I cannot remember how many times I’ve heard people debating the difference between BCAA and pre workout supplements at the gym.
Most of the time I just let these arguments flow for a while for the sheer amusement before I step in and set things straight.
But I totally get it. If you look at just the marketing materials of these products, then it’s difficult to understand how they are different.
They pretty much all claim to promote muscle growth and weight loss, but there are some subtle differences to be aware of.
On this page, I’m going to set the record straight so that you have a clear picture of how they are different and what their intended use is. And I’ll also address one of the most common questions: Can you take pre workout and BCAA at the same time?
Let’s dive right in.
What Is BCAA?
BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) is a set of 3 essential amino acids called leucine, isoleucine, and valine (1). They are essential because the body cannot produce them, which means they have to be sourced from food in your diet or through BCAA supplements.
The ultimate effect is to help your body’s protein synthesis to create and repair muscle fibers.
This is what makes it such an important ingredient, especially during heavy training periods.
While you mainly find men using BCAA for its muscle building benefits, women can also get beneficial health results from both reduced recovery times and body fat reduction. (2)
Here is a quick list of the main benefits:
- Faster Muscle Recovery Times After Training
- Increased Lean Muscle Mass Production
- Reduced Fatigue During Training
- Prevents Muscle Wasting
- Reduced Blood Sugar Levels
- Speeds Up Fat Burning And Weight Loss
That’s quite an impressive list, and from my own experience working with men and women of all fitness levels, I can say that I have witnessed and experienced all of them.
2. Recommended Dosage
The general guide for a daily intake of BCAAs is 144 mg per kg body weight, which is equivalent to 65 mg/lb. This is a 2:1:1. BCAA ratio.
That translates into 9 g for the average woman and 12 g for men per day.
The average that you will find in supplement products is about 5 or 6 grams per serving.
So, you’ll get a decent boost at just the right time after a workout.
3. When Should You Take It?
If you’re not sure when to take BCAA supplements to achieve the best results, you should always check what scientific studies say.
Generally speaking, the advice would be to take it immediately after you finish your training.
However, you will often see high-performance athletes taking it both before and after training for best results. This will boost performance a little and help reduce muscle soreness and recovery times after.
Overall, BCAAs are safe, and your body needs them for normal functioning. Your food will include them whether you like it or not, but as always, you can overdo it with protein powder.
I have encountered people who got such good results from taking it before and after training, that they went on to double and triple the recommended dose. It’s not something that’s dangerous, but it can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.
Basically, stick to the label recommendations.
BCAA supplements are convenient enough that it’s simple to consume them shortly before or after a workout if you feel it makes a difference for you.
- Marsha McCulloch, Registered Dietician
What Is Pre Workout?
A pre-workout is a capsule-based or powder fitness supplement made of ingredients that aim to improve energy levels and endurance during physical activity and, at the same time, reduce fatigue (3).
They are recommended to all athletes that want to get the absolute most out of a training session.
By being able to work harder and stay more focused, you can achieve much faster fitness and muscle-building results.
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With certain muscle building and fat loss goals in mind, the best pre workouts available will bring you to that goal quicker. Unlike post-workout shakes, they don’t focus on providing nutrition that helps to build new muscle fibers.
Instead, they give you the ammunition to perform better and for longer. Here is a quick list of the benefits:
- More Energy And Power To Maximize Pumps And Build Muscle
- Provide More Strength To Lift More
- Boost Endurance So That You Can Add More Sets
- Better Physical Performance And Mental Focus
- Fat Burning Ingredients For Faster Weight Loss
2. Recommended Dosage
This is a difficult one to answer as there are quite different pre-workout ingredients that go into these supplements.
From a caffeine perspective, it’s best to avoid products that include more than 200 mg. Anything above that can cause jitters, and you’ll struggle to stay focused.
Creatine is another one you don’t want to take too much of and usually you’ll find 1 to 2 mg per serving.
For those who want to check the best pre-workout supplements without creatine, read our blog.
Basically, you want to stick with the recommended dose on the packaging for each training session.
If you go to the gym multiple times a day, then you can take it more than once, but just avoid overdoing it.
3. When Should You Take It?
You should take it before you start your exercise routine. Timing your pre-workout is important, but it generally depends on your digestive system and metabolism so try experimenting with it a little.
As a guide, I generally recommend about 15 to 30 minutes before you start warming up.
While the increased endurance and power of your pumps are great, you do have to watch out for some rare pre-workout side effects. Your body can have some reactions like jitters and insomnia, especially when it comes to stimulants.
Some people also find that they suffer an energy crash after exercising and when the ingredients start to wear off. If this happens then try out some of the bulking training shakes available.
Finally, make sure you drink more water than you usually would, as a lot of the ingredients can have a dehydrating effect. Overall, though, side effects from natural ingredients are generally very limited.
Are BCAAs Good for Pre-Workout?
BCAAs are good for pre-workout because they can help improve performance and speed up the process of building muscle mass or burning excess body fat.
When it comes to sports performance, adding amino acids to your diet through supplements has been shown to help increase muscle strength and endurance by making nutrients more available to your working muscles .
When you run out of carbs, the primary source of energy during training, your body can use amino acids as an alternative fuel to keep you in shape for longer .
When it comes to gaining muscle and losing weight, BCAAs have been found to stimulate specific enzymes involved in the signaling pathways that can either speed up protein synthesis or slow down the rate at which proteins break down .
As a result of these processes, the body is able to prevent muscle loss, maintain lean muscle mass, and burn fat more quickly.
Last but not least, taking BCAA supplements before a workout keeps you from being distracted by the side effects of multi-ingredient pre-workouts, such as feeling jittery or having itchy skin while you work out.
Can You Take BCAA And Pre workout Together?
Yes, you can take BCAA and pre workout together, but you want to pay close attention to the ingredients. You want to avoid getting too much of certain substances like caffeine, which are sometimes found in both types of powder.
For the most part, research has shown that negative effects are limited and there are no known negative impacts from combining the two.
I’ve even come across a pre workout with BCAA included so you could consider stacking them in one product.
Which Is Better BCAA Or Pre Workout?
Generally speaking, a good pre workout supplement is better because it will help you increase fitness levels and work harder. This is the number one goal if you want to build lean muscle mass.
However, without the nutrients to support muscle growth, you can struggle to build new muscle fibers. You can achieve that with a standard whey protein, with BCAA only really becoming relevant for performance athletes and bodybuilders.
You can also watch this video by Amanda where she explains which supplement she finds more effective on her workouts.
Recommended post: Can I Take BCAA And Whey Protein Together?
Should I Take Pre Workout Or BCAA If I Had To Pick One?
If you had to pick one, then I would recommend you take pre workouts rather than BCAA. You have more to gain from the additional energy, stamina, and pumps and taking both products can become expensive if you train a lot.
That being said, if you’re really struggling with building lean mass despite training hard, then a really good BCAA will make a difference (check out our page on best BCAA products).
If you’ve tried both, then I’d love to hear how you got on with them and which one works best for you. Just head over to one of our social media pages and reach out; we’d love to hear from you.
- Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, Essential Amino Acids: Definition, Benefits and Food Sources, retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/essential-amino-acids
- Mercola, 7 Amazing BCAAs’ Benefits, retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/vitamins-supplements/bcaa.aspx
- Tia Ghose, Senior Writer, The Truth about Pre-Workout Supplements, retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/53095-do-preworkout-supplements-work.html
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