When you’re lifting weights or doing strength training to any degree, protein is an essential part of your diet. Protein allows your muscles to build and repair themselves. What isn’t as commonly known about is the benefits of BCAA supplements.
What are BCAA supplements?
BCAA’s are branched-chain amino acids known as L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine. All 3 of these amino acids are actually found within protein itself. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Many athletes will take BCAA’s on their own or in addition to protein supplements.
The human body requires essential amino acids, which are necessary for proper functioning. Of these essential amino acids you have BCAA’s which are important to building muscle mass and aiding growth. During high intensity strength training, BCAA’s prevent muscle breakdown. This allows you to continue your pump and workout for longer and more strenuously. BCAA’s are also a natural energy source, providing performance improvements and giving your body the fuel it needs to thrive.
L-leucine has shown in many research studies to be particularly important to the development of muscle mass which is why most BCAA supplements have a 2:1:1 or 3:1:1 ratio of L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine. L-leucine triggers muscle building processes and is best combined with the other two BCAA’s, as well as glutamine.
BCAA’s are the biggest contributors to muscle development among the essential amino acids but it’s important to maintain a healthy intake of all amino acids in your diet.
Protein is one of the three major nutrients that supply us with calories. Between proteins, carbohydrates and fats, we get all the nutrition we need. However, proteins have a special molecular structure that when digested, forms into amino acids and is used to build new protein to build the cells and tissues your body is composed of.
Without protein, our organs and tissues wouldn’t exist. Protein is the body’s building material. When your diet lacks protein, the human body begins to break down muscle in order to keep amino acid levels sufficient. There are many foods rich in protein that are excellent staples for an everyday diet. Some of these foods include meat, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts and seeds. However, for most athletes protein powders are heavily relied upon. Protein supplements are easy to use and generally low in calories.
Most protein powders are manufactured from powdered milk proteins such as whey or casein. Another option is soy and vegetable proteins are becoming a popular, health conscious choice but are often pretty expensive. For a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition for lifting and intense strength training, protein powders can be an excellent option.
Protein powders often contains high amounts of BCAA’s but sometimes not in the same ideal ratio found in BCAA supplements.
Protein or BCAA Supplements – Which is Better?
Here’s a quick comparison:
- Sold in powdered form to be mixed with a liquid and taken as a shake or sold ready-made.
- Contains all 20 amino acids, both essential (including BCAA’s) and non-essential. Ratios vary.
- Has considerably more calories than a BCAA supplement.
- Could replace a meal.
- Sold in capsules, tablets, powder, or liquid shots.
- Contains the 3 most important essential amino acids for muscle development and recovery.
- Very low in calories.
- Could not replace a meal.
Most athletes take both and for good reason. The primary difference between BCAA and protein supplements is how they are taken.
BCAA supplements often come in capsules, tablets or even liquid shots. They are ideally used before or after a workout. BCAA supplements have very few calories and generally do not provide a sense of fullness. They shouldn’t be used to replace a meal because they have few carbs, fats or protein.
Protein supplements come as a soluble powder made to be mixed with milk, water or another liquid. One protein shake (25g of powder) generally has around 15-25 grams of protein and 150-200 calories. Protein powders are suitable for the health conscious with very few grams of fat, sugar and carbs. One major difference between BCAA supplements and protein is that protein powder provides a sense of fullness and can be used as a meal replacement. However, most individuals will require multiple scoops of protein powder to not feel hungry for more than a couple hours.
Protein powders have a very diverse amino acid profile, which can’t be said for BCAA’s. As mentioned, a BCAA supplement contains only 3 of the 10 essential amino acids required for the human body. While research shows that L-leucine, L-valine and L-isoleucine are the most important amino acids for muscle recovery and protection against catabolism (muscle breakdown), all essential amino acids need to be obtained in your diet.
One of the great attributes of protein powder is that most powders contain all 20 amino acids, including the non-essential ones. They also contain about 5g of BCAA amino acids, the same as would be found in one serving of a BCAA supplement.
In essence, both supplements are excellent choices for those who want to provide their body with the important building blocks for developing muscle mass and aiding muscle recovery. Either supplement will improve your ability to lift for longer and harder, while shortening the time it takes you to get back in the gym thanks to post-workout recovery.
Which supplement is right for you depends on your needs. Are you looking for an easy to take capsule, powder or tablet, or a protein shake that’s dense in nutrients and potentially meal replacing?