Whey protein and Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are some of the most widely used dietary supplements in the fitness world.
Both supplements are considered safe and effective in supporting your fitness goals, and there has been extensive research on their specific health benefits.
However, many people argue over which is a better supplement and whether you should be taking whey protein vs BCAA, so let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
Whey protein is one of the most widely used bodybuilding supplements and is a common ingredient in protein powders, so you may already be familiar with this supplement. BCAAs are a more specialist supplement, and while they are commonly added to protein powders and other bodybuilding supplements, they are less common as a standalone supplement.
While both supplements are scientifically proven to be beneficial, there are times when using BCAA instead of whey protein for muscle gain may be more effective and vice versa. To find out what combination of BCAA protein and/or whey protein products will be best for health goals, let’s take a closer look at their properties, health benefits and uses.
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Whey protein is a mix of proteins isolated from whey (the liquid part of milk that separates from curds during cheese production) and contains many high-quality nutrients. As such, it’s easy to see how whey protein can benefit you, unlike Branched Chain Amino Acids, which may make you wonder what are BCAAs good for.
Whey protein contains large amounts of protein and amino acids that your body needs to grow muscle cells and increases the release of anabolic hormones that stimulate muscle growth. When taken as a supplement, whey protein has a wide variety of health benefits, including:
Whey protein is one of the most popular dietary supplements and is often added to other products – from protein bars to workout protein powder – for its health benefits. However, when discussing the benefits of whey protein vs BCAA, it’s important to remember that the three main types of whey protein have different properties:
Twenty different amino acids make up the thousands of proteins in the human body: 11 are non-essential (meaning you don’t need to get them from your diet), so forget about them for now. The remaining nine are essential (meaning they must be obtained through your diet), and three are “branched-chain”.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a group of three essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – commonly taken to improve exercise performance and muscle growth. BCAAs make up a large chunk of your total amino acid pool and are mostly broken down in your muscles, so they may provide unique benefits when comparing whey protein vs BCAA, including:
While taking whey protein is beneficial at any time of day, you should strategize your timing if you’re aiming to lose weight or gain muscle. There’s a lot of fierce debate over the best time to take BCAAs or whey protein for muscle gain, so we’ve gathered the pros and cons over the two main approaches:
Because protein promotes satiety (fullness) more than fat or carbs, taking whey protein in the morning will help reduce your appetite and craving for snacks throughout the day. Whey protein’s potential benefits for weight loss are often mentioned in debates over BCAA vs whey protein, as it can naturally help you reduce your snacking habits.
Alternatively, taking whey protein after a workout helps replenish your body’s protein stores and encourages muscle regeneration and growth, with studies showing benefits from taking protein supplements up to 2 hours after exercise. Contrastingly, BCAA supplements provide roughly the same benefits regardless of when you take them, making them much more versatile when comparing whey protein vs BCAA.
BCAAs are made of three essential amino acids, while whey protein contains all 9, so you may wonder what are BCAAs good for, but they can provide impressive additional benefits when combined with whey protein. BCAAs are high in leucine – a branched-chain amino acid that is important for repairing and building muscle – but lack the protein to support muscle growth, so taking them with whey protein gives you the best of both worlds.
While a BCAA protein powder may seem like the best of both worlds, you’re better off taking BCAA supplements and whey protein for muscle gain separately. This allows you to find the best supplements for your requirements and gives you greater flexibility in timing and dosage, as it’s generally best to take BCAAs before/after exercise and whey protein early in the day or after exercise.
Although there is little difference in the health benefits of taking BCAA before or after workout, what if you took a BCAA supplement without exercising? While there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from taking BCAA supplements if you don’t workout or are having a rest day, you may not get the full health benefits of BCAAs.
The unique benefits of BCAA vs whey protein are directly linked to exercise, as they provide the cellular energy your body needs to promote muscle growth and recover from strenuous exercise. Therefore, unless you’re taking BCAA for bodybuilding or before/after exercise, you won’t be able to benefit from its health benefits, and you should save your supplements for when you do plan to exercise.
BCAAs and whey powder are incredibly popular supplements – you only have to look at the hundreds of workout protein powders online to see how widespread whey is – but is there a winner between them? We’ve taken a close look at the pros and cons of both to finally answer the question of BCAA vs whey protein:
BCAA and whey protein supplements promote muscle growth by giving your body the protein and amino acids needed to synthesize new muscle cells. While the amino acid leucine is incredibly important for muscle growth, your body needs additional protein to synthesize muscle, so it’s better to use whey protein for muscle gain (as it naturally includes leucine), though taking it with BCAAs will boost your gains even more.
Studies show that BCAAs can increase stamina when doing moderate exercise in hot environments, which is great for endurance training. Contrastingly, whey is better for supporting strenuous exercises like weightlifting as it contains a wider range of essential nutrients, so the question of BCAA vs whey protein can depend on your exercise routine.
Although a high-protein diet promotes satiety (fullness) and weight loss, the quickest way to lose weight is to avoid calories, and BCAA supplements are virtually zero calories. Furthermore, many protein powders are packed with calories, making the whey protein vs BCAA debate very clear-cut when it comes to cutting and losing weight.
Unlike whey protein supplements, BCAAs can be broken down by muscles, providing rapid absorption and better bioavailability than other supplements. This means that BCAAs provide more powerful benefits and faster uptake than whey protein, a powerful selling point for anyone still wondering what are BCAAs good for.
BCAAs are much more expensive than whey protein by weight or by serving, though whey protein naturally contains protein and BCAAs (in smaller amounts) to support muscle growth. So, you’re better off looking into isolate protein vs whey protein powder than BCAAs if money is especially tight for your supplement budget.
People with lactose intolerance need to be extra careful when choosing a workout protein powder, as many products use whey which contains lactose. Fortunately, BCAAs are lactose-free, and there are many lactose-free and vegan protein powders, so you can enjoy the health benefits of protein supplements even if you’re lactose intolerant.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and whey protein are extremely popular supplements in the fitness world, with many people using whey or BCAA for bodybuilding. However, while both supplements are proven effective, they have different benefits and drawbacks, which makes it hard to find a simple question to the BCAA vs Whey Protein debate.
For example, whey protein is packed full of useful protein and contains BCAAs in small quantities – making it a good all-around supplement and workout protein powder. Contrastingly, BCAAs can boost muscle growth, but only if you’re getting the right nutrition already, which is why many experienced fitness experts recommend BCAA for bodybuilding.
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