There’s an inside joke in the gym I work at, where you can start a heated debate by simply asking a question around BCAA vs whey protein.
Both products are stacked up high behind the reception counter, but most people really don’t fully understand why they are generally separate products.
Whether you’re starting to do some body building or you’re just training for weight loss, you can make arguments for both types of protein.
Often people hear that BCAAs are essential amino acids and they think they absolutely have to take them. But that isn’t the case for all types of athletes.
Let me start by addressing the question of what is BCAA and why is it important.
What Are BCAAs?
Branched chain amino acids (just call them BCAAs) are a set of essential amino acids called valine, leucine, and isoleucine. That all sounds fancy, but what does it actually mean?
Well, they are essential because the human body cannot synthesize them from other types of protein. That means you have to get them into your body through your diet.
While there is plenty of food that you can source them from, it can be a struggle to get these BCAAs at the right time to increase muscle production.
And that’s why you often see them as nutrition supplements.
Benefits Of BCAAs
The main benefit of BCAA supplements is that they will provide your muscles with the nutrition needed to repair and build new muscle tissue after your training.
You only need relatively small amounts, but when you finish exercising, you probably don’t feel like eating a load of food.
Here are all the benefits of taking a post workout BCAA:
- Helps muscle protein synthesis.
- Can reduce fatigue during training.
- Experience a faster recovery time.
- Boosts fat metabolism for some added energy and weight loss.
- Avoids muscle wasting during longer recovery periods.
Timing Your BCAA Intake
Unlike regular protein supplements, there is an advantage to taking BCAA before and after working out. The obvious reason to take it after a training session is to give your muscles the nutrition needed to repair and build new tissue.
However, some athletes like to take it before and even during their workout. The thinking is that you can gain some added energy and reduce fatigue while you’re exercising.
However, unless you’re a serious bodybuilder or performance athlete, just stick to taking it after training.
How Much BCAA Do You Need?
You need about 5 to 7 grams of BCAA after exercising to give your muscles the boost they need to kickstart the recovery process.
This is based on the average person rather than a professional athlete.
That usually translates into one scoop of BCAA protein powder, but if you’ve had a couple of very high-intensity sessions, then a second scoop won’t do any harm.
If you are fasting, then you might also be interested to know if taking BCAA powder break your fast.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Side effects from taking BCAA supplements are very rare and usually come down to intolerances or allergies to some of the ingredients. The side effects can include some nausea and stomach upset like bloating.
Most often, I’ve seen this with products that are dairy-based and include casein. If you have problems with dairy products, then be careful about the ingredients.
Also keep in mind, that taking excessive amounts won’t improve muscle protein synthesis, and will actually elevate your chance of some side effects.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is one of the main proteins extracted from milk and is also one of the most popular protein supplements. One of the main reasons is that it offers a complete range of amino acids, meaning you don’t need to combine it with other products.
You can sometimes find whey protein powder containing casein, which is also derived from milk.
As a nutrition supplement, it works by giving your muscles a flood of protein, right after a workout routine, which is a vital time for muscle growth.
Benefits of Whey
Taking whey protein has a few benefits that go beyond just muscle building and convenience.
Yes, it will give you the nutrition needed for your body to repair and create new muscle tissue, and a quick shake also beats digging into a few chicken fillets on the way home from the gym.
But whey protein also helps with the following:
- It’s an easy and fast to digest protein, meaning you get a quick boost
- A large boost of protein fills you up and reduces hunger cravings
- Increased protein intake has been shown to help with fat loss
- Reduces muscle aches as well as recovery time
Your muscles use BCAAs during exercise, causing levels in your blood to decrease. When blood levels of BCAAs decline, levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan in your brain increase.
In your brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, a brain chemical that is thought to contribute to the development of fatigue during exercise
- Gavin Van De Walle, Registered Dietician
Timing Your Whey Intake
I could just say that you should take it post workout and leave it at that. But you’d probably be wondering why and how long after exercising you should mix your whey shake.
ersonally, I take it immediately after I finish my cool-down phase. I pre-mix it when I arrive at the gym, as this can improve the consistency and reduce the clumping effect. By the time I’m out of the steam room and shower, my muscles are relaxed and will start to crave the whey.
And with whey being one of the fastest types of protein to digest, I give my muscles the best possible chance to get the vital nutrition.
How Much Whey Do You Need?
For standard training, you need about 25 grams of whey protein after exercising.
This usually is one scoop of powder mixed with water. If you’re doing more cardio and your goal is weight loss, then 15 to 20 grams of whey is probably enough to sustain a decent recovery time.
I’ll get into side effects shortly, but for the most part, there aren’t any. So if you are training at high intensity, then you can take some extra scoops. Any protein that your body doesn’t need will be flushed out.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Fortunately, whey protein has very few side effects when you take it in the recommended dose, and you don’t have any dairy-related allergies. You should really go for a vegan protein powder if you do have problems with dairy, so keep that in mind.
Avoiding very large doses in one go is also a good idea. This could lead to quite a bit of stomach discomfort as your digestive system will simply struggle to keep up with the volume whey. And your gut flora will also suffer which can lead to cramping.
Should You Take BCAA If You Already Take Whey?
Yes, you should take BCAA if you already take whey protein, especially if you do a lot of high-intensity training. If your aim is to reduce body fat and build some lean muscle, then you will need the essential amino acids.
Without these, you won’t be able to maximize muscle growth.
At the same time, I would say that if your goals are just weight loss and you don’t want to bulk up with new muscles, then BCAAs are probably not necessary. You’d probably be better off with some sort of fat burner to speed up the process.
Can I Take BCAA And Whey Protein Together?
Yes, you can take BCAA and whey protein together, and your body will need both if you want to boost muscle growth.
However, I generally recommend that you spread out the protein shakes a bit.
Either take the BCAA supplements before or during your training routine and then take the whey protein post workout. First of all, this will put less stress on your stomach, and you won’t have to drink a large volume in one go.
Also, as BCAAs help with increased energy and endurance, you’ll be able to get more out of your training. By working harder, the muscle building process will speed up.
BCAA vs Whey: Which Is More Important
If I had to choose one, then I would stick with whey protein powder.
It is going to provide you with practically all the amino acids you need to build muscle mass, and unless you have some very ambitious goals, it will be more than enough.
Whey protein will also help with weight loss and any cutting phases you’re planning to do.
However, if you really want to get the most out of the hard work you put in at the gym, then consider taking a BCAA protein along with the whey.
If you’re concerned about the added costs, then it would be enough to take it just on the very intense days.