Whey protein is, by far, the most popular of the supplements for resistance trainees, bodybuilders, weightlifters, and athletes. It's one of the easiest forms of protein to digest. It provides all nine amino acids essential for building muscle. And its quick-absorbing structure makes it the perfect post-workout supplement.
BCAA supplements, on the other hand, are less-known but no less important. They provide the three most critical amino acids, giving your body the fuel it needs to stimulate protein synthesis in your muscles. A BCAA supplement can help to increase muscle growth and protect muscle mass from breakdown during or after intense exercise.
Both supplements sound pretty similar, right? Below, we do a full breakdown of BCAA vs whey protein comparison to give you a clear idea of each supplement's function. And what the pros and cons of each are. By the time you reach the end of this page, you'll know everything you need about BCAA vs whey protein comparison!
BCAA vs Whey Protein: Function
Whey proteins are types of protein powder made from the whey in cow's milk. Whey is a fast-acting source of protein, and it's easily absorbed by your body and put to use building muscle. It contains all nine essential amino acids required for muscle synthesis. It increases muscle growth. Reduces recovery time after an intense workout. Reduces muscle fatigue, Suppresses your appetite. And protects your muscles from being broken down during endurance or cardiovascular training.
BCAAs are branch-chain amino acids, the three most important amino acids used by your body: leucine, iso-leucine, and valine. These three account for 66% of the amino acid activity in your body, which makes them more important than the other six "essential" amino acids required for muscle growth. BCAAs help to protect muscle mass when you drastically cut calories, which makes them ideal for those on very low or restricted calorie diets. They can also increase lean muscle mass and promote post-workout recovery.
BCAA vs Whey Protein: Before or After?
Whey protein is almost always consumed AFTER your workout. It is a fast-acting protein, which means it floods your body with the amino acids required to repair damaged muscle tissue and encourage the growth of new muscle tissue. If consumed 30-90 minutes before workout, it could lead to indigestion, and it's too fast-acting to be useful if consumed more than 3 hours before workout. However, if consumed after the workout, it replenishes energy and speeds up post-workout recovery times.
Whey Protein Pros
Here are a few of the things that make whey protein a good supplement to take:
- It's easy on your digestive system, and it's quickly absorbed and used by your body. The fast-acting nature of the supplement makes it perfect for post-workout use.
- It delivers all the amino acids required for muscle building.
- The supplement is fairly low in calories, yet delivers a concentrated dose of high quality protein.
- The flavor is often fairly enjoyable, especially when mixed with milk or in a shake.
Whey Protein Cons
Whey protein isn't perfect, as these "cons" will show:
- It is a milk product, so may not be vegetarian/vegan-friendly or suitable for those with lactose intolerance.
- Many whey proteins are made with artificial and chemical preservatives, additives, flavorings, and sweeteners.
- It's one of the pricier supplements on the market, thanks to its popularity.
BCAA's are far less likely to cause indigestion during workout, which makes them one of the best supplements to take before and during training, as well as after. Taking BCAAs before a workout session provides your body with the amino acids required to power your muscles during training. Taking them mid-workout can act as a boost to help you push harder and go longer. You can also take them after a training session as a way to replenish amino acids.
Here are a few of the things that make BCAAs a good supplement to take:
- They provide a concentrated dose of the three most important amino acids, at a balanced ratio (2:1:1) that encourages better muscle growth.
- It helps to boost your energy levels during the workout and enhance your muscular endurance.
- They're lighter and easier on your digestive system.
- BCAA's are lactose-free, thus making them suitable for those who cannot consume milk products.
BCAAs aren't perfect, as these "cons" will show:
- BCAA's are harder to mix. They tend to be mixed with water, but they often come out grainy or gritty.
- Don't have complete proteins. While BCAAs provide a boost, they're not EVERYTHING your body needs to build muscle.
Are BCAAs Overrated?
Many experts insist that BCAA supplements are worth their weight in gold, but is that the case? Research may indicate the opposite…
The one main study used to promote BCAAs found that wrestlers who consumed BCAAs saw significant muscle and fat burning benefits. But what isn't common knowledge is that the men in the study only consumed around 80 grams of protein per day—nowhere near enough to be "healthy". Basically, with the BCAAs, they were consuming a "normal" amount of protein, so the benefits they saw might have been the same had they eaten enough protein.
You can almost always get enough of the three branch-chain amino acids from the food you eat. As long as you are eating enough animal-based proteins (up to 40 grams) at each meal, you will get enough valine, leucine, and isoleucine that you won't need a BCAA supplement.
However, for those who are struggling to increase protein intake without eating more animal proteins, or those who are on a restricted-calorie diet, BCAA supplements are an excellent option. They give you a way to increase protein intake without adding too many calories to your diet. You'll be able to fuel up with the important amino acids required for muscle growth. Best of all, thanks to the BCAAs, you'll be able to protect your lean muscle mass while on a very low or restricted calorie diet.