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BCAAs vs Whey Protein

They're both heavy hitters in the supplement world, and go-to favorites at the gym. But which is better: BCAAs or whey protein? Are you supposed to take BCAAs and whey protein together? Which one do you take for serious muscle growth?

First, some basics:

What is Whey Protein?

Whey is one of two proteins that come from milk (the other is casein). Little Miss Muffet knew what she was doing when she ate her curds and whey: it's one of the best protein sources available, and contains a complete amino acid profile--meaning it boasts all 20 amino acids you need to build strong, lean muscle.

What are BCAAs?

Short for branched chain amino acids, BCAAs contain three amino acids--leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Since amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein in turn builds muscle, BCAAs can be a key tool in your fitness arsenal for muscle growth.

So what's the difference?

Both whey protein and BCAAs help build muscle, and both reduce post-workout muscle soreness. But there are a few fundamental differences between the two:

  • Whey is derived from milk; BCAAs are not. So if you have a milk or lactose allergy, BCAAs are a better bet since they don't contain any milk products. (Or, you could choose a lactose-free option, like soy, pea, beef, or egg white protein.)

 

  • Whey contains all 20 amino acids; BCAAs contain three. Those three are essential to muscle growth--especially leucine--but they won't give you the complete amino acid profile found in whey.

 

  • BCAAs absorb quickly into the muscles, but whey absorbs even more quickly. So if you're looking for an immediate muscle-building boost, whey is the whey to go! (....we're not sorry.)

 

  • BCAAs are very effective at initiating muscle protein synthesis (the process that builds strong muscle), but whey is even more effective. One study found that BCAAs were 22% more effective at initiating protein synthesis than a placebo--an impressive increase--but whey protein was 72% more effective than a placebo--50% more than BCAAs.

 

  • BCAAs may be the better option if you're prepping for a bodybuilding competition. Whey contains a higher caloric content, which works perfectly for bulking season, but if you're cutting for a show, BCAAs are the leaner option.

 

What happens if you take them together?

You'll immediately explode. Like, the second you mix both of them together, that's it.

(Kidding.)

While it's safe to take whey and BCAAs together, you don't really need to--either one gives your body the muscle-building aminos it needs. In fact, your body gets rid of what it doesn't need, so if you load up on whey and BCAAs, any amino acids your muscles can't use will wind up in the toilet. Research has found that there isn't really any benefit to taking them concurrently.

In the end, as always, it's about what works best for you, your body, and your fitness goals. Experiment with both to find out which is the best option for you. (And don't forget to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition).

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