If you’ve been working out for a while, you likely know that taking the right supplements can give you the extra edge you need to reach your fitness goals.
However, you also likely know that the number of supplements available can be overwhelming.
There are some supplements everyone can agree on, like creatine and branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. BCAAs and creatine both help fuel athletic performance.
Do you need to take both supplements? There are some differences between BCAAs vs creatine that every lifter should understand.
The guide below will take a closer look at the creatine vs BCAA debate.
BCAAs Vs Creatine: Which One Is Right For You?
Your personal goals will play a massive part in deciding if BCAAs or creatine is right for you.
For example, creatine would be your best option if you want to increase muscle size, strength, and power, creatine would be your best option.
On the other hand, you should choose BCAAs if your priority is to support muscle repair and recovery after exercise.
For Muscle Growth
One of the main reasons people supplement with BCAAs is to increase muscle growth.
This is because the BCAA leucine activates a pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis and decreases the rate of protein breakdown.
That means BCAA supplements help you build lean muscle mass while protecting against muscle breakdown.
BCAAs and creatine can both be considered muscle-building supplements.
Creatine can improve your performance, increase energy, lead to increased muscle mass, and reduces the potential of injury while you train.
The more creatine you have in your muscles, the more ATP you can generate. The added ATP can increase strength, power, and muscle growth when you do high-intensity training.
For Fat Loss
If your main goal is fat loss, BCAA will be your best choice.
Many studies have found that people who supplement with a threshold dose of essential amino acids that contain BCAAs with every meal have less visceral belly fat and more muscle mass.
Creatine does not directly burn body fat. Many people think creatine has fat-burning capabilities, but this is a common misconception.
Creatine supplementation is meant to help your body build lean muscle.
BCAAs are helpful in gaining skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscles are the “vanity muscles” that make you look strong and lean.
BCAAs are especially helpful for bodybuilders who maintain muscle while on a calorie-deficit diet.
That means BCAAs are excellent for bodybuilding competitors trying to take their physiques to the lean extreme.
Creatine supplementation is the most effective supplement to increase muscle and strength and is perhaps the most popular muscle-building supplement.
As a result, creatine has become a fundamental supplement in the bodybuilding community.
Whether you are a bodybuilder, endurance athlete, or marathon runner, you can use creatine supplements to gain muscle, enhance strength, and improve your exercise performance.
If you’re looking to really add muscle, creatine is your friend.
Research suggests that when combined with weight training, creatine is the single most effective supplement to add bulk and adding muscle mass.
Creatine supplements saturate creatine stores that are depleted during repeated short bouts of intense exercise, like weightlifting.
It also raises your level of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is an anabolic hormone, meaning it builds muscle.
Branched-chain amino acids are also essential for building and maintaining muscle, whether you are in a cutting or bulking phase.
Learn More - Should I Take Creatine While Cutting? (What To Know)
Proper BCAA supplementation can significantly impact your performance and provide rapid energy when you take it as a pre-workout or intra-workout supplement.
Creatine supplementation has also been shown to improve recovery after strength training.
Taking creatine on rest days can help you recover faster and experience less soreness and fatigue after workouts. Taking creatine on rest days can also help build muscle quicker.
BCAAs also help your muscles feel less sore after you exercise.
They do this by lowering blood levels of the enzymes creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase, which are involved in muscle damage.
This helps to improve recovery and protect against muscle damage.
High-intensity training like CrossFit breaks down muscle tissue and burns body fat and muscle if resumed for too long.
That makes BCAAs a critical component to rebuild, repair, and recover from CrossFit training.
If your goal as a CrossFit athlete is to increase strength or improve body composition, creatine is certainly worth considering.
Creatine also has the added benefits of reducing muscle cramps and attenuating core temperature, which is beneficial for CrossFit athletes.
How BCAAs Work And What It Does?
Branched Chain Amino Acids are the building blocks (or molecular structure) of protein.
There are nine essential amino acids. BCAAs come from three essential amino acids; L-Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
The “essential” means that we must add them to our diet because they can’t be synthesized in our bodies as the other amino acids can.
BCAAs are known for promoting muscle protein synthesis. BCAAs are an affordable, low-calorie way to promote muscle protein synthesis for lifters with low protein intake.
They also decrease the rate of protein breakdown.
That means BCAA powder will help build lean muscle mass while protecting against breakdown.
During high-intensity workouts, your body will use BCAAs as fuel. Once your body expends all its branched-chain amino acids, it becomes an amino acid deficit.
When your body is in this deficit, it will start to break down muscle mass.
That’s why you should take a BCAA supplement to have a positive amino acid or protein balance to help you build and rebuild lean muscle mass.
What Is Creatine And What Does It Do?
Creatine is one of the most popular fitness supplements on the market today.
Creatine monohydrate is an organic compound produced in the body by two of the remaining amino acids, arginine and methionine.
The two amino acids in creatine are non-essential, meaning they can be produced in the body.
Despite being produced endogenously, creatine is one of the most widely consumed fitness supplements.
Creatine doesn't directly enhance muscle protein synthesis but supports it.
Instead, creatine increases intramuscular creatine phosphate, also known as phosphocreatine (PCr) concentrations, enhancing work capacity.
Creatine monohydrate improves health and athletic performance in several ways. During high-intensity workouts, it increases the phosphocreatine stores in your muscles.
Additional stores are used to produce more ATP, the fundamental energy source for heavy lifting and high-intensity exercise.
Related Article - Micronized Creatine Vs Monohydrate (Learn The Differences)
Your muscles need ATP for muscle contraction, so ensuring you have enough creatine will increase your power output and strength during workouts.
Frequently Asked Amino Acid & Creatine Questions
Many athletes and bodybuilders stack supplements together for optimal benefits. For example, creatine and BCAAs are a powerful muscle-building and recovery supplement stack. These supplements give you different amino acids essential for optimal performance and a great way to increase muscle mass during workouts and at rest. Combining creatine and BCAAs is a great way to promote muscle growth, strength, and recovery.
Your body can store amino acids, so as long as you take them regularly, the supplements will work no matter when you take them. However, many fitness professionals recommend taking creatine and BCAA supplements half an hour before a workout and then half an hour after.
It is generally recommended to do a loading phase when taking creatine. Most loading phases consist of a 7-10 day period of higher dosage. When that is done, you start a maintenance dose. Loading creatine like this supersaturates the creatine stores in your muscles. You don’t have to load, but it would take much longer to reap the maximum effectiveness of creatine. The loading phase will allow most lifters to get substantial benefits immediately. But keep in mind that creatine loading can lead to initial weight gain due to water retention in the muscles. And if you don't drink enough water, you can get stomach cramps, so be sure to stay hydrated.
It is ideal to take BCAAs every day. In addition to the benefits we’ve already mentioned, daily BCAAs can improve the immune system’s response to intense training. This is because BCAAs provide a fuel source for the immune cells in your gut. This fuel source allows the immune system to fight off sickness more effectively.
You'll still reap the muscle and performance benefits as long as you take your BCAAs sometime around your workout, whether before, during, or after. Since BCAAs take about 30 minutes to hit your bloodstream, it’s best to take a dose about half an hour before starting your workout. To be sure you get the most out of your branched-chain amino acid supplements, take five to 10 grams before and after your workout.
Verdict – Are BCAAs Or Creatine Better?
So, who's the winner when it comes to BCAA vs. Creatine? Are BCAAs better for you, or should you go with creatine? When it’s all said and done, you have no reason not to take both.
Most people’s fitness goals probably include more muscle growth, muscle strength, increased performance, faster recovery, and to prevent muscle breakdown.
If that sounds right, stacking BCAAs and Creatine will help you achieve your goals faster and produce better results.
Consuming them together provides both protein sources for new muscle synthesis and energy for your workout.
And if you stack BCAA and creatine with other supplements like whey protein powder, you will reap even more benefits.
BCAAs and creatine work together to enhance every aspect of your performance. However, in the debate of BCAA vs Creatine, the real winner is you.