Last Updated on March, 2023
Whether you’re a newcomer to the fitness scene or an old-timer, you probably know that fitness products and their marketing can be a daunting jungle.
There are supplements galore, and they ALL claim to do pretty much the same thing, which can lead to tons of confusion!
One such source of confusion is the whole BCAA vs Pre-Workout debate.
On one side, BCAA supplements claim to aid muscle growth and weight loss; on the other hand, pre-workout supplements ALSO help muscle growth and weight loss.
If you’ve found your way to this corner of the internet, I bet I can read the thoughts going through your mind right now.
Which of these two should I take? Which one is better? Can I take both of them together? WHAT EVEN ARE THEY?!
Slow those questions down because I’ll be answering all of them right here in this article.
What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)?
BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are a group of three essential amino acids (out of 9).
They consist of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, and they get their name because their chemical structure resembles tree branches.
Up to 40% of muscle tissue’s proteins are BCAAs, so they are regarded as the most crucial amino acids needed to build muscle.
They are also essential amino acids because they aren’t produced naturally in our bodies. (1)
Therefore, you must source them through your diet or BCAA supplements. BCAA supplements are sports nutrition supplements that can be taken before, during or after a workout routine.
High protein foods like meat, nuts, legumes, and protein powders contain BCAAs.
However, they can take AGES to reach your bloodstream.
On the other hand, BCAA supplements enter the bloodstream almost immediately, and they reach maximum effectiveness after about 30 minutes.
So taking a BCAA supplement enables you to get these muscle-building amino acids in your bloodstream exactly when you want them there. (2)
Kinda like you have these three amino acids on demand!
What Do BCAA Supplements Do?
BCAAs promote muscle growth and muscle recovery, and they act as muscle fuel during workouts.
Your body breaks down the BCAAs found in muscles when you exercise to sustain various energy pathways. Therefore, your body must get an increased amount of BCAAs, especially when you exercise. (3)
Of the three BCAA amino acids, leucine is the most important one.
Taking BCAAs before a workout has been shown to reduce muscle protein breakdown and improve muscle protein synthesis thanks to its leucine component. (4)
The amino acid leucine also guarantees a higher energy availability to your muscles as it sustains the insulin function, which is vital in transporting nutrients like glucose to muscles.
Additionally, BCAAs help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness if taken before a training session.
Finally, the valine component of BCAAs reduces exercise-induced fatigue by lowering the tryptophan uptake in the brain. (5)
Benefits of BCAA
- Improves endurance during workout
- Aids muscle recovery and relieves post-workout muscle soreness
- Improves muscle protein synthesis
- Reduces muscle protein breakdown during workouts
- Absorption is almost immediate
The essential guide for the intake of BCAA is 144 mg per kilogram of body weight, which is a 2:1:1 ratio.
This measurement can be interpreted as around 9 g for an average woman and 12 g for a man per day.
When Should You Take BCAA?
Studies have shown similar effectiveness in BCAAs regardless of when you take them.
The best times to take the supplement will mostly depend on your motives for taking it and your personal preference.
For example, taking the supplement during your training session is ideal if you’re engaged in endurance training sessions (i.e. getting ready for a marathon, etc.).
Taking BCAAs as a pre-workout or post-workout supplement will benefit you regardless of what kind of exercise you do.
Drawbacks of BCAA
Generally, BCAAs are entirely safe, you get them through your diet, and your body needs them to function.
But, of course, too much of anything is good for nothing, as people are fond of saying.
Ensure to not increase your supplement intake to more than the recommended dose just because it’s doing wonders for you.
Taking too much of BCAAs is not fatal. Still, it can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue, and nobody wants that!
It’s also worth noting that BCAAs do not contain ALL the essential amino acids.
What is Pre-Workout?
And now for the other side of our stand-off.
Pre-workouts are multi-ingredient dietary supplements athletes, and weightlifters use to amp up the energy levels for intense training sessions.
They can come in capsule form or the form of pre-workout powders.
Pre-workout supplements contain various ingredients, like carbohydrates, vitamin B, antioxidants, caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, etc. Exact nutrient compositions differ between different brands.
Amidst all these other ingredients, a good pre-workout supplement will also consist of BCAAs.
What Does a Pre-Workout Do?
Most pre-workout supplements take around 15 to 30 minutes to kick in. Once they do, they help improve your mental focus and clarity, increase endurance, raise energy levels, and peak performance.
The stimulant in the pre-workout (generally caffeine) will give you increased energy, and L-Arginine and L-Citrulline improve blood flow.
This improvement in blood flow will help you achieve a bigger muscle pump.
The beta-alanine in pre-workout supplements buffers pH levels in the presence of lactic acid, delays fatigue, and thus improves performance.
Benefits of Pre-Workout
- Increased energy and boosted metabolism
- Improved blood flow and delivery of nutrients
- Greater mental focus
- Bigger muscle pump
- Delayed fatigue and increased endurance
- Tastes good
It is a bit difficult to ascribe a generalized recommended dosage as different product brands advise different dosages.
It’s best to choose products that don’t exceed 200 mg of caffeine. Excess caffeine can cause jittery behavior and make concentration difficult.
You should also avoid taking too much creatine; 1 to 2 mg per serving is ideal.
For best results, stick to the recommended dosage on the packaging of your product; no more and no less.
When Should You Take Pre-Workout?
Pre-workouts, as their name very subtly indicates, should be taken before your workout.
These supplements help bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other weightlifters. In addition, athletes who take part in high-intensity sports will also benefit from pre-workouts.
Timing your pre-workout consumption is of utmost importance as you need its effects to hit you when you’re engaged in your workout.
It is generally recommended that you take your pre-workout 30 minutes before your exercise session. This is so that you consider time for getting ready, going to the gym, warming up, etc.
Related article: Can You Take Pre Workout Every day?
Drawbacks of Pre-Workout
The benefits of pre-workouts are far more significant than their drawbacks, but the drawbacks do exist.
Beta-alanine, a non-essential amino acid in pre-workouts, causes a tingling sensation known as paresthesia.
Paresthesia isn’t harmful, and some people even like the feeling. But, conversely, some people DESPISE it.
We’ve reviewed the best pre-workout supplement without beta-alanine in our website. Check it out HERE!
The stimulants in the supplement can cause restlessness and insomnia, and other ingredients like sodium bicarbonate can cause stomach problems.
Some people may also face “caffeine crashes”, which are intense feelings of fatigue that occur once the effects of the pre-workout start wearing off.
Here are the other side effects that you might experience, if you don’t consume the recommended amount of ingredients and dosage from a pre-workout. Checkout it here.
What is the Difference Between BCAAs and Pre-Workouts?
A primary difference between pre-workouts and BCAAs is that pre-workout supplements are all about helping the user achieve peak performance.
On the other hand, BCAAs are intended to provide your body with the muscle fuel needed for muscle synthesis.
This difference means pre-workout supplements contain stimulants that BCAAs don’t have, and these components improve the focus, motivation, and energy levels of those taking them.
Additionally, pre-workouts differ from BCAAs in that good-quality ones contain vitamins and natural composites that alleviate mood and endurance.
So, while BCAAs are excellent for muscle recovery and to build muscle tissue, they aren’t able to increase your energy levels or mental focus like pre-workout supplements.
Can BCAAs Be Used As Pre-Workout Supplements?
Yes, BCAA supplements can be used as a pre-workout supplement.
They will give you most of the benefits of a pre-workout supplement. In addition, they will prevent muscle protein breakdown during your routine, improve muscle growth and reduce DOM (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
However, suppose you’re hoping for a boost in energy levels and mental clarity. In that case, you need to take BCAAs that include caffeine.
Can BCAAs and Pre-Workouts Be Combined?
Yes! You can combine pre-workout and BCAA supplements, and they make a powerful combination.
BCAAs will give your body the fuel it needs and support recovery, while the pre-workout will fill in the gaps and boost your energy and mental focus.
You can combine pre-workout and BCAA supplements in the following ways:
- Take the pre-workout and BCAAs at the same time before a workout.
- Take the pre-workout supplements before leaving for the gym and the BCAA supplement during your exercise session.
- Or you can take the pre-workout supplement before your training session and the BCAA supplement post-workout.
BCAA Vs. Pre-Workout: Which Should You Take?
So, BCAA or pre-workout? Which is better for you to use?
As is usually the case with many of the most challenging questions we face, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question of which supplement is better.
It all depends on your specific fitness goal.
If you are looking for something to facilitate quick energy bursts, then a pre-workout supplement is what you should go for.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to build lean muscle mass, promote muscle growth, and favor non-stimulants, then BCAAs are the better choice.
Or better yet, why choose one when you can have both?
Pre-workout supplements and BCAAs complement one another perfectly, so what you don’t get out of pre-workouts you can get from BCAAs and vice versa.
To sum everything up, BCAA and pre-workout supplements are two supplements you can use alongside your workout.
BCAAs are great to build and maintain lean muscle mass and to improve muscle recovery. At the same time, pre-workouts are great for giving you a burst of energy.
They are both equally effective, and the best choice for you depends on what you’re aiming for with your workout.
To reap the benefits of both these supplements, you can take both with no issue!
But, remember that supplements are only meant to support you in your workouts. The foundation of your fitness journey should be a balanced diet and an overall healthy lifestyle.
Only then will you be able to enjoy the maximum benefits that BCAA and pre-workout supplements give you.
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