If you talk to any athlete or bodybuilder about supplements, you'll likely hear BCAAs and creatine come up; they are both basically a rite of passage in the sports nutrition world. And rightfully so. They have a lot of research backing them, and they're proven effective for multiple aspects of training.
If you're considering going after one or the other but aren't sure what they do or which is more effective, we've got you covered.
Today, it's battle of the supplements: BCAAs vs creatine. Read on as we give you a rundown of two of the most popular fitness supplements around to see which one ranks king (or maybe they both do).
What Are BCAAs and What Do They Do?
The branched-chain amino acids, commonly just referred to as the BCAAs, are a group of three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—that play an important role in exercise.
Research suggests that BCAAs can enhance resistance training adaptations by increasing muscle mass and fat burning capabilities, encouraging hormonal balance, reducing fatigue, mitigating the effects of DOMS, and speeding up recovery.
When it comes to the role of BCAAs in training, they have three main jobs:
Enhance muscle protein synthesis. The BCAAs, especially leucine, play a significant role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS). They serve as a substrate to synthesize new muscle proteins and as a signal to initiate the rate-limiting translation initiation step of MPS 1. Stimulation of MPS is accompanied by increased activity of intracellular signaling proteins regulating the translational activity of MPS 2. Specifically, the mTORC1 (mammalian target of rapamycin complex-1) signaling is stimulated by ingestion of essential amino acids following bouts of resistance exercise. So, more substrate should theoretically mean more muscle growth.
Reduce onset of fatigue. Central fatigue during exercise is thought to be the result of increasing 5-HT (serotonin) levels in the brain; the precursor molecule for serotonin synthesis is the amino acid tryptophan 3. Because tryptophan uptake rises with exercise, serotonin synthesis also signals to the brain that the body is fatigued, thus reducing power output and strength. However, because larger amino acids like leucine, isoleucine, and valine compete with the same transport proteins as tryptophan to enter the brain, the larger the amino acid, the better chance of winning the spot. When you increase concentrations of essential amino acids, you increase competition, less tryptophan can enter the brain, and you delay fatigue onset.
Mitigate muscle soreness to enhance recovery. Because BCAAs help increase muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown, they conserve tissue during periods of intense training. Studies show that people taking BCAAs reported significantly less soreness 48- and 72-hours post-exercise, which may be due to enhanced glutamine production from branched-chain amino acid degradation 4; glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid involved in the immune response to muscle damage and is used as an energy source by lymphocytes and macrophages to fuel repair and recovery 5. They also found that serum creatine kinase (CK) levels were lower in participants who consumed BCAAs; this may be attributed to the role of BCAAs in attenuating CK efflux, reducing residual muscle soreness, and improving recovery of muscle function 6.
BCAA Quick Facts:
- Maximize gains by accelerating muscle growth while slowing muscle breakdown
- Extend athletic endurance by blocking fatigue-inducing brain chemicals
- Energize and enhance muscle strength across all athletic activities
- Reduce muscle soreness and reloads muscles for a faster, healthier recovery
- Protect lean muscle and guard against muscle wasting
What Is Creatine and What Does It Do?
Creatine is a compound produced within the body from the two amino acids, arginine and methionine. Unlike the BCAAs, the precursor amino acids are non-essential, meaning both arginine and methionine can be produced in the body, as well as creatine. But despite being produced endogenously, it's one of the most widely consumed fitness supplements around.
While creatine doesn't directly enhance muscle protein synthesis as the BCAAs do, it does a damn good job supporting it. That's because creatine's function is to increase intramuscular phosphocreatine (PCr) concentrations, thereby enhancing work capacity.
More specifically, it plays a vital role in energy availability and the regeneration of ATP, your body's main energy substrate.
The primary metabolic role of creatine is to combine with phosphate to form phosphocreatine.
During the energy production cycle, ATP is degraded into ADP and an inorganic phosphate molecule (Pi), which provides the energy needed to fuel metabolic activities; when the phosphate group is hydrolyzed, energy is given off as heat, and this energy is used to drive whatever process is being performed, for example, muscle contraction. This entire process helps to ensure energy availability to power maximal effort anaerobic activities 7.
Essentially, the purpose of creatine is to serve as a substrate for the regeneration of ATP. In fast-twitch skeletal muscles, there is generally a large phosphocreatine reserve available for immediate regeneration of ATP during high-intensity, short-duration work 8.
However, with prolonged intense activity, phosphocreatine levels decline, which means energy availability falls because of the lack of ATP regeneration needed to meet high-intensity exercise demands.
The logic behind creatine supplementation is to ensure adequate substrate for the regeneration of ATP. More substrate equates to more extended work capacity and more muscle growth.
Creatine Quick Facts:
- Provides rapid energy source to fuel muscle contractions
- Raise muscle ATP energy to power growth while recharging muscle for subsequent training sessions
- Stimulate the synthesis of proteins, stem cells, and growth factor used to build muscle
- Modulate the oxidative stress and myostatin that can limit muscle repair and growth
Which Is Better For Me: BCAAs or Creatine?
Now that you can understand how BCAAs and creatine work in the body, it's time to talk about which one is better for you.
However, like every other supplement, neither BCAAs nor creatine are necessary to smash your workout, but they do come with their own unique set of benefits.
The main difference between creatine and BCAA supplements is how they affect your athletic performance.
BCAAs are great for enhancing muscle growth, rebuilding lean muscle mass, and preserving existing muscle tissue, while creatine helps increase your power output during high-intensity training to boost strength and training volume.
So, if your goal is to gain strength, maximize muscle growth, increase muscle endurance, and optimize recovery, don't choose between them—use both. BCAAs and creatine work together to enhance every aspect of your performance and give you the best possible outcome to optimize your performance.
The Best Supplements For BCAAs and Creatine
With all of that said, putting together a training stack can fuel your performance and recovery by hitting every possible corner where training is concerned.
So, if you're looking for the best supplements, we've got it nailed. Try this Performance Lab stack.
Performance Lab Post + Performance Lab Maintain
Performance Lab Post counters the negative effects of training to restore depleted nutrients, recharge muscles, and optimize growth and repair.
It's an ultramodern sports drink combining Creapure® pH10, SR CarnoSyn®, P40p™, Ajipure® L-Glutamine, and NutriGenesis® Potassium to promote healthy gains, fast recovery, and a strong return to action.
Performance Lab Maintain is designed for everything in between. Maintain helps you be at your best in the gym by being smarter during downtime.
By combining cutting-edge creatine, beta-alanine, and iron innovations, Maintain helps restore depleted muscles, enhance muscle growth and recovery with extended 12-hour nourishment, and prime muscles for stronger athletic performance in your next session.
Advanced forms and precision dosing delivers 100% clean, natural slow-release muscle rehab for your non-training days.
Instead of looking at creatine and BCAAs as supplements competing for the crown, they're both valuable players on the same team vying for the same trophies: muscle growth, fat loss, better performance, and accelerated recovery.
Despite their differences in function, they both work towards a common goal and are completely necessary for pretty much every fitness supplement stack.
- SJ Crozier, SR Kimball, SW Emmert, JC Anthony, LS Jefferson. Oral leucine administration stimulates protein synthesis in rat skeletal muscle. J. Nutr. 2005;135: 376–382.
- A Philp, DL Hamilton, K Baar. Signals mediating skeletal muscle remodeling by resistance exercise: PI3-kinase independent activation of mTORC1. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011;110(2):561-568.
- E Blomstrand. A role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue. J Nutr. 2006;136(2):544S-547S.
- TA VanDusseldorp, KA Escobar, KE Johnson, et al. Effect of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Recovery Following Acute Eccentric Exercise. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1389.
- Z Legault, N Bagnall, DS Kimmerly. The Influence of Oral L-Glutamine Supplementation on Muscle Strength Recovery and Soreness Following Unilateral Knee Extension Eccentric Exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015;25(5):417-426.
- G Howatson, M Hoad, S Goodall, J Tallent, PG Bell, DN French. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9:20.
- RB Kreider, DS Kalman, J Antonio, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun; 14(18).
- M Wyss, R Kaddurah-Daouk. Creatine and creatinine metabolism. Physiol Rev. 2000 Jul; 80(3): 1107-213.