a cup of coffee has if you take the full serving). I recently started taking the FNX-FIT on heavy load days because it’s formulated for higher level athletes (specifically it has higher amounts of L-Leucine, L-Valine and L-Isoleucine which is better for high intensity days) and I use the Optimum Nutrition on on rest days or lighter training days.  I haven’t been doing that long enough to really see any different results between the two brands, but they both taste great. Ultimately, after looking for a reputable brand, examining the labels it will come down to price. There’s not really any going wrong with taking a BCAA supplement though.

If you have any questions regarding BCAAs or other nutritional questions, I do offer nutrition guidence consultations. To schedule a consultation or nutrition review, please email or book on

*** This is intended as a general explanation of the key BCAAs to take while doing high intensity training. The opinions on brands are based on the author’s own experience and are not intended to be an all inclusive list. Coach Chris is a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition and Certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and was named Best Nutrition Coach in Altamta by Best Self Atlanta Magazine (Sep 2018). If you have exceeding medical conditions please consult a Registered Dietition or medical doctor before taking ANY supplements. (15% discount with code: FNXCoachCris