BCAAs vs Protein Powder Which Can Improve Muscle And Recovery

BCAAs vs Protein Powder Which Can Improve Muscle And Recovery

Branched-chain amino acids are supplements containing 3 of the 9 essential acids required for adequate protein intake. These supplements have been compared with protein powders for their effects on muscle. This article discusses the benefits of BCAA v protein powder to show if taking BCAA supplements can enhance growth and recovery.

What are BCAAs

BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids. Amino acids make up protein. The body needs these substances for the growth and repair of muscle cells [R]. 

These amino acids cannot be made by the body. They need to be consumed in the diet [R]. 

They are named for the branched-chain side molecule on their chemical structure. There are three essential amino acids that make up the BCAA’s. They are leucine, isoleucine, and valine [R, R, R, R]. 

Leucine facilitates growth, repair, and prevents the breakdown of muscle post-workout [R, R]. Isoleucine is an amino acid found in muscle tissues [R].  It can produce red blood cells which are needed to make lean muscle [R R]. Valine fuels muscles with energy and maintains muscle coordination [R]. 

Benefits of BCAAs 

BCAA supplements are easily digested and are a quick energy source for muscles to use during prolonged exercise [R, R]. Other benefits include endurance, lean muscle mass, strength, recovery, and weight loss [R, R, R, R, R, R].

BCAA supplements contain leucine. This amino acid activates proteins to build muscle mass better than a placebo when taken both before and after resistance training [R, R]. Taking 6 grams of BCAA after resistance exercises also improved muscle growth 22% better than a placebo in young men. [R]. 

Leucine is also needed for muscle recovery. Higher levels of this amino acid may improve sore muscles relate to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). [R]. 

Having higher levels of amino acids may prevent muscle loss post-workout. Higher amino acid levels were also seen with the use of BCAA supplements [R].

A week of BCAA supplements after prolonged endurance exercise reduced markers associated with muscle damage better than diet alone [R]. Another found BCAAs to accelerate muscle recovery even when taken up to 10 days before exercising [R, R]. 

BCAAs are used as a fuel source during exercise. They can improve energy levels [R]. The amino acid valine has is associated with reduced fatigue [R, R]. Exercise performance was improved in animals given valine [R]. 

The use of BCAA’s may regulate hormones associated with weight loss [R].  The BCAA isoleucine also reduced weight in animals given a high-fat diet. [R].

What is Protein Powder

Protein powder is a concentrated form of protein. It comes available as a supplement and is made from both animal and plant sources. Some common protein powders include soy, pea, hemp, and whey protein.

These types of protein supplements offer an easy way to get adequate protein for those who cannot get enough from diet alone [R]. 

Benefits of Protein Powder

A lack of quality protein in the diet can lead to poor muscle growth and fatigue [R]. Protein powders offer an easy way to get the protein needed to synthesize muscle mass when used in conjunction with exercise. [R].

Benefits include a quick energy source. They also improve muscle growth and strength in both anaerobic and aerobic exercise.  Protein powders are also known for their weight gaining and recovery effects [R, R, R].

BCAA vs Protein Powder 

BCAAs contain only 3 of the 9 essential amino acids while protein powders contain all 9. This makes this supplement a complete protein.  So BCAAs are lacking in some protein content. 

Both products provide a good energy source. They also can improve muscle growth, strength, and recovery [R, R, R, R, R, RR].

While BCAAs help with weight loss, protein powders often work as a mass gainer. So using a BCAA supplement may be a better option if you are looking to lose weight but still maintain muscle [R, R]. 

Additionally, some research shows muscle growth and recovery is improved when all 9 essential amino acids are consumed. Protein synthesis also improved better after using a combination of protein and BCAA supplements than taking BCAAs alone [R, R]. 

When to Take BCAA 

There is conflicting information on when to take BCAAs. One study found using these supplements pre-workout prevented soreness and muscle damage [R]. Another study found no difference in results when used before or after exercise [R]. 

Try testing out various times to see what works the best for you.

BCAA Dosage Recommendations

Some dosages recommendations are between 15 to 35 grams a day [R, R]. However, it is best to start off with a low dose. Also, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s label. 

What to Look for in a BCAA Supplement

Unfortunately, these products are not regulated. Make sure to get a quality product that is third-party tested.

BCAA Safety Side Effects

Short-term use of BCAA supplements is generally safe for healthy individuals [R, R]. There is not much information on the long-term use of these supplements.

Some side effects have been seen with their use. They include fatigue, loss of coordination, stomach upset nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach bloating. Rare but serious side effects include high blood pressure, headache, or skin whitening [R]. 

These supplements are not recommended for people with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), the congenital disorder maple syrup urine disease, and those on levodopa, thyroid, corticosteroids, diazoxide, or diabetes medications [R, R, R]. 

If you have any health conditions and/or are on any medications it is best to ask your doctor before trying BCAA supplements.


Protein intake is needed to build lean muscle. It also helps with exercise recovery. Branched-chain amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are made up of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These compounds are not made by the body and need to be consumed in the diet. BCAA supplements provide a quick energy source for long periods of exercise. They are also associated with endurance, muscle growth, strength, recovery, and weight loss. 

When compared with protein powders, BCAAs are lacking in some of the essential amino acids needed for protein synthesis. However, your fitness goals will determine whether BCAAs or protein powder is the best for you. If you are looking to lose weight but still gain muscle BCAA’s may be a better option. Alternatively, if you are looking to get the most out of your workout you can try combining these two supplements together. This may give you the most nutritional benefit.

There is no specific timing when it comes to using BCAA supplements. Be sure to get a quality product and start with a low dose to see how it affects you. There are also some side effects associated with short-term use. What happens in long-term use is unknown. These products should not be used in those with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), the congenital disorder maple syrup urine disease, and those taking levodopa, thyroid, corticosteroids, diazoxide, or diabetes medications. If you have a health condition and/or are on any medications ask your doctor before taking these supplements to avoid any interactions.


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