What are the differences between amino acids and protein powders? Why are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) crucial for muscle building? If you take a protein, do you still need BCAAs? We sat James Grage down to answer all our questions about BCAAs vs. protein. Here is his no-nonsense breakdown of the differences and when to use each.
What Do BCAAs Do?
Your body can’t produce BCAAs on its own, so you need to get them from your food or supplements. BCAAs are metabolized primarily in the skeletal muscle, unlike most amino acids that are metabolized in the liver. This means they are more readily available to the body as fuel. They are absolutely essential for building and repairing muscle and can help with weight loss. For people who are looking to lose weight without sacrificing muscle, BCAAs can be a vital supplement. Calorie restriction can also result in catabolism, where the body begins to break down lean muscle as a source of energy. Supplementing with BCAAs can help reduce this unwanted muscle breakdown.
What Are BCAAs Best For?
BCAAs go to work faster than protein does, even though protein also provides BCAAs. When your glycogen stores run low, your body relies on the three BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, for fuel.
What Does Protein Do?
Quality protein works in the body to build muscle, support strength and contribute to overall health and well-being. The protein you get from a protein powder contains the BCAAs your body needs, but they have to be broken down and processed through the liver. Free form BCAAs, on the other hand, can be used by your body almost immediately.
What is Protein Best For?
Protein powder with a high amount of whey hydrolysates is better absorbed by the body. Whey hydrolysates go through an extra process to create smaller peptide chains, so they are more easily absorbed and digested by the body. Easy digestion also leads to faster nutrient absorption.
If Protein Has BCAAs, Why Take Both?
It’s all about the need for speed. Think of it this way: BCAAs are the building blocks of protein, so if you take protein, your body has to break down the protein to use the BCAAs. Taking straight BCAAs, on the other hand, skips that step. Your body can use the BCAAs immediately. You still should take protein to help build muscle and strength, but make sure you are taking BCAAs as well.
When Should I Take BCAAs vs. Protein?
According to James, BCAAs can be taken before, during and after your workout. A whey hydrolysate-rich protein powder can be used as a meal replacement or taken right after your workout.
Which Wins in the Head-to-Head Battle of BCAAs vs. Protein?
According to James, in the battle of BCAAs vs. protein, the winner is… both! BCAAs and protein are equally essential in his daily nutrition and supplement regimen. He chooses a peptide-linked BCAA supplement because peptides are better absorbed and utilized than free form amino acids. With a focus on easy absorption and digestion, James also uses a protein powder with a high amount of whey hydrolysates. Before his workout, James takes his BCAAs, and for recovery, he makes a shake with a whey hydrolysate-rich protein powder to drink immediately afterwards. It’s a complete approach to building a healthy and powerful physique.
For more information on supplementation, check out Which Supplements Should I Take and When?