GAIN MUSCLE

BCAAs vs Pre-Workout: Differences & Research-Backed Benefits

by Nader Qudimat
Updated November 5, 2022
OVERVIEW
Type
Performance Enhancers
Price
Varies
Serving Size
Varies
Availability 
Available everywhere
Positives
Reduces fatigue and soreness
Pumps and muscle fullness
Wide variety of choices
Negatives 
Can't trust every company
Pre workouts can interfere with sleep

Bottom Line

If you want to improve your workouts then you're probably considering some supplements. 

Companies are normally quick to make claims about how much of an effect their products have. 

There are two main categories that most people consider; BCAA's (branch amino acids) and pre-workouts.

Which one should you use and what do you avoid?

This is what we're going to break down below and you'll learn which supplement is worthy.

TOP 10 LISTS 

If you walk into any supplement store...

You're probably going to be approached with a biased opinion about how one specific brand or supplement will make all the difference. 

And if you Google any recommendations, you won't really know if they are pushing a product because they actually believe in it or because they are being paid to. 

Unless you have some knowledge about ingredients and company reputation, then it's likely difficult for you to choose what to take. 

BCAA's are normally sold under the idea that it's the most anabolic and anti-catabolic supplement available. 

And pre workouts because of the promise to increase energy and focus. 

What Are Pre Workouts?

Pre-workouts are designed to be taken before your workout. 

It has ingredients that are supposed to put you with a motivated mindset and enhanced energy, both physically and mentally. 

Typically pre-workouts will start with citrulline or beta-alanine and then follow through with more ergogenic aids like agmatine or betaine followed by a mix or a single stimulant. 

There are pre-workouts that are completely stimulant free and these can still enhance focus if it has nootropics but increasing physical energy would be very minimal.

Drinking a pre-workout about 20-40 minutes before your workout will allow your body to fully take advantage of the ingredients by digesting them.  

And they should be consumed on a nearly or completely empty stomach. 

Pre-workouts may even include BCAA's sometimes.

What Are BCAAs?

Branch amino acids, or BCAAs for short, are a mix of three amino acids that can vary in ratios. 

These BCAAs are valine, leucine and isoleucine. 

The body can't produce BCAAs so they are considered to be essential. 

BCAAs can be obtained through diet or supplements, and when it comes to diet, they can be found in chicken, eggs, greek yogurt, milk, and seafood.

They are also in protein supplements. 

But BCAA's can also be found in pure powder form without any other ingredient so they can be consumed during your workout without interfering with your digestion. 

Pure powder BCAAs are known to be free-form BCAAs. 

Are Pre Workouts or BCAA's Better?

We like to see BCAAs as a way to drink something refreshing during the workout. 

Pre-workouts are always going to be our choice when it comes to choosing one category that will make the biggest difference in workouts. 

BCAAs are great if it has other ingredients like carbs and electrolytes. 

But on its own, it's not worth it as the difference isn't as notable as pre-workouts. 

The biggest difference between BCAAs and pre-workouts is that pre-workouts are normally designed with multiple ingredients to work in synergy to provide some or all of many things that can increase focus and energy while reducing fatigue.

Pre-workouts can enhance blood flow and pumps if it has nitric oxide boosters.

BCAAs are just three amino acids that may reduce soreness and increase recovery but it isn't always noticeable and the research behind them isn't anything groundbreaking. 

There is plenty of research supporting BCAAs for their ability to increase anabolism while boosting endurance, but in our experience, pre-workouts will provide a much more noticeable impact on training. [1, 2]

While BCAAs have studies showing their effectiveness, pre-workouts are typically formulated with multiple ingredients that have years of research and studies.

So which is better?

It depends if you're not getting enough protein from your diet, then you'll likely see great benefits from supplementing with BCAAs.

But if you're eating sufficient protein, then pre-workouts are the better choice.

What's The Science Say About BCAAs?

BCAAs are great but it looks even better when there's research backing them up.

We know that muscle protein synthesis is enhanced when using leucine and isoleucine can drive glucose into cells.

But valine still needs more research to understand its role.

Consuming BCAAs can activate the submaximal muscle protein synthesis response (MPS). [3, 4]

Supplementing BCAAs can result in an MPS response if it's used with EAAs (either from supplements or diet). [5]

But the effect isn't as great as when consuming amino acids from a high-quality source. [6]

If you're already eating enough protein, then supplementing BCAA's will not result in more strength or muscle gains. [7]

Companies also promise that BCAAs can reduce mental and physical fatigue and this is true for 24-48 hours post-workout but it doesn't increase recovery of workouts. [8]

Who Is BCAAs For?

People who would benefit the most from supplementing BCAAs would be competitive bodybuilders who are cutting, vegans and vegetarians, the older population (50 and above) and endurance athletes. 

Athletes like marathon runners or triathletes may benefit the most as they often exercise for hours at a time and BCAAs would help reduce fatigue and increase recovery while helping with energy. 

These amino acids are found in animal-based protein sources which is why they would be beneficial for vegans and vegetarians. 

Plant-based foods lack BCAAs and typically don't contain them at all. 

Bodybuilders who cut are in a caloric deficit, so they likely wouldn't be getting enough BCAAs from their diet and it would be a good idea to supplement BCAAs.

What's The Science Say About Pre Workouts?

Pre-workouts can vary greatly in formulations and ingredients. 

But commonly they start with one or more of these ingredients:

  • Citrulline
  • Beta-alanine
  • Betaine
  • Agmatine
  • Tyrosine

And for stimulants, can also vary, but they'll almost always start with caffeine if it's not a stim-free pre-workout:

  • Caffeine
  • Hordenine
  • DMHA
  • DMAA

The studies behind the first category of ingredients show that they have benefits for muscle and strength building. 

For stimulants, there are research and studies but nothing is time-tested like caffeine.

What does the research say about each ingredient?

Citrulline:

  • Increases nitric oxide production and reduces blood pressure (more pumps and muscle fullness) [9, 10, 11, 12]
  • Improves oxygen utilization resulting in more power [13]
  • Increases endurance by 50% [14]
  • Reduces muscle soreness post workouts [14]
  • Increases growth hormone [15]
  • Reduces protein breakdown [16]
  • Activates muscle protein synthesis [17, 18]

Beta-Alanine:

  • Reduces lactic acid build-up in muscles [19]
  • Improves muscular endurance [19]
  • Increases mental function [20]
  • Improves strength [21]

Caffeine:

  • Reduces fatigue [22]
  • Inhibits adenosine and increases wakefulness [23]
  • Increases thermogenesis [24]
  • Improves mood [22]
  • Improves physical performance [25]

While we haven't covered every ingredient and the science behind them, the first few ingredients with the studies alone should be more than enough to see how a pre-workout can have a greater impact on workout performance than BCAAs. 

Who Should Take Pre Workouts?

Generally, you should be above the age of 16. 

Pre-workouts are also not all created equally as companies can vary in quality, formulations, and reputation. 

It's important to have some basic knowledge and not to buy just anything you see on the market as it may not be (or have) what it promises. 

If you plan to take it at night or with other sources of caffeine, then you should consider non-stimulant or low-caffeine pre-workouts. 

Where Should I Go From Here?

We have done the research and we frequently update the lists below for the best recommendations.

Check them out below...

Pre workouts:

BCAA related supplements:

Conclusion

Pre-workouts and BCAAs are both legit performance-enhancing supplements but there is a big difference between them. 

Pre-workouts are taken prior to workouts and are designed to not only improve physical performance but also increase recovery while reducing fatigue. 

If you're on a strict diet or you're a vegan, then maybe BCAAs are useful but we would otherwise recommend taking pre-workouts.

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by the iron and cold steel, Nader takes his knowledge and hulks it up into this site.

Having to be stuck as a 110lb skinny guy in the early days, he has had no choice but to keep improving himself until he cannot.

Click here to check out his 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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