Touted as two of the best products for maximizing muscle and strength gains, creatine and BCAAs are a duo that you frequently see in any bodybuilder or athlete's supplement stack—they're basically non-negotiable staples.
And there's no doubt that they're great.
But while they're both highly effective as individual supplements, can mixing them maximize your results?
Continue reading to find out!
The Basics of BCAAs and Creatine
They're two of the most common supplements around and found in hundreds of products, but what exactly are they, and what do they do?
BCAAs are a group of 3 essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—that must be supplied through diet or supplementation because they cannot be synthesized in the body, hence why they're called 'essential.'
But the hype around the BCAAs is mainly attributed to one amino acid, leucine, which plays a major role in muscle protein synthesis.
Here's the gist of what you need to know about BCAAs:
Muscle protein is constantly in a state of turnover, meaning that muscle proteins are always being broken down, recycled, and synthesized to replace old, worn out, or dysfunctional proteins 1.
But for muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to occur, the body requires all nine essential amino acids to be present, along with the eleven non-essential amino acids, in adequate amounts.
The major reason you see BCAAs in most athlete's supplement stack is because, like we said, of those nine essential amino acids, leucine plays the most important role in muscle protein synthesis 1.
While leucine is widely available in food sources, taking a concentrated dose of it in something like BCAA or EAA supplements means you're getting a pure dose of the essential amino acids, which theoretically should mean greater availability to support muscle growth and recovery directly.
Another reason BCAA supplements are so popular among athletes is because of their ability to help mitigate the effects of post-exercise muscle soreness and the extent of muscle damage incurred during training.
They do this by reducing levels of certain markers of muscle damage, namely creatine kinase (CK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) 2, 3.
"But creatine makes me puffy" is something you'll hear many people say who don't actually know what the benefits of adding creatine to your stack are.
Yes, sometimes creatine can cause water retention in muscles, but it's an incredibly useful supplement for boosting muscle growth and performance.
Creatine is a molecule naturally produced in the body from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine, but it's also formed endogenously from foods you eat containing those specific amino acids, meat being one of the most concentrated sources.
But it's also one of the most popular and widely used ergogenic aids because of its ability to increase intramuscular phosphocreatine (PCr) concentrations and thus enhance work capacity.
Specifically, it plays a vital role in energy availability and the regeneration of ATP—the form of energy your body uses to fuel biological processes.
The primary metabolic role of creatine is to combine with phosphate to form PCr through various enzymatic reactions. During energy production, ATP is degraded into ADP and an inorganic phosphate molecule (Pi).
This process provides energy to fuel metabolic activities. The free energy that is released from the hydrolysis of phosphocreatine is used as a buffer during the resynthesis of ATP. This entire process helps to ensure energy availability to power maximal effort anaerobic activities 4.
Essentially, the function of creatine is to assist in the regeneration of ATP. In fast-twitch skeletal muscles, there is normally a large reserve of phosphocreatine available for immediate regeneration of ATP during high-intensity, short-duration work 5.
However, as intense activity increases, phosphocreatine levels decrease. As a result, energy availability declines because of a lack of ATP regeneration needed to meet high-intensity exercise demands.
So, the logic here is that supplementing with exogenous creatine helps to ensure adequate substrate for ATP regeneration. More substrate equates to longer work and more muscle growth.
Should You Mix Creatine and BCAAs?
Generally speaking, creatine and BCAAs are often taken as sole supplements. Occasionally, you'll see them added to pre- or post-workout supplements, but the real question remains -should creatine and BCAAs be taken together?
There's an art to timing your supplements, and the same principle applies with BCAAs and creatine. Typically, people take BCAAs intra-workout or post-workout and creatine pre-workout, but does it work to mix them?
Based on available research, there's nothing to indicate that mixing BCAAs and creatine is unsafe or will cause adverse effects.
While few studies are looking at the impact of combining BCAAs and creatine, there are several available that look at the efficacy of performance blends containing both creatine and BCAAs.
One study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition examined the effects of a pre-workout supplement containing BCAAs, creatine, and caffeine combined with three weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on aerobic and anaerobic running performance, training volume, and body composition 6.
Results showed that when combined with HIIT, the supplement was effective for improving aerobic performance, total workout volume, and lean body mass.
Another similar study looked at the acute hormonal and performance responses to resistance exercise with and without consumption of an amino acid/creatine/energy supplement 7.
Eight men performed a resistance-exercise protocol 20 minutes after consuming a supplement comprising essential amino acids, creatine, taurine, caffeine, and glucuronolactone or a maltodextrin placebo.
Results showed modest improvements in high-intensity endurance with the consumption of the supplements.
Neither of these studies suggests any adverse effects associated with the consumption of amino acids and creatine, nor any decreases in performance.
With all of that said, BCAAs and creatine's actions are quite different—the former supports muscle protein synthesis and repair, while the latter functions mainly to increase work capacity by enhancing fuel substrate availability.
Logically, it makes sense that the two supplements would feed off each other; creatine enhances work capacity, while the BCAAs supply the substrate needed to enhance growth and repair. However, there's little evidence available to support this theory.
But based on available research, combining the two in the same supplement or separately may enhance the results achieved through your training with no negative side effects.
And unlike many other fitness supplements loaded with synthetic colors, flavors, additives, and other toxic compounds, the entire Performance Lab lineup is 100% vegan-friendly, clean, and third-party tested to guarantee efficacy.
No fillers, no artificial colors or flavors, and absolutely no garbage ingredients. Just pure products that produce pure results.
- RR Wolfe. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017; 14: 30.
- 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 Jul; 9: 20.
- JS Coombes, LR McNaughton. Effects of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on serum creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase after prolonged exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2000 Sep; 40(3): 240-6.
- 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.
- AE Smith, DH Fukuda, KL Kendall, JR Stout. The effects of a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids during three weeks of high-intensity exercise on aerobic and anaerobic performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:10.
- NA Ratamess, JR Hoffman, R Ross, M Shanklin, AD Faigenbaum, J Kang. Effects of an amino acid/creatine energy supplement on the acute hormonal response to resistance exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007;17(6):608-623.