BCAA vs Pre-Workout: Which is Best for Your Workout?

BCAAs are known to boost muscle protein synthesis, increase power, strength, and endurance during a workout. They are often taken as a pre-workout or post-workout supplement.

However, there are supplements that have been specifically formulated, with multiple ingredients, to be taken before a workout. These pre-workout supplements are said to help you achieve peak performance during your training sessions.

This has created confusion among many people, especially those who are new to the field of fitness and bodybuilding. While there is a team that stands firmly behind the proven benefits of BCAA, pre-workouts also have their own share of fans.

So, which one should you take before your work-out – BCAA or Pre-workouts? Which one will give you better results for the time and money you are spending? Let’s take a closer look at what the scientific studies say on the matter.

BCAA vs Preworkout

What is BCAA?

BCAA is a group of essential amino acids with a branched molecular structure and anabolic (muscle building) properties. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three amino acids used in BCAA supplements (1).

They are crucial in muscle recovery, muscle growth, and act as muscle fuel for workouts. Of the three BCAA amino acids, leucine is believed to be the most important one.

BCAA supplements, when taken as a pre-workout or during workout offer the following benefits:

  • Improves your endurance during the workout (2)
  • Improves muscle recovery and soreness post-workout (3)
  • Improves strength during the work-out (4)
  • Boosts muscle protein synthesis (5)

These three amino acids work together as a large unit in the building and repairing muscle tissue, but they can work independently as well.

  • Leucine stimulates protein synthesis more than any other amino acid. It can stimulate the chemical signals which activate protein synthesis (6).
  • Leucine supports the insulin function which helps in the transport of nutrients like glucose to your muscles. This ensures the availability of more energy to your muscles (7).
  • Isoleucine can effectively act as fuel to the muscles by breaking down (8).
  • Valine reduces exercise-induced fatigue by lowering the tryptophan uptake in the brain (9).

The above-mentioned benefits are good enough for people to gladly include them in their fitness routine. But, BCAAs are not the only ones. Pre-workout supplements can be just as beneficial with a more customizable design.

Summary: BCAA supplements contain the three essential amino acids when used as a pre-workout or during a workout, improves strength and endurance, boosts muscle protein synthesis, helps in muscle recovery, and reduces soreness post-workout.

What are Pre-Workouts?

Pre-workout supplements are dietary supplements that are used by athletes and weightlifters to boost their energy level before the training session. It is taken to increase endurance, energy, and focus (10).

Pre-workout supplements have a variety of ingredients like vitamin B, carbohydrates, antioxidants, caffeine, creatine, and many more, ranging by the products (11).

Almost every brand in the market has a different formula with its own secret combinations which is supposedly most effective.

Amongst all the ingredients, most good quality pre-workout supplements contain BCAAs. That takes us to our next question.

Summary: Pre-workout supplements are nutritional supplements that focus on optimizing your workout. It increases endurance and energy; boosts your physical and cognitive ability.

Why Use A Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout supplements ensure you, your best performance during workouts. The best ones contain a blend of natural ingredients to help achieve your peak performance (12).

With other things, pre-workout supplements also include a dose of stimulant such as caffeine that helps in boosting the energy level.

Pre-workout supplements taken 15-30 minutes before warming up can bring in immense benefits.

  • Raise energy levels (13)
  • Extend stamina and power (14)
  • Increase focus (15)

The ingredients that are commonly present in the most pre-workout supplement are:

Creatine – Creatine helps to saturate your muscle creatine levels before you begin to exercise and this ensures a steady energy supply during your workout (16).

L-Citrulline – It stimulates protein synthesis and decreases amino acid breakdown during exercise. It also increases blood flow (17).

L-Theanine – Another amino acid that is extracted from tea leaves is L-Theanine. In a pre-workout supplement, it has shown to work synergistically with stimulants. When it is combined with caffeine, it increases cognitive functions (18).

Caffeine – It is a great pre-workout ingredient because it boosts your energy levels and stimulates your metabolism (19).

For each training session, it is best to stick to the recommended dosage of your supplement. The recommended dosage of pre-workout supplements depends on many factors, including the ingredients in them.

If the supplement has caffeine in it, choose it in a manner that it doesn’t have caffeine more than 200mg. Exceeding that level may cause jitteriness and loss of focus.

Products with creatine should also be chosen carefully. It should not exceed 1 to 2 mg per serving.

Summary: The efficacy of a pre-workout supplement depends upon the ingredients it is made up of. Normally it contains muscle-building amino acids to optimize protein synthesis; stimulants to improve your cognitive functions, vitamins, and antioxidants. The combinations vary from brand to brand.

How Pre-workouts Differ From BCAAs

Any good quality, the goal-oriented pre-workout supplement will have BCAAs in it.

However, while BCAAs are the ultimate way to build muscles, increase metabolism and maintain lean muscle mass, other effective ingredients that can improve mental and physical conditions may improve the overall experience of a workout tenfold.

These include stimulants like caffeine, that increases focus and attention; vitamins that promote better mood, endurance, and focus. That is what the pre-workout supplements have (20).

The ‘power molecules’ betaine and beta-alanine in a pre-workout supplement can perfectly compliment BCAAs by increasing strength, endurance, and muscle growth.

Summary: BCAAs can be effectively used as a pre-workout supplement as it helps in metabolism, muscle protein synthesis, and increases endurance and energy. But, pre-workout supplements are customized to maximize your workout. It not only includes amino acids to boost your muscle synthesis but also vitamins, stimulants, antioxidants, and power molecules.

What Is The Difference Between Pre-workouts And BCAAs?

The pre-workout supplements are intended on making you achieve your peak performance while working out whereas BCAAs are more focused on providing your body the fuel that is needed for muscle synthesis (21, 22).

Pre-workout supplements contain stimulants like caffeine that BCAA supplements don’t have. This helps increase your focus, energy, and motivation.

Good quality pre-workout supplements have vitamins and other natural composites which improve your endurance and mood. BCAAs don’t have them.

Last but not least are the two “power molecules” that are present only in the pre-workouts. Betaine and beta-alanine, that increases strength and muscle growth (23).

While BCAAs are great in the growth and recovery of muscles, they do not boost focus and energy during workouts. Pre-workout supplements with its array of ingredients do that and much more (24).

Summary: BCAA supplements can very effectively boost workout when taken as a pre-workout supplement. However, the most pre-workout supplement has them and additional components that optimize your workout.

Can BCAA be Used as a Pre-workout Supplement?

It depends upon what your goals are.

BCAAs can be taken more than once in a day and can be very well used as a pre-workout supplement. They can be used as fuel to improve performance when taken before a workout.

Taking BCAAs as a pre-workout supplement increases performance, muscle growth, and reduces DOMS (25). DOMS, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness, is pretty common among the athletes who are performing unaccustomed high-intensity exercises (26).

A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Nutrition, reported that people taking BCAA supplements as pre-workout showed less fatigue during and after the workout (27).

As for the dosage, studies have confirmed that 0.03-0.05g/kg body weight which is approximately 2-4 grams per hour during your training session and recovery phase can be taken.

The general guide for daily BCAA intake is 144 mg/kg body weight. This translates to 9 g for the average woman and 12 g for men per day (28).

Take it 30 minutes before your training starts in order to give it time to digest properly.

Summary: BCAAs can be used as a pre-workout supplement to fuel your workout. They should be taken 30 minutes before the training and should be taken as per dosage recommendation.

Which is Better: BCAA or Pre-workout?

Generally speaking, a good quality pre-workout supplement is far better because it helps you to increase your fitness level and work hard (29).

This is exactly what you need if you want to build lean muscle mass.

However, muscle growth needs the right ingredients. Or else, it will be a struggle to build new muscle fibers. That is achievable by complete proteins that have all the essential amino acids (30).

The usage of BCAA is more relevant for performance athletes and bodybuilders.

Can You Mix Pre-workout and BCAA?

Yes, it is very much possible and can be easily done. In fact, when taken together, it will help you keep energized and focused during training while making sure that your muscles have the right fuel to maintain and build more muscles.

The pre-workout has BCAA as one of the ingredients and gives you the best of both. They work perfectly together and help achieve different purposes (31).

You can take the pre-workout before your workout and the BCAA after the workout for maximum effectiveness. The first one helps with enhancing your focus, energy, and performance during the workout while the second one boosts protein synthesis and muscle recovery thus helping build bigger, stronger muscles (32).

FAQs Related to Pre-workout vs BCAA

When Should I Take My Pre-workout And BCAAs?

Pre-workout supplements should be taken 15-30 minutes before a workout to get maximum benefit.

BCAAs can be taken several times in the day but as a pre-workout, it should be taken 30 minutes before your workout. This ensures that enough time is there to digest it fully and put to good use.

IF you are taking both then time the pre-workout supplement before your workout and the BCAAs after your workout. The post-workout supplement is best taken 30 minutes to one hour of completing your workout.

Do all Pre-Workouts Have BCAAs in Them?

The five common ingredients that are found in most of the pre-workout supplements are beta-alanine (for better buffering), caffeine (for elevated energy), creatine (for all-out power), L-citrulline ( for nitric oxide production), and BCAAs for major gains.

So, yes, most pre-workout supplements have BCAA. The ones who don’t have BCAA may contain other amino acids that boost muscle protein synthesis. But it’s best to choose a pre-workout supplement with BCAA as the amino acid leucine is one of the most potent amino acids for muscle building (33).

What Does Pre-Workout do to Your Body?

Pre-workout supplements contain a blend of ingredients that help increase your blood flow, heart rate, focus, energy, and endurance for a great workout. The actual formulation of pre-workouts differs from brand to brand.

They usually contain amino acids, antioxidants, and vitamins that help you be your best both physically and mentally while working out. They also have stimulants such as caffeine to boost your energy and focus during the workout (34).

High-quality pre-workout supplements usually contain BCAA for boosting protein synthesis and muscle building.

The Final Note

Pre-workout supplements compile together required nutrients, with the sole purpose of getting the maximum out of you from your workout. It not only ensures enhanced endurance, lower muscle fatigue, and more energy but also makes sure that you are mentally powered enough to give your best.

The spurt of energy that is needed is provided by these supplements making sure you give your peak performance.

BCAA supplements can definitely be used as pre-workout, but it is more focussed on providing the right nutrients for the muscles to grow by enhancing protein synthesis, reducing soreness, and maintaining the muscles.

Most of the pre-workout already contains BCAAs as one of its ingredients, along with a few more. Even if you plan to take them together to ensure your best workout, be careful of not exceeding certain nutrient levels.

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