Taking BCAA and Pre-Workout Together

Can I Take BCAA and Pre Workout Together

BCAA and pre-workout are two of the most popular bodybuilding supplements. But, if you’ve spent money on these supplements, you probably have questions about how and when to take them.

With pre-workout supplements, it’s pretty apparent that you take them right before hitting the gym. But BCAA timing isn’t as obvious, and you may be wondering if you should take it at the same time as your pre-workout.

In this article, I’ll explain if taking BCAA and pre-workout together makes sense. And answer several other common questions about BCAA and pre-workout.

About BCAA and Pre-Workout

Before we get into the specifics on supplement timing, it would be beneficial to define BCAA and pre-workout. So here is a quick explanation of what these supplements are.

What are BCAAs?

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of amino acids that have a unique branched molecular structure. And they are considered the most critical amino acids for building muscle.

Specifically, there are three BCAAs called leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are found in high-protein foods such as meat, legumes, nuts, and protein powders.

However, BCAAs from food take a while to break down and enter your bloodstream. In comparison, free-form BCAA powders absorb much faster than food sources. So it’s like having amino acids on demand.

BCAA Tub

What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout supplements contain multiple ingredients, including stimulants and specific amino acids, to increase energy and blood flow while delaying fatigue.

Common ingredients in pre-workout supplements are caffeine, beta-alanine, l-arginine (or l-citrulline), and creatine. A few pre-workout supplements also contain BCAAs, but most do not.

Pre Workout Tub With Logo

Can I take BCAA and pre-workout together?

Adding BCAAs to your pre-workout supplement can provide additional benefits. For example, studies show that taking BCAAs before workouts significantly reduces muscle soreness 1 to 3 days later1,2.

Another study suggests that supplementing with BCAAs before exercise reduces muscle breakdown3. However, this muscle preservation doesn’t necessarily mean that pre-workout BCAAs build more muscle.

BCAA with Pre-Workout Muscle Breakdown

What happens if you take BCAA before a workout?

When you take BCAAs, they signal your body to increase protein synthesis. And this is a necessary step in increasing muscle growth.

However, despite this anabolic signal, BCAAs alone do not increase muscle growth, according to various studies4. The reason is that they do not contain all the essential amino acids necessary to build muscle.

Basically, taking BCAAs is like turning on the ignition but leaving the car in park. They won’t get you to your destination but will prevent your car from rolling backward.

How to Take BCAA and Pre-Workout Together

If you take BCAA and pre-workout together, you have a few options. One, you can buy a pre-workout that already contains BCAAs. Two, you can buy pre-workout and BCAAs separately, then mix them together. And three, you can make your own pre-workout from scratch.

1. BCAA Pre-Workout Formulations

A few pre-workout brands already have BCAAs in the formulation, including Pre JYM, AminoLean, and Amino Energy.

Of these brands, AminoLean and Amino Energy contain 5 grams of a proprietary blend with 14-15 different amino acids. So you only get a tiny amount of BCAAs, beta-alanine, and l-citrulline. Also, the caffeine dose is relatively low at 100-130mg.

By comparison, Pre JYM has 6 grams of BCAAs. Plus, it has 6 grams of citrulline, 2 grams of beta-alanine, 2 grams of creatine HCl, and 300mg of caffeine. These amounts are all close to the effective dosages.

While I’ve never used Pre JYM, it’s the one I would choose as a BCAA pre-workout.

BCAA Pre-Workout

2. Add BCAA to Pre-Workout

Another option is buying a BCAA powder and adding it to your existing pre-workout supplement. Once you have both supplements, just add 4-8 grams of BCAAs to your pre-workout drink and shake it up like you usually would.

You can purchase inexpensive flavorless BCAA powders, so it doesn’t mess with your pre-workouts flavor. Or you choose a flavored option that would pair well with whatever flavor of pre-workout you have.

I recommend BCAA powder from Nutricost because it’s cheap yet high quality. 

BCAA for Pre-Workout

3. DIY BCAA Pre-Workout

One of the drawbacks of pre-workout supplements is the cost. Usually, you pay $1.50 to $2.00 per scoop for name-brand pre-workouts. And adding BCAA on top of that only makes matters worse.

On the other hand, you can buy the key ingredients in bulk and less than $1.00 per serving, even after adding BCAAs. In addition, you can use proper amounts of each ingredient, and you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.

So if you want to save money and get a better quality pre-workout supplement, check out my top 5 homemade pre-workout recipes.

DIY BCAA Pre-Workout

BCAA and Pre-Workout FAQ

Now you know the benefits and limitations of taking BCAA and pre-workout together. But you may still have questions about the dosage and timing. So I’ll answer those questions next.

How long does it take BCAA to kick in?

Free-form amino acids like BCAAs enter your bloodstream almost immediately and peak about 30 minutes after ingestion5. By comparison, protein powder and whole foods gradually release amino acids over 1-3 hours.

Furthermore, the concentration of amino acids in your blood is a primary trigger for protein synthesis. So it makes sense to flood your bloodstream with amino acids at critical times like before or after a workout.

BCAA Pre-Workout Absorption

How long does it take pre-workout to kick in?

The feelings of increased focus and tingling skin can begin within minutes of taking pre-workout. But it generally takes about 30 minutes for pre-workout to take full effect.

Also, the initiation of effects depends on the pre-workout formulation and dosage. Some ingredients take longer than others, and the amount can influence how long it takes.

When to Take Pre-Workout to Maximize Results

Is BCAA better than pre-workout?

BCAA is not necessarily better than pre-workout; it’s just different. So the best option for you depends on your workouts, goals, and dietary needs.

For example, if you have difficulty getting energized and motivated, a pre-workout might give you the boost you need. Just don’t expect a pre-workout to magically burn fat or build muscle.

On the other hand, if you’re already crushing your workouts, then BCAAs might be better to help you recover and rebuild, especially if you’re not eating protein before your workouts.

BCAA vs Pre Workout Infographic

Should I take BCAA on rest days?

Taking BCAAs on your rest day may help improve recovery by increasing nitrogen balance6. However, it will not significantly impact whole-body protein balance or muscle growth.

To sum up, BCAAs on rest days won’t make or break your gains. But you could still take it if you want to ensure you recover for your next workout day.

Can I take BCAA on an empty stomach?

Taking BCAAs on an empty stomach may increase absorption, according to a 2018 study7. So taking BCAAs this way may be beneficial for preserving lean muscle during activities like fasted cardio.

However, BCAAs are not complete proteins and cannot build muscle without the other essential amino acids (EAAs). Therefore, taking BCAAs with another protein source is better if your goal is to build more muscle.

EAA vs BCAA

As you have learned, BCAAs have some benefits for supporting your workouts and recovery. But they are not the muscle-building behemoth they’re made out to be since they lack all the essential amino acids (EAAs).

EAA supplements, on the other hand, do contain all the necessary amino acids for maximum protein synthesis. And studies show they are more effective for muscle building than BCAAs alone.

So click here for my complete guide to EAA vs BCAA before you decide which one to take!

EAA vs BCAA
EAA vs BCAA

With this information, you’re well on your way to improving your workouts and reaching your fitness goals. For more expert insights, be sure to check out these other great articles!

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