Supplements continue to sweep the fitness world and we are going to discuss two of the most popular choices to stimulate muscle growth, BCAA and creatine. Both choices are advertised as workout boosters that provide fantastic benefits to take your workout to the next level.
Protein is critically important within the human body and amino acids provide the structural foundation of this macronutrient. Amino acids have a lasting impact and have vital roles in immune system functioning, metabolism, tissue growth and repair, and several others. In the scope of fitness, the desire for amino acids is due to the fact that they are responsible for muscle growth and possess the ability to enhance athletic performance.
BCAAs and creatine utilize different amino acids and have each been studied in depth to discern their impact on performance. Which supplement is the wiser selection for your workout?
Let’s investigate each supplement further to determine which one can provide the most benefits for you.
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are composed of essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs cannot be produced naturally within the body so it is imperative to receive them through diet or supplementation. Although BCAAs can easily be attained through dietary sources such as eggs, chicken, and beans, many can benefit from an added supplement during exercise.
One of the fantastic benefits of BCAA supplementation is due to its ability to reduce muscle soreness and limit fatigue during exercise. Athletes or regular exercisers may have mastered techniques to best handle delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), but it is common for beginners to have difficulty coping with it. This is where BCAAs can really come in handy.
During resistance exercise, targeted muscle groups become damaged due to the stress placed upon them. This results in microscopic tears in muscle fibers which is widely believed to be responsible for DOMS. BCAAs can protect against muscle soreness by limiting the amount of damage done to the muscles during a workout. One study analyzed the impact a squat had on DOMS by comparing a group who supplemented with BCAAs and another that was given a placebo. The participants who were given the BCAA supplement displayed significantly less soreness than the group who received the placebo.
Research on BCAA supplementation has shown that those who take a BCAA are likely to experience less damage to the muscles during exercise. This can make progression in an exercise regimen much easier and produce more desirable results in the long run.
BCAAs have also shown to limit the amount of physical and mental fatigue during exercise. If you are struggling to push through an entire workout or cannot maintain mental focus, a BCAA supplement can provide a much needed boost.
Previous studies have indicated that other amino acids can be affected by a lack of BCAAs circulating through the bloodstream during a workout. One study analyzed the effect that BCAAs had on serotonin uptake within the brains of rats during exercise. It is known that exercise can be responsible for mental fatigue by enabling increased serotonin in the brain. The researchers of the study noticed that there was a decrease in the amount of tryptophan within the brain and, consequently, serotonin decreased as a result. Future studies with human participants can further vindicate the findings.
The chemical impact of BCAAs can increase your chances of reaching optimal results in your program simply by allowing you to increase the duration of time until fatigue sets in. This does not necessarily translate to desirable results, but simply finishing a workout can be a significant challenge for some.
Although BCAAs have shown to increase muscle growth, they have not produced the substantial results seen in other supplements. It should be pointed out that BCAAs contain only three of the nine essential amino acids the body needs. Since BCAAs cannot provide a wider scope of amino acids, their ability to produce muscle growth is limited compared to other popular supplements. For example, whey protein contains all nine essential amino acids and naturally will be more effective at increasing muscle growth than BCAAs.
BCAAs certainly have some strategic advantages when attempting to tackle a challenging exercise program. Although there are limitations to the amount of muscle growth that can be sustained, it is certainly a supplement that can aid during exercise.
- Reduce muscle soreness
- Reduce exercise fatigue
- Decrease recovery time between workouts
- Provide the body with essential amino acids while limiting caloric intake
- Amount of muscle growth is limited
Creatine is arguably the most popular fitness supplement utilized to obtain added muscle growth. Despite the overwhelming popularity of creatine, some exercise goers refuse to take it due to perceived dangers. Unlike BCAAs, creatine is produced naturally in the body via arginine, glycine, and methionine, but supplementation can significantly increase levels within the body. This is believed to greatly improve athletic performance and increase muscle growth.
One of the primary mechanisms that creatine uses to increase performance is providing the muscles with more energy during a workout. This is achieved by delivering the muscles with an increased amount of phosphocreatine to power through intense workouts. The increased amount of energy improves the likelihood to achieve optimal muscle gain during your workout.
Previous research has displayed tremendous support for creatine’s ability to increase muscle growth. Positive results have been shown in those who are more seasoned exercise veterans and in older, more sedentary individuals.
One study compared the results of men who underwent a three month resistance training program. The participants were placed into a group that was given either creatine or a simple placebo. The researchers saw that muscle fiber growth and lift volume in various exercises was significantly higher in the group that took the creatine supplement.
Another study wanted to test the effects of creatine on older adults and similar improvements in muscle growth and strength were observed. More importantly, the resistance program did not display any noticeable side effects for the participants.
Those who regularly practice high-intensity exercises serve to benefit the most from the added strength that can be achieved through creatine supplementation. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) features exercises that require short bursts of extreme amounts of injury. Normally, this calls for bouts of intense energy expenditure no more than 30 seconds in duration. Since creatine can provide the body with extra energy, HIIT exercises can be performed for an increased amount of time.
This has shown to improve athletic performance for exercises that require these short bursts of power. For instance, this study indicated an improvement in sprint speed in handball players after taking a creatine supplement.
By increasing ATP stores within the body, exercises that require extraordinary power can be improved by supplementing with creatine. The ability to perform these exercises with a greater volume load and for a greater duration of time can progressively increase strength and power. These findings can be confirmed by increases in 1-Rep Max in exercises such as bench press, back squat, and several others that test strength. One study indicated that bicep strength and bicep curl 1-rep max improved to a greater degree with creatine supplementation than with a training regimen by itself.
However, not all types of exercise serve to benefit from creatine supplementation. Long-distance running, biking, swimming, and other forms of endurance exercise do not seem to gain an edge with creatine. Therefore, those who have training regimens that exclude high-intensity and power exercises will want to search for a different supplement for increased performance.
- Increased ATP uptake
- Increased muscle mass
- Improvement in high-intensity athletic performance
- Increased muscle growth
- Not effective for endurance exercises
- Weight gain due to water retention
Which Supplement Should You Go With?
When determining which supplement is the more suitable option, it really depends on your specific needs. What type of exercise regimen do you plan on beginning? Is your goal to strive for weight gain or weight loss? Are you an athlete or a beginner? How much protein are you consuming in your diet?
These factors and more will come into play when deciding on which supplement should be your go to when it is time to hit the gym.
For instance, BCAAs will be more beneficial if your natural diet is lacking protein and the three essential amino acids that compromise this supplement. Since creatine can lead to unwanted weight gain due to water retention, you should favor a BCAA if you want to avoid gaining weight.
Creatine supplementation will be a more suitable route to take if you are desiring to begin a high-intensity exercise program. Agility drills, hill-climbing, and plyometrics are all examples of exercises that require short bouts of intense energy. Creatine will provide the ATP required to help you push through. Additionally, creatine will lead to greater increases in muscle growth and strength.
The better choice between BCAAs vs creatine at the end of the day will be decided by every individual’s fitness goals.
Daniel Lynn Grenier
Daniel has always had a passion for sports and fitness. He previously worked as a manager for a college basketball team while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. Daniel also holds a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science. He is currently an assistant supervisor to a health advocacy program for adults with mental disabilities. In his free time, Daniel likes to run, lift weights, and hike to stay in shape.
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