The two most commonly recommended supplements for muscle building are BCAAs and whey protein powder.
But which is better?
Whey protein is a man-made fitness supplement that is a byproduct of cheese production.
Although it’s made from milk, it doesn’t contain the same amount of lactose or calories.
Whey provides all of the essential amino acids including those that are categorized as branched-chain amino acids.
BCAAs are the end product of protein breakdown when your body digests it down into usable amino acids.
In other words, taking BCAAs is like skipping the middle man of whey protein.
Does that mean BCAA supplements are better than whey protein?
Let’s take a look at the benefits of both in this BCAAs vs. whey protein powder review.
Protein synthesis is the creation of muscle protein.
When your body is creating more muscle protein than is being broken down, this is called a positive protein balance.
It is the foundation for promoting the other benefits on this list. (1)
Studies show that consuming BCAA supplements promotes protein synthesis and establishes an anabolic environment ideal for growth and recovery. (2)
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition confirms that BCAAs taken after a workout can significantly increase levels of protein synthesis. (3)
Given that whey protein contains essential amino acids, you can safely assume it’s going to provide the same effect on protein synthesis.
Studies show that whey protein supplementation is ideal for quickly spiking protein synthesis post-workout because of its high rate of bio-availability, which is how efficiently the body can break it down to be used. (4)
What’s interesting is that other forms of protein such as milk protein and casein protein also increase protein synthesis but at slower rates, with casein taking the longest.
Are BCAAs better at triggering protein synthesis than whey protein?
While BCAAs have been shown to support protein synthesis, whey protein is better at it.
Researchers confirm that since whey protein contains all amino acids – not just leucine, isoleucine, and valine – it has a greater effect of protein synthesis levels. (5)
Both BCAAs and whey protein increase protein synthesis, a key process for the development of muscle tissue.
However, does that mean either supplement is great at supporting muscle building?
Aside from protein synthesis, BCAAs have been shown to have an anti-catabolic effect on muscle tissue.
In other words, BCAAs will protect your current levels of muscle tissue from being broken down due to environmental influences, intense training, or a low-calorie diet. (6)
Whey protein is most famously used for muscle building with a number of studies confirming its usefulness for supporting lean tissue growth. (7)
The catch when using either supplement is that you must be working out.
Researchers confirm that there isn’t much of an effect from protein or BCAAs on the body without resistance training.
Since whey protein rapidly delivers the complete scale of amino acids, it’s considered the better muscle-building supplement.
With that said, BCAAs are more suitable for consuming during workouts since they are low in calories and able to be consumed without causing cramps.
If your goal is muscle mass, post-workout recovery is incredibly important. You grow when you rest, not while you’re in the weight room.
BCAAs are a great way to support sports recovery.
As mentioned above, they promote protein synthesis and protect your current levels of muscle from breakdown.
BCAAs also reduce muscle soreness, which can keep you out of the gym, missing your chance to trigger more hypertrophy or muscle growth. (8)
Whey protein also benefits post-workout recovery with studies finding it to be more effective than a carbohydrate-loaded sports drink. (9)
There’s no competition here between BCAAs vs. whey protein.
If you want to support your recovery, reach for whey protein.
There’s a reason that it’s universally accepted as the ideal post-workout choice: it works.
Which Should You Take? BCAAs vs Whey Protein
Whey protein is the dominant supplement in every category above; naturally, it has earned a spot on your kitchen counter.
Does that mean you should avoid BCAAs?
No, not at all.
The science is clear that BCAAs do help with protein synthesis, muscle building, and sports recovery.
If you are on a low-calorie diet that incorporates fasted training, BCAAs are going to be essential for promoting muscle protection while leaning out.
I recommend making both a part of your daily supplement routine.
Use a BCAA supplement before and during training.
Then drink a whey protein shake immediately after your workout and an hour before bed.
This routine combined with an effective diet and exercise program can help you get the results you’re looking for in the gym.