It's hard to know where to start when it comes to workout supplements. They all sound beneficial when it comes to building muscle, but you may be curious about which supplements you can (and should) take together and which ones will help you achieve your specific goals. Here, we'll talk about what Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) and creatine can do for you, if they can be taken together, and whether or not they cause weight gain.
Let's dive in.
Vital note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.
Is Creatine Or BCAA Better?
Whether BCAA or creatine is better depends more on your fitness goals than any hard-and-fast rule. "Both supplements work to provide our bodies with readily available protein (building blocks of muscle) in hopes to increase lean body mass gain,**" Colleen Christensen, RD, tells Lively.
When it comes to these nutrients, Emily Danckers, MS, RD, and nutrition coach, says that the motto should be "food first." Both BCAA and creatine are found in food. For example, both creatine and BCAAs can be found in red meat and fish.
BCAA are the amino acids, valine, leucine and leucine, and they comprise nearly half of the amino acids derived from the protein in your diet, Dr. Kelly Bay, DC, CNS, CDN, tells Lively. BCAA are involved in muscle metabolism and may help build muscle mass.
"When you exercise, BCAA are utilized as a source of energy, helping protect existing muscle and assist in building new muscle. They can also help prevent post-gym soreness and improve muscle recovery," Dr. Bay says.**
Creatine is also found in food — specifically red meat and fish. "[Creatine] is transformed into a substance that helps your body make ATP (energy). Your muscles need ATP for muscle contraction, so making sure your body has creatine can aid in increasing your power and strength during workouts,**" says Dr. Bay.
So, if it's major gains or increasing stamina (which may also yield more muscle, because you're able to push your body to do more) that you're after, then creatine is likely the better choice.**
Here's what the experts say.
"BCAA oxidation increases at times we are exercising, meaning we are using more of them. So, the goal [of BCAA] is to increase muscle mass," says Christensen. "Creatine, on the other hand, works more to increase stamina. [It] increases volume and quality of work during the workout." It may be especially helpful for vegetarians to supplement with creatine.**
On the other hand, if you're looking to ease soreness, improve recovery and increase muscle, BCAA may be a better bet for you.**
Should I Take BCAA And Creatine?
The good news is that you don't have to choose between BCAA and creatine. Many supplements, including our Vital Performance™ PRE ($35.99; shop now), contain both.
"BCAA and creatine can be taken together. But, they work differently. Consuming them together gives you both protein sources for new muscle synthesis and energy for your workout," Anju Mobin, nutritionist and managing editor of BestforNutrition, tells Lively. “This potent combination offers you extra power and endurance.”**
It can be quite beneficial to take the two together. "Since BCAA and creatine serve different purposes when it comes to exercise, taking both before a workout can be helpful if you're looking to build muscle and increase performance," says Dr. Bay. Do note though that creatine may cause cramping and gastrointestinal distress in some people.
Are BCAA supplements worth the price?
No one likes spending money on something that doesn't work, so you may be wondering if BCAA supplements are a waste of money. Not all supplements are created equal, so make sure you're buying from a reputable brand, in which case BCAA will be worth it. All Vital Performance™ products are NSF Certified For Sport®, which ensures – through third party testing – that users are consuming a safe supplement with contents that match its label.
Another option is to try upping your BCAA intake in your diet first if you’re not willing to spend money on a supplement. "Many people don'tneed supplements, especially if you're just doing moderate levels of working out," Christensen says. "I do always suggest a 'food-first' approach, however sometimes supplements can work as sort of an 'insurance policy' to help make sure you're getting the nutrients your body needs. I recommend speaking with a dietitian before beginning any supplements," she adds.
Remember, BCAA are found in meat, poultry, dairy products and some vegetables.
Will BCAA make you gain weight?
BCAA do contain calories, and as Christensen explains, they can increase muscle mass which may cause you to see a higher number on the scale, though your clothes should still fit more loosely as muscle takes up less space in the body.
"The idea of BCAA causing weight gain actually came from an animal study using mice that observed overeating/ increased food intake and weight gain when themice were fed BCAA," Dr. Bay says.
She adds that because exercise was not a part of the study, it's difficult to see how these findings would translate to humans who are doing increased activity.
"If you are using BCAA for exercise benefits, there is plenty of research documenting the benefits of supplementing that way," she says. If you are not exercising, there really isn't a reason to supplement with BCAA, but if you are working out and taking BCAA, there should not be a noticeable weight gain unless other factors are at play.**