Before we expose the BCAA game...
...And maybe make you want to upchuck your previously consumed BCAAs, let’s explain what they are. Leucine, Iso-leucine, and Valine—or better known as BCAAs—are one of the nutrient compounds that most of the public doesn’t know about but almost every person in the fitness world uses.
The reason so many people use BCAAs is simply that they work. The problem is a dirty little secret in the industry that most companies don’t want you to know. Before we get to that, here is a little background on BCAAs.
BCAA stands for Branch Chain Amino Acids. Research from the journal of sports nutrition shows that taking Leucine, Iso-Leucine, and valine.BCAAs help:
- Decrease body fat percentage
- Help with lean muscle gains especially on lower calorie eating plans
- improve time to exhaustion during workouts
- Increases mental focus while working out
It is important to have BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio in favor of Leucine because the research showing BCAAs’ benefits mentioned are in this ratio. Researchers realized early on that Leucine balanced a little higher created more benefit. Don’t be fooled by higher ratios because the balance needs to be close.
FITNESS INDUSTRY’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS ABOUT BCAAs
HERE'S THE SECRET:
You don’t have to be a plant-based eater or vegetarian to appreciate this secret and want to make sure you are consuming only fermented, vegan-friendly BCAAs from now on. Here is the big, hairy coverup:
How are BCAAs produced?
The main source is keratin. We are talking about keratin protein from your hair follicles. BCAA powder is made from a very concentrated natural source of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Solvents are used to extract BCAAs from the keratin.
Now, here is the crazy part of the secret, but make sure you are sitting down because it is like walking in on your grandparents' bedroom at the wrong time. You can’t unsee what you saw.
1. Human hair from cadaver (dead people) scalps.
And you thought you were not a cannibal. Most bodybuilding enthusiasts actually are and didn’t even know it! And that’s not the worst part. You won’t believe this but human hair is allowed to be marketed as a vegetarian source of BCAAs since it doesn’t come from an animal. It is cheaper to use human hair and since it can be labeled vegetarian, it’s a win-win for unscrupulous supplement companies.
2. Duck feathers
Although most manufacturers try to keep their actual source of the keratin secret, industry insiders feel that, besides human hair, the majority of products use ducks, chickens, and other bird feathers.
3. Pig hair and skin
Although not as popular as human hair and feathers, both outer layers of skin and the hairs on a pig are rich sources of keratin as well.
The Process of Making Plant-Based (vegan-fermented) BCAAs vs. Other BCAAs
Any time you use an animal or human form of keratin, it requires extensive use of solvents and other chemicals to separate the amino acids from the dead tissue, which runs the risk of scarring the amino structure and getting contaminants in the powder. When you look at Certificates of Analysis, there is never a 100% listing. That means other things besides the BCAAs are present. Could it be a little part of someone?
Plant-based BCAAs are made using fermentation. This uses a friendly probiotic bacteria and a plant to create concentrated sources of Leucine, Iso-leucine, and Valine. The fermentation process is done at 30ºC (86ºF). Since it is NOT cooked or processed at or above 118ºF this means it is still a raw product. Raw BCAAs absorb so much better than their cooked counterparts.
ABSORPTION—Instantize It, Baby!
Does the BCAA powder itself get absorbed? This is a very important subject and one that holds true not only with BCAAs but also other powders like Creatine. The key is looking for the word “instantized” on the labels. This means the powder granules are in the smallest form available and are instantly dissolved in liquid. Other forms have a chance to not be absorbed at all.
Although we are talking BCAAs, it is easier to explain this referring to creatine monohydrate. Regular Creatine Monohydrate is made using a 60-80 mesh size, which means it is not very soluble. Micronized Creatine Monohydrate came out because people realized their powder wasn’t mixing well and tasted like sand. They started micronizing it into a 200 mesh and is much more soluble and mixes easier. Instantized Creatine Monohydrate uses a 500+ mesh and is completely soluble, which no other Creatine Monohydrate can claim.
WHAT ABOUT FLAVORINGS, COLORS, AND SWEETENERS?
If your gut tells you that artificial dyes, sweeteners like Sucralose, aspartame, and others along with other artificial ingredients are bad for you, you have a good gut feel.To save time just google color dyes like red or blue. What you will find is that these dyes that make many of the BCAA formulas pretty colors also affect the brain and nerve function. Here is one short study from the US national library of medicine.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957945/ The bottom line is that dyes do not help with your gains and could possibly hurt. You already get enough from other sources. Why add to it?
Artificial sugars like Sucralose and aspartame have proven university research showing they can wipe out your friendly probiotics in your gut and cause all kinds of problems with your immune system. Studies show that Sucralose can kill off 50% of your friendly probiotics your body uses to help assimilate nutrients, make key vitamins, and keep your immune system strong. It has also been implicated in Hashimoto's disease, which we have seen within our own staff. When the artificial sweetener was cut out, the thyroid enzyme numbers returned to normal. Obviously thyroid problems don’t happen to everyone but why take the chance when you don’t have to?
WHAT ABOUT DOSAGE?
Research shows that taking 5-10 grams during your workouts is most beneficial. Many people take 5 grams upon waking and right before bed in order to take advantage of keeping the body anabolic.
BCAA Supplement Reviews
Since this subject is near and dear to us and fitness enthusiasts, we have sourced a plant-based BCAA that is fermented and vegan. It is simply called “Plant-Based BCAAs”. It is a RAW product and GMO-free. It contains no fillers, dyes or sweeteners.
Most customers add a few drops of our organic CRANVIA, which is a cranberry/stevia, liquid or just mix it with their favorite liquid. Since there are no middlemen and we don’t sell to stores, our pricing makes it affordable to all fitness enthusiasts.
Gains in Bulk Plant Based BCAA’s
RAW, Non-GMO, Gluten-free, Vegan
Cost $30.00 per 100 – 5-gram servings
.30 cents per 5-gram serving.
To help you decide what product works best for you, we have compiled a list of other BCAA supplements that are not fermented (think hair) and also ones that are with a price comparison per gram of 2:1:1 BCAAs. This way you can make an informed decision on what form and product you use.
The following brands are NOT fermented and are derived from either feathers or hair. If you have decided to stay away from these sources, DO NOT USE THESE. If you are ok with it, here ya go.
Optimum Nutrition – BCAA 5000 Powder*
Offered in both artificially sweetened flavors (with sucralose) and unflavored options. Provides a 2:1:1 ratio and 5 grams per serving. Source of BCAAs is hair or animal.
Cost $24.55 for 60 servings
$0.41 per 5-gram serving (this is for unflavored option)
Evlution Nutrition – BCAA 5000*
“Ultra-premium” BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio and 5 grams per serving. All flavored options are artificially sweetened with Sucralose. They do offer an unflavored option. Source of BCAAs is hair or animal. It is gluten-free.
Cost $19.99 for 60 servings
$0.33 per 5-gram serving(this is for unflavored option)
BSN – AMINOx*
Contains 10 grams of “Anabolic Amino Acid Interfusion” per serving. Interfusion contains Micronized BCAA Blend of 6 different amino acids, 3 of which include Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Offers several artificially flavored options (flavored with sucralose) and an unflavored option. Unflavored option also contains 500IU Vitamin D (as Cholecalciferol). Source of BCAAs is hair or animal.
Cost $19.99 for 30 servings
$0.36 per 5-gram serving (this is for unflavored option)
Bodybuilding.com – Signature BCAA*
BCAAs in a 3:1:1 ratio and 5 grams per serving. All flavors are artificially flavored with sucralose and they do not offer an unflavored option. Source of BCAAs is hair or animal.
Cost $17.99 for 30 servings
$0.60 per 5-gram serving
These formulas are fermented and are vegan from everything we can determine. Next to them are online prices compared to Gains in Bulks Plant-Based BCAAs.
1 up vegan BCAA*
This is a vegan formula with a 2:1:1 ratio and 5 grams per serving. You just don’t know where the natural flavor comes from but overall good product.
Cost $43.00 for 30 – 5-gram servings
$1.43 per 5-gram serving (they do provide 2.5 grams of glutamine also)
Clean Machine BCAA*
Theirs is made by fermenting non-GMO corn and sunflower seeds (sunflower lecithin). It’s available in flavors or by itself. It contains the right ratio of 2:1:1. That’s 2,000 mg of leucine, 1,000 mg of isoleucine, and 1,000 mg of valine per scoop. That’s 4 grams total of the branched chains. We prefer 5,000 mg total but this isn’t bad.
Cost $35.00 for 30 - 4-gram servings
$1.16 per 4-gram serving
This is a fermented formula using a 2:1:1 ratio and 5-gram servings but it does have flavorings that need to be a bit more specific but look decent. They have red raspberry and watermelon.
Cost $35.00 for 30 - 5-gram servings
$1.16 per 5-gram serving
NutraBio – BCAA Natural*
Naturally flavored (stevia & monk fruit), fermented, Non-GMO, Allergen, and Gluten-Free with BCAAs using a 2:1:1 ratio. 5 grams of fermented BCAAs per serving. Lemonade flavor.
Cost $29.99 for 60 – 5-gram servings
$0.50 per 5-gram serving
(**Each of these companies products names are registered trademarks by the respective company)
Once again, let's look at our Plant-Based, Vegan BCAAs
Gains in Bulk Plant Based BCAA’s
RAW, Non-GMO, Gluten-free, Vegan
Cost $30.00 per 100 – 5-gram servings
$0.30 cents per 5 gram serving