Choosing the right supplement is a pain in the butt.
Information is often unclear or contradictory due to lack of regulation, and misinformation. Often by design, and driven by money.
That said, the right supplement can be an important part of a workout routine. Though only after addressing your regular diet.
BCAA vs whey protein powder is a common debate. For good reason. As some form of protein supplementation is a part of any good nutrition plan for an active person.
But you’ve come to the right place for all the answers.
Takeaways That Won’t Fail You
- If you are already eating enough quality protein you gain no advantage by taking BCAA.
- BCAA are easier and faster absorbed than most other amino acids. Yet, whole protein (like whey) is still absorbed faster.
- Most BCAA end up in one of five places: muscle tissue, brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. But the majority end up in muscle tissue. Hence, the big stink over taking excess BCAA for muscle synthesis.
- More is not better when taking individual amino acids. This may cause potential imbalances due to competitive absorption (leading to imbalance). The excess becomes fatty acids, ketones or glucose anyway.
- I looked at over a dozen different brands of whey protein. The average percentage of BCAA was 20% which equaled out to about 5.5 grams. That’s plenty to achieve your goals. So, taking BCAA and using whey protein is pointless and a waste of money.
The Value of Protein Supplements
There is more than the science behind branched-chain amino acids and whey protein as a whole. There is also a difference in the value of the two.
I’m a stickler for NOT having someone overspend on anything, especially supplements. It has to be a good bang for the buck or I’m not interested. But, I’ve watched the supplement industry evolve. From its infancy decades ago, until now, we’ve made real progress.
So we’ll take a look at:
- The benefits of taking BCAA and whey protein alone
- Taking a combination of the two
- We’ll look at the return on investment (money spent vs. results) for BCAA vs whey protein shakes
What is Whey Protein and Where Does it Come From?
This is an easy one… cow’s milk. Milk is predominantly made up of two types of protein:
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
Whey protein has been in use for centuries. At one point it (a long time ago) fed livestock, was used as fertilizer, or even thrown away.
Eventually, we began using it as a food additive for many of the household food products which we grew up with. Before the chemical technology improved.
Since then, whey protein has come such a long way as a supplement.
This was driven by fitness enthusiasts. They were excited by how fast whey protein was absorbed and its abundant quantities.
With that, the manufacturing of whey protein concentrates improved significantly. In both the chemical and functional properties. It led to the much better product we have today.
What Does Whey Protein Do?
Thanks to its long reign, there is A LOT of research on what whey protein does. It is absorbed faster than casein and stimulates better muscle protein synthesis (growth).
To build muscle mass, 20 grams of whey protein should ingested post workout. This is generally accepted as the standard for an average 176-pound male.
Based on those numbers we can adjust for sex and body composition for any individual. Read more about the science of protein digestion.
What are BCAA?
BCAA is short for branched-chain amino acids.
More specifically, the three particular BCAA are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. They are three of the nine essential amino acids (the ones you need to get in your diet and cannot produce on your own).
So why are they called branched-chain amino acids?
All you need to know is that their chemical structure has a side chain with extra carbons.
Lastly, leucine seems to be the most important BCAA for building muscle.
How BCAA are Absorbed
BCAA use insulin to enter the muscle cell. They elicit a small short lasting insulin release. This is a little different than the insulin response to carbohydrates.
BCAA absorb easier and faster than most other amino acids. But bear in mind that whole protein absorbs even faster than the individual amino acids. In fact, it’s a different transport system for amino acids vs whole protein.
Thus, if you’re eating enough quality proteins, there’s no advantage to taking BCAA.
What Do BCAA Do?
BCAA will do the same thing regardless of the source.
The three branched-chain amino acids are released from the liver after digestion. They primarily end up in one of five places:
- Muscle tissue
That said, the majority end up being utilized in muscle tissue. Hence, the big stink over taking excess BCAA for muscle growth.
They are catabolized (broken down) during exercise. This increases their nutritional requirements if you’re strength training or exercising vigorously.
Other amino acids end up being used for the synthesis of enzymes and hormones.
More is not better when taking individual amino acids.
This is because of potential imbalances due to competitive absorption. The excess is converted to fatty acids, ketones or glucose anyway. This is despite the safe upper limit of BCAA being very high.
Nonetheless, a meta-analysis by Fedewa, showed
The cumulative results of 37 effects gathered from 8 studies published between 2007 and 2017 indicated that BCAA supplementation reduced DOMS following exercise training.”
We know this and it’s great. But again, if you’re already using whey protein, you’re getting what you need to accomplish the same goal.
BCAA Supplements for Training and other Benefits
It has been shown that supplementing BCAA can prolong moderate exercise in the heat. That isn’t very relevant if you’re lifting. However, it is significant if you are training for distance running in a hot environment.
BCAA mostly contributes to building muscle, known as muscle synthesis (particularly leucine).
They will also help reduce muscle soreness post workout.
More recently, Manaf, et al stated “Compared to a non-caloric placebo, acute BCAA supplementation significantly improved performance in cycling time-trial among recreationally active individuals… This improved performance with acute BCAA supplementation was associated with a reduced rating of perceived exertion.”
Are BCAA in Whey Protein?
Absolutely, BCAAs are in whey protein. Some companies even add additional.
I looked at over a dozen different brands. In that sample, the average percentage of BCAA in whey protein was 20% or about 5.5 grams. I even found several brands of vegetable protein to include acceptable amounts of BCAA.
That is plenty of BCAA for building muscle and reducing soreness post workout. Since you’re getting plenty of BCAA in whey protein, whey is a much better bang for your buck. Compared to simply buying BCAA by themselves.
Amino Acids vs Protein
Again, amino acids are the nitrogen-containing building blocks that when combined, form the protein. Since some of the amino acids are essential to life, any protein not containing all essential amino acids is termed an incomplete protein source.
Believe it or not, the whole protein is better absorbed than individual amino acids on their own. Odd, I know! But nonetheless, protein powder with amino acids is just that… a shaker full of amino acids.
What is the Difference Between BCAA vs Whey Protein?
BCAAs are 3 specific essential amino acids. They are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These 3 are believed to increase protein synthesis, lean muscle mass, and athletic performance.
In comparison, whey protein has a full spectrum of amino acids. Including BCAA and all other essential amino acids. Since whey has a full spectrum of amino acids, including BCAA, it is the superior choice of supplement.
To take both would produce no additional benefit.
The Return on Investment From BCAA?
This is an important question. There are two ways to look at this aspect:
- Your best return on investment is if you have a reason to take them by themselves. Such as allergies, or dieting restrictions. Then they’ll definitely help to build muscle. As well as minimize muscle soreness post workout. So, it’s a good return, but…
- The ROI for taking BCAA goes way down if you’re already using whey protein. Your muscles can only use so much. The extra amino acids turn into either ketone bodies, fatty acids, or glucose. So BCAA becomes an unnecessary expense.
The Return on Investment From Whey Protein?
Maybe I’m biased, but I find the ROI for whey protein to be huge. These are the points I consider when discussing the value of whey protein powder:
- Inexpensive compared to meat
- Fast absorption
- Whey is high in essential amino acids
- High in BCAA
- Ridiculously convenient compared to cooking and transporting meat
Here’s the most important point!!!!
So we’ve established that approximately 5g of BCAA a day promotes muscle synthesis. It also lessons post-exercise muscle soreness.
We’ve also noted that taking too much of a particular amino acid creates an imbalance for others. This is because of the absorption competition.
Most whey protein supplement shakes contain approximately 5g of BCAA…
And you’re likely already drinking shakes…
Thus there is no need for the additional expense of BCAA powder or pills. Save your money!
The only time they may be relevant is if you decide to prepare for a bodybuilding competition. In that case, whey protein is often cut from the diet. This is so few of us, it’s not relevant.
When should I take whey protein – Pre-Workout, Post-Workout, or Other?
This is a mixed question that could and should make up an entire article.
Based on research and experience I recommend using whey protein either:
- Post-workout: Immediately after a strength training workout or endurance event. This will help if you’re either trying to spare muscle or add muscle. It also helps with recovery, minimizing muscle soreness.
- Pre-workout: Thirty minutes before a strength training workout or endurance event. This help to spare muscle.
Don’t use whey protein for pre-workout if you’ve eaten a heavy protein-based meal within 2-3 hours before exercising. This becomes overkill and unnecessary.
Choose one or the other. There is little value in taking whey protein both pre-workout AND post-workout. During exercise, digestion, and absorption slow down. So, there will already be enough in your system to reap the benefits. The best scenario is to use it immediately after a workout.
Here are a few other times that make good use of whey protein.
- Pre-bed if you’re trying to add muscle. This is where casein protein is superior to whey.
- As a meal replacement during times when you can’t consume whole food. I can’t think of a more convenient and cost-effective meal when you’re on the run.
- Athletes often use whey protein products to prepare for competition because it’s an inexpensive way to make sure they’re feeding their muscles the necessary protein to sustain their strength throughout an event. It works and it’s easy!
When Should I Use Just BCAA?
You already know there is no point to take them together. But there may be times you would use BCAA instead of whey protein.
If you’re allergic to whey or really don’t like it, BCAA is a great alternative. Also, strict dieting may cut the use of whey protein. Negating the fact that the two would overlap.
This generally is limited to individuals preparing for a bodybuilding or bikini competition.
When to Take BCAA: Pre-workout, Post-workout, or Other?
If you’re on a strict diet where BCAA makes sense then you should also be aware of the best times to take BCAA.
Research shows you should take BCAA at the following times:
Take BCAA Pre-workout
This includes taking BCAA immediately before you start strength training. By taking BCAA before a workout you help preserve muscle.
Take BCAA Post-workout
This is taking BCAA immediately after you have a strength training session. By taking BCAA post-workout you help your body in muscle recovery.
Taking BCAA Pre-bed
By taking BCAA before bed you will help your body maintain muscle mass.
All of these methods only apply if you are dieting strictly for competition.
Taking BCAA at all three times if you have a lot of muscle mass is not unheard of at all.
But note that you cannot take BCAA as a meal replacement. Yet another advantage of using whey.
Whey Protein, BCAA and Aging Adults
As we age, we lose muscle tissue. This process is called sarcopenia. It’s inevitable, but we can do several things to combat this change. It’s well researched that strength training during later years of life can help offset these changes.
But supplementing with whey protein, which has enough BCAA to induce muscle protein synthesis is also helpful.
It’s shown that the practice of ingesting additional whey with BCAA immediately after strength training helps significantly to minimize sarcopenia.
Elderly need more protein post-workout than younger adults due to the reduced metabolic rate.
All in all, just know that as you age, whey protein can really help hold on to your hard-earned muscle.
Whey Protein And The Vascular System
A recent review by Price, et al in 2022 looked at the effects of the specific amino acids in whey protein in relation to the vascular system.
They’ve concluded there’s increasing evidence the peptides in whey protein contribute positively to vascular health. Specifically, blood pressure and arterial stiffness.
This is just an additional bang for the buck with using whole whey protein vs BCAA’s only.
Saving Money on Supplements
Choosing to use whey instead of BCAA is an easy way to save money on supplements.
Just make sure you use whey protein with at least 5.5 grams of BCAA added to the product.
To save further check out “the best bang for the buck” whey protein. Which I reviewed in July of 2018 (4 Best Whey Protein Powders to Boost Your Workout Results).
Head-to-Head Comparison BCAAs vs Whey Protein
|Most bioavailable||whey protein|
|Best bang for the buck||whey protein|
|Biggest return on investment||whey protein|
|Best meal replacement||whey protein|
|Best for muscle gain||whey protein|
|Best for avoiding dairy products||BCAA|
|Best for staying super lean||BCAA|
|Fastest absorbed||whey protein|
|Best for post-workout||whey protein|
|What’s better BCAA or whey protein to build muscle||whey protein|
BCAA vs Whey Protein Which is Better
Whey protein is a better supplement than BCAA for us in most cases and more cost-effective. Whey protein is a complete protein. It contains all essential amino acids you need to build muscle including BCAAs. However, BCAAs are the better supplement in cases where you want to maintain muscle mass while losing weight. Such as preparing for a bodybuilding competition.
My Take on BCAA vs Whey Protein Powder
I’ve been at this business/culture for a long time. Watching supplements originate from their infancy. I also studied them for seven years at the University of Delaware during their evolution. Additionally, I’ve tried copious amounts of different supplements myself.
My opinion is whey protein and creatine are the most worthwhile supplements. I’ve always believed this, and continue to this day.
They are also the “best bang for the buck” for almost everyone trying to better themselves.
Again, if you’re already using whey protein, no need to add BCAA to your arsenal.
BCAA do have a very specific place for individuals with intense workouts. Those include:
- If you have an aversion to whey protein.
- Certainly if you have an allergy to whey protein.
- You may go on a strict diet that requires you to remove whey protein
So if none of those are you, stick to the whey protein shakes.
There’s my take on BCAA vs whey protein shakes.
Wishing you all well!
FAQ on BCAA vs Whey Protein
BCAA vs whey protein for weight loss?
In and of itself, neither BCAA or whey protein stimulates weight loss. Either can be used to help maintain muscle tissue while cutting fat. But neither directly result in weight loss.
When to take BCAA and whey protein?
Again, take either, not both after a workout to maximize the benefits. You’ve set the stage hormonally during your workout to better absorb protein. I’m all for a good bang for the buck!
Can we mix whey protein and BCAA?
There’s no gain for adding additional BCAA’s to your whey protein. Save your money.
BCAA or whey protein for weight loss?
I’m answering this again because there’s another aspect to cover. If you’re on a calorie-restricted diet, but want to maintain muscle tissue, using BCAA’s alone will be your best choice. Not both.
BCAA vs whey protein for post-workout?
You’re better off using just whey protein (has plenty of BCAA’s in it) after a workout. There’s more to muscle building than just the consumption of leucine, isoleucine, or valine.
Can I take amino acids instead of protein?
Because of the competitive nature of the absorption of individual amino acids over whole protein, I don’t recommend this. Not only is it cost-prohibitive, but it also is less productive. When in doubt, the whole protein is better.
Does whey protein have BCAA?
You bet! Approximately 5.5 grams of BCAA per serving of whey protein.
Whey protein and BCAA before bed?
There’s merit to consuming either (not both) before bed to take advantage of your elevated growth hormone levels. But, I would suggest casein protein, which is absorbed more slowly before bed instead. You can read more about casein in my article: The Definitive Guide to the Best Type of Protein Powder.
Take BCAA or whey protein?
Bottom line, if you’re not dieting for a bodybuilding competition just stick to whey protein. You’ll get a better return on your investment and effort.
Amino acids can be either glucogenic or ketogenic (or both). In other words, glucogenic amino acids are glucose precursors. This is because their carbon skeletons can be used to produce glucose. Ketogenic amino acids can be converted to ketone bodies or fatty acids. For more see our article on ketosis).
BCAA happens to be both.
- Leucine is ketogenic
- Valine is glucogenic
- Isoleucine is both ketogenic and glucogenic
Research and Resources on BCAA vs Whey Protein
Bill Campbell, Richard B Kreider, Tim Ziegenfuss, Paul La Bounty, Mike Roberts, Darren Burke, Jamie Landis, Hector Lopez and Jose Antonio, International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2007 4:8.
Research on Whey Protein
C. V. Morr & E. Y. W. Ha, Whey protein concentrates and isolates: Processing and functional properties, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Volume 33, 1993 – Issue 6
Charles Onwulata, Peter Huth, Whey Processing, Functionality and Health Benefits, 2008 Blackwell Publishing and the Institute of Food Technologists.
Oliver C Witard, Sarah R Jackman, Leigh Breen, Kenneth Smith, Anna Selby, Kevin D Tipton; Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 99, Issue 1, 1 January 2014, Pages 86–95k
Jason E. Tang, Daniel R. Moore, Gregory W. Kujbida, Mark A. Tarnopolsky, and Stuart M. Phillips; Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men, Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol 107, No. 3, September 2009, Pages 987-992.
Fang-Yu Wu, Mon-Chien Lee, Chi-Chang Huang, Yi-Ju Hsu and Wen-Ching Huang, Effects of Resistance Exercise Training and Protein Supplementation on Muscle Loss in the Elderly, Adaptive Medicine 12(2): 24-29, 2020.
Price, D., Jackson, K.G., Lovegrove, J.A. & Givens, D.I. The effects of whey proteins, their peptides and amino acids on vascular function. Nutrition Bulletin, 47, 2022, Pages 9–26.
Research on BCAA
Eva Blomstrand, Jörgen Eliasson, Haåkan K. R. Karlsson, Rickard Köhnke; Branched-Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 1, 1 January 2006, Pages 269S–273S
Faizal A .Manaf, Jeremiah J. Peiffer, Garth L. Maker, Timothy J. Fairchild, Branched-chain amino acid supplementation improves cycling performance in untrained cyclists, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport Volume 24, Issue 4, April 2021, Pages 412-417.
Kimball, Scot R & Jefferson, Leonard S.Regulation of protein synthesis by branched-chain amino acids, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, January 2001 – Volume 4 – Issue 1 – p 39-43
Michael V. Fedewa R, Steven O. Spencer, et al, Effect of branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Muscle Soreness following Exercise: A Meta-Analysis, International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research (2019), 89, pp. 348-356.
Mittleman KD , Ricci MR & Bailey SP. Branched-chain amino acids prolong exercise during heat stress in men and women, Controlled Clinical Trial, Clinical Trial, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t, Journal Article. Jan 1998, 30(1):83-91
Robert A. Harris, Mandar Joshi, Nam Ho Jeoung, Mariko Obayashi; Overview of the Molecular and Biochemical Basis of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Catabolism, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 135, Issue 6, 1 June 2005, Pages 1527S–1530S
Yoshiharu Shimomura, Taro Murakami, Naoya Nakai, Masaru Nagasaki, Robert A. Harris; Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 134, Issue 6, 1 June 2004, Pages 1583S–1587S
Yoshiharu Shimomura, Yuko Yamamoto, Gustavo Bajotto, Juichi Sato, Taro Murakami, Noriko Shimomura, Hisamine Kobayashi, Kazunori Mawatari; Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 2, 1 February 2006, Pages 529S–532S
Hi this is a really great article! I’ve been taking BCAAs back in 2016-2018 when I was training with weights 5-6days a week. However, now I’m on a mix of spinning, barre, rockclimbing, yoga and golf, I do all these mainly because I enjoy the sports and maintain my physique. I find that my muscle recovery is slow, I don’t think my usual average person diet chalks up enough protein to recover. I’m weighing at 44kg 158cm tall. Would taking BCAAs be ideal for me if I wanna maintain my size and not build mass, or would I benefit more from whey protein for muscle recovery? Appreciate your help!
Thank you so much for the kind words! I think it’s great that you’ve mixed up your training regimen with activities that you enjoy! It may still be more advantageous to incorporate whey protein in your diet simply as a delivery mechanism for enough protein for recovery. Adding one shake a day will not cause a gain in muscle, but it will certainly help maintain a physique. And it’s far easier than preparing an additional meal. So, I would skip the BCAA’s on their own if I were you and just keep one shake a day as an additional meal. And it’s irrelevant what time of day you consume the shake. Wishing you all the best.
Great article, thanks for the information.
I am currently following a “mostly” ketogenic diet paired with a 16/8 intermittent fasting eating regimen. My eating window is from 12 noon until 6 pm. I have no problem hitting my daily protein numbers although I do have a whey protein shake on occasion. Due to work/life schedules I typically workout around 8 or 9 at night which is a few hours after my last meal. I take caffeine and creatine with water as a pre-workout drink, sometimes adding citrulline mallate on nights I intend to workout heavy or for longer. I am building muscle while losing body fat, but noticing muscle soreness at night after a tough workout.
Would I benefit from taking BCAA with water after my workout?
Hey Matt. I appreciate the kind words! It sounds like you’re on a good plan so far. I’m shocked the evening caffeine does not disrupt your sleep. You’re fortunate. If you’re really trying to avoid any calories before bed, then yes. BCAA’s may help with the soreness. The other option to consider, is to move your first meal to 1pm and then drink a casein protein shake (still plenty of BCAA’s) right after the workout. You still stay within your 8 hour window and give the muscles fuel to heal and undergo muscle protein synthesis while you sleep. I hope this helps. Wishing you well.
This is the best article on the topic! Thank you for the detailed research, keep it up!
Thank you very much for the kind words and I sincerely appreciate your compliment. Are you planning to just use whey protein or BCAA’s alone? Wishing you well.
I’ve already ordered my first WHI. Thanks to your article I’ve decided to use just whey protein since it meets all my needs at the point. I was considering to get a vegan option instead but as I understood it has lower amounts of amino acids, so I did it for classical whey. Thanks once again and all the best!
You’re very welcome and happy to help!
Question, I am down to 193 lbs from 227 and am a 6ft tall 52 year old male. Push, pull, legs 2xs week plus cardio twice….I was taking creatine and a testosterone gel (drs orders for low Test) but noticed hair loss. My dr cut out the testosterone and i decided to cut out creatine. (Showing signs of hair loss so that made me nervous. I am now taking Whey Isolate with @ 6.9G of BCAAs. It seems to be working, my muscles are growing, i am keeping the weight off but my hair is still showing signs of thinning. NOt like before. Should i stopy the Whey Isolate with BCAAs or stick to my current plan. I stopped taking Test. and Creatine less than two weeks ago so maybe need to give it a little more time? I loved how creatine made my muscles feel “full” and big but did not think it was worth the hair loss tradeoff. Thoughts? Thanks
That’s a question with which I’m happy to help. The hair loss is typically due to one of the analogs to testosterone (DHT), which was elevated due to the testosterone gel. Typically, the elevated testosterone and aftereffects of DHT stay in your system for several weeks, it’s a little premature to not blame the hair thinning on the gel. That said, the creatine will have no effect on your hair thickness or testosterone levels, so keep it in your arsenal. It’s way too good a supplement to eliminate (especially as we age). The whey isolate is also a great form of whey protein to continue using. So, to sum it up, keep the whey protein and creatine in your regimen. The hair loss may continue completely unrelated to the supplements. Let me know whether you decide to keep just the whey or both the whey and creatine and how your progress goes. Thanks so much for the question!
I’m glad I stumbled on your article. I’m looking for a reason to cut out some money but still get results. I’ve been taking BCAAs in preworkout with creatine and caffeine for awhile. Then whey after working out. My mind will be blown to skip the preworkout. Lol! Do you recommend just taking caffeine and creatine preworkout? Or does it even matter with/when the creatine? I workout fasting early morning. What is your recommendation for a “preworkout”? I appreciate your time and feedback.
Thank you for the great question! Your scenario is why I addressed this issue. Your best option is to take caffeine before your workout and nothing else (maintaining good hydration of course). Yes, it does matter when you take creatine. It still needs an elevation of insulin or epinephrine to enter the cell. So, mix it with your whey and have that combination immediately after your workout. It’s more effective and costs less. Also, a store brand caffeine tablet will work great as a preworkout. I hope this helps. Wishing you well.
Great article. So i have struggled with this aspect for several months.
I train early in the morning and haven’t eaten in the last 10 hours or so. I have found no benefit in training fasted over time (either in performance or weight loss) so i started tryin to improve my performance, To that end, I have started taking Pre-Kaged (pre workout) to get some caffeine and stimulant before the workout. I also add whey protein to this to start Muscle Protein Synthesis and get some fuel in me, I usually have good workouts. I usually have another protein shake about 3 hours after the first one and about 2 hours before my first meal.
So my question is….
Given the pre workout has BCAAs, do I need to add the protein OR should i ditch the pre-workout and just have the protein with some extra caffeine? From your article I’m concerned I’m overkill pre-workout with the BCAAs and the protein.
Thanks for your [email protected]
That’s a great question Tony. If you’re trying to gain muscle while staying lean (and keep things simple), then from a financial stand point, I would eliminate the pre-workout. Instead, keep the whey protein shake and use a store brand replacement for Vivarin before your workout. That way you get your stimulant and maintain a positive nitrogen balance going into the workout. Drink another whey shake immediately after your workout. Give that about an hour and then eat a whole food meal with plenty of protein. There are other ways to approach this based on one’s goals, but this seems to match your current situation well. I appreciate the question and hope that helps.
Thanks for the answer! It makes sense to me.
I’m trying to cut superfluous supplements and spending while maintaining leanness losing fat and building muscle (i.e. keep my present weight and grow my LBM), To that end I’m converging to three supplements: Protein, Caffeine and Creatine while keeping a slight caloric deficit (about 300 calories a day). Since i presently can’t do any cardio right now (stress fracture) I’m just strength / resistance training. But this seems to be working.
Thanks for the advice
Tony, your approach is exactly as it should be pending the circumstances. And you’ve selected “truly worthwhile” supplements. I wouldn’t change a thing. Best of luck and I wish you well!
What about the day after a workout, when you’re really sore and just laying around recovering. I usually take powdered bcaa drinks two times per day between meals. This is only because dairy products including whey are hard on my stomach, so I only use it on lifting days. Does this make sense? Secondly, why are so many bcaa powders “fermented”? Is there any added advantage, or is it more to prolong shelf life? I know fermented foods in general are very good for you.
Great question Charlie! Since you’re avoiding whey, taking BCAA’s the day of training is great. But adding additional on the second day has benefit too if you’re not eating a lot of additional protein. Your muscles are repairing/rebuilding during your rest, so adding BCAA’s that day helps with recovery. I’m not positive why some BCAA’s are fermented. Microorganisms can, of course be used to consume a substrate and yield a new product (think beer or sauerkraut). This process may be a natural way of BCAA extraction eliminating any pathogenic microorganisms. Nonetheless, it’s not relevant where the BCAA’s came from since your physiology only sees the end product (isoleucine, leucine and valine). I hope this helps.
Where did you get the notion that whey protein is absorbed faster than BCAA? So far, I’ve read everywhere that it’s the other way round. BCAAs are chemically simpler in structure so it makes sense to me also logically.
Adam, your question is not only viable, but worth discussing. I recall learning in one of my classes (NTDT 611) that because of the competitive nature of individual amino acid absorption, their absorption rate can be slower than a whole protein source when supplemented. On first impression, this statement is a head scratcher, so I dove into the journals. I found nothing, so I pulled my notes from a hundred years ago and found the root of my statement. Only problem is that since I can’t cite my notes and I can’t find a journal source, we’ll have to leave this unanswered. But in the long run, the rate difference is negligible when looking at the total outcome, i.e., no one would really notice the difference. And both stimulate muscle protein synthesis, so it’s a win either way. Also, I consulted with an old friend, Dr. Jose Antonio and this is what he stated: “I don’t think anyone has done a direct head to head comparison of absorption of whey vs BCAA…at least none that I’ve ever read or recall.” So, if you’re a student, this would be a profound study to undertake. Wishing you well.
Wow, thank you very much for your comprehensive answer. Not that it would make any difference in real life but as I read the article, the statement simply caught my eye. From what you wrote, I think the most important point would be that the difference is most likely negligible. (And no, I’m not a student haha, just a gym/nutrition enthusiast 😃 )
My pleasure Adam. It was nice to do some comprehensive review of the old notes. Stay well.
Hi. Would you comment about supplementing whey protein shakes with collagen protein? Is it also a waste of money?
This is a great question! I had to do a literature review of peer reviewed journals before I was willing to answer this question. There are only about twelve studies to date that are relevant, but all dealt with the elderly. Nonetheless, I found that in most cases, adding collagen protein as a supplement improved fat free muscle mass, bone mineral density and offered a protective effect on articular cartilage. Because most studies were done on the elderly, it’s relevant to ask if these improvements will be seen in younger individuals already acquiring enough protein for muscle protein synthesis. If it’s inexpensive, I wouldn’t consider it a waste of money if you’re over fifty (not that that’s elderly). Otherwise, stick to whey protein.
Hello Mr. Willard, I’d like to thank you so much for the effort you put to write this article and research, as the I bought Bcaa and why protein both years ago as the pharmacist convinced me, but days ago I bought whey protein but the pharmacist again tried to make me buy Bcaa but I told him whey already has 5.5 of Bcaa as written on it but he somehow tried sell the product as much as he can, anyway so I have to say that I got bit confused afterwards then I did some googling then I found your article and sir I have to say you were very helpful and may God bless you and I wish you all the best in life
Your dear brother Saif from United Arab Emirates (UAE) also most of the world acknowledge only a city there called Dubai lol
I appreciate the kind words Saif! And I’m glad you found my article, so that you’re better equipped the next time you shop for supplements. Wishing you well!
I am 80, been weight training for 60. I take Rule 1 whey protein powder. My last lab blood work showed that my eGFR was 56
(should be >60). That indicates my kidneys are not filtering as they should.
My question: Are BCAAs less stressful to my kidneys than taking 20 g whey protein a day?
I read your article on the comparison of the two….very well thought out and researched.
Again, I appreciate the kind words and I respect your many years “in the trenches.” Your question is valid and important. I have to admit, I had to crack the old nutrition and disease text books on my shelf for this one. Have you had multiple tests showing a reduced GFR? I can’t give medical advice, but I can suggest multiple tests to rule out an outlying circumstance.
But to answer your question, if your not diabetic and you’re tests show a consistent <60, then switching to just BCAA's may be helpful. As you know, you'll be instructed to minimize protein intake and the BCAA's will typically be utilized by muscle tissue quickly before renal presentation. They could be a good tool in your arsenal to prevent muscle loss. I hope this helps.
Glynn, I heard high heat produced whey is really a carcinogenic, ur thoughts.
I currently have used for the past 7 years ON Gold Standard Whey. I read [an article] that has left me wondering about the product I use. I called the company, but the guy I talked to lacked knowledge. Can you help? Time is precious, so I need the best results.
I appreciate the comment. I cannot address whether high heat whey is a carcinogen or not, but ON Gold standard is a blend. If you’re looking for a high end whey protein, Isopure’s zero carb is at the top of my list. Expensive, but great quality.
I’ve done a bit of research in this field but I can’t come to a conclusion. For me, I’m “mostly-vegan” (i.e. I usually stay away from milk products and only eat chicken/red meat 2-3x a week) and I’ve found it hard to get enough protein while staying within my 1,200 calorie allotment. I also currently engage in intermittent fasting, so I do not eat from 7pm-10am, unfortunately meaning that when I work out in the evenings I do not eat after.
All of this to say-
To help with my protein deficiency, I am currently having a plant protein shake (20g) at 10am (I do quick 10-30 minute low impact workouts in the morning before work).
My evening workouts are usually 45-80 minutes long and are a mix of weights, cardio and yoga. I follow this with BCAAs as I usually finish up around 8pm do not eat in the evenings….are using the two still an overkill?
Hi Stacey. Pending your circumstances, you’re one of the outliers who will actually benefit from using BCAA’s after your workout in the evening. I wouldn’t tell you to change anything without getting feedback on how your current plan is working. How are your energy levels? And is your physique satisfactory to your current regime?
Currently im gaining weight with Serious Mass. and compound exercise (not really light or heavy. just average compound exercise) Is it good? or I need to change it with whey protein. Need your opinion.
I believe you’re talking about Optimum Nutrition’s Serious Mass weight gainer. If so, and you’re failing in the 8 rep range with your multi-joint lifts, you’re on the right track. Because Serious Mass is so high in sugar, I suggest tapering off of it and moving to straight whey protein (or casein) once you achieve the desired muscle mass. Serious Mass is a fine product if you’re already lean and find it difficult to add muscle. If you switch to whey protein immediately, you’ll likely gain as much muscle on your frame with the same style of training and less fat. So the number on the scale will be lower, but the muscle gained will be the same. That is with all other food intake being equal. I hope this helps and I wish you well on your strength training endeavor.
This is an amazingly detailed and well-considered article. Whey protein still appears to be the most popular option, but BCAAs have definitely been discussed on a lot of sites. Your consideration of the financial side of things is also a really nice, and often overlooked, analysis. Thanks!
I appreciate the kind words. I’m opposed to wasting money on unnecessary supplements and feel I have a fiduciary responsibility to not only offer healthy fitness solutions, but also consider one’s finances and eliminate waste. Thank you again! Your feedback means a lot to me!