BCAAs vs. creatine compared: How to make the right choice for you

Are you striving to optimize your fitness routine but puzzled about the difference between BCAAs and creatine? 

Understanding the distinct roles of BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) and creatine in fitness can often seem daunting despite their widespread acclaim for unique benefits. 

This article aims to simplify your decision-making process, focusing on these two potent supplements. 

You’ll gain insight into their functions, advantages, and possible side effects, guiding you in choosing the one that best fits your health and fitness aspirations. 

Let’s take a closer look at BCAAs and Creatine to help you determine the ideal supplement for your regimen.

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs are vital nutrients in muscle health and performance. These include three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which stand out because they are metabolized mainly in the muscles. 

Their primary role is stimulating muscle protein synthesis, which is crucial for muscle building and repair [1]. This function is particularly beneficial after intense physical activities.

How BCAA works in the body

BCAAs are not just about muscle building; they also reduce fatigue perception during exercise. This reduction in fatigue is especially valuable for endurance sports, enhancing performance by making physical exertion feel less taxing.

BCAA benefits 

The benefits of BCAAs extend to muscle repair and growth, reducing soreness and speeding up recovery, thus allowing for a quicker return to training [2]. 

For athletes and fitness enthusiasts, this means improved endurance and performance in strength and endurance-based activities.

Potential side effects 

While BCAAs are safe for most, using them judiciously is essential to avoid amino acid imbalances. If you are on medication, particularly managing blood sugar levels, you should consult healthcare professionals to prevent interactions [2]. 

The appropriate use of BCAAs, guided by individual needs and goals, can significantly enhance fitness routines, particularly in muscle development and recovery processes.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a natural substance in the body, particularly in muscle cells. It’s crucial for energy production, particularly during short, intense physical activities like weightlifting or sprinting. 

When you take creatine supplements, most of it goes to your skeletal muscles. It’s converted into phosphocreatine, which helps create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key energy source for cellular functions.

what is creatine
Photograph: maksymiv/Envato

How it works in the body

Creatine’s primary function is to enhance performance in high-intensity exercises. It’s known for providing a “quick burst” of energy and increasing strength, which can improve overall workout performance. 

This makes it a favorite among athletes, especially in power sports like bodybuilding and football. 

Beyond muscle performance, creatine can speed up muscle recovery, boost water content in muscle cells for growth, and benefit cognitive functions, particularly in older adults.

Potential side effects 

While creatine is generally safe, it can cause side effects like weight gain due to water retention, dizziness, nausea, and sweating. 

It’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting creatine, especially for those with pre-existing health conditions like kidney, heart, or liver disease [3]. 

They can advise on the appropriate dosage and usage to fit your needs and goals​.

How do BCAAs compare with creatine?

When comparing BCAAs and creatine, it’s essential to consider their distinct functions and benefits for muscle growth, recovery, energy production, athletic performance, and suitability for different fitness goals [4], [5].

AspectBCAACreatine
Primary functionPromotes muscle protein synthesis, reduces muscle soreness, and supports recovery.Enhances ATP production for improved energy during high-intensity activities; supports muscle growth and strength.
BenefitsAids in muscle repair and growth
Reduces muscle soreness post-exercise
Enhances endurance
Increases strength and power
Speeds up muscle recovery
Boosts performance in high-intensity exercises
Energy productionProvides an additional energy source during prolonged exercise by reducing muscle protein breakdown.Increases ATP availability, enhancing energy production for short-duration, high-intensity activities.
Muscle recoveryFacilitates the repair and rebuilding of muscle tissues, promoting faster recovery.Aids in quick recovery post-workout by replenishing ATP stores and reducing recovery time between intense exercise sessions.
Side effectsGenerally well-tolerated; rare side effects. Those with liver or kidney diseases should consult a healthcare professional.May cause gastrointestinal discomfort, water retention, and minor weight gain. Recommended to consult a healthcare provider before use.
SuitabilitySuitable for endurance athletes, vegetarians, vegans, and those who may not get sufficient protein from their diet.Ideal for individuals focusing on high-intensity, strength-based training looking to improve power output and muscle mass.
UsageOften taken as supplements, either alone or in combination with other products like pre-workouts or post-workout shakes. Can also be obtained from high-protein foods.Commonly used as a supplement, taken before or after workouts. Also found in high-protein foods, especially meats.
Muscle growthContributes to muscle growth by stimulating muscle protein synthesis, particularly effective when combined with all essential amino acids.Directly does not stimulate muscle protein synthesis but helps increase muscle mass by enhancing workout intensity and energy.
This table provides an overview of the key differences and benefits of BCAAs and creatine. For specific fitness goals and dietary preferences, choosing these two supplements should be based on your needs and consultation with your healthcare provider.

BCAAs and creatine should be chosen based on individual fitness goals, dietary preferences, and training focus. 

While BCAAs support muscle growth and enhance endurance, creatine is vital for boosting strength, power, and high-intensity performance​.

Can you take BCAA and creatine together?

Combining BCAAs and creatine can result in exciting insights, especially their potential benefits and synergy when used together [6].

Benefits of combining BCAAs and creatine

Enhanced muscle growth and recovery

BCAAs stimulate muscle protein synthesis, with leucine playing a pivotal role in muscle-building. 

This, paired with creatine’s ability to boost muscle growth and performance, can enhance overall muscle development and recovery.

Energy and performance

Creatine effectively increases energy availability during high-intensity exercises like weightlifting and sprinting. 

Combined with BCAAs, which can reduce fatigue and muscle soreness, this duo might help improve workout intensity and recovery.

Potential drawbacks

Redundancy with adequate protein intake

The additional BCAAs might offer little extra benefits if you’re already consuming enough protein. 

BCAAs are in protein-rich foods, and your body might already be getting what it needs.

Cost-effectiveness

Considering the cost, you might achieve similar or better results by focusing on high-quality protein sources instead of supplementing with BCAAs, especially if combined with creatine.

Guidelines for combining BCAAs and creatine

  1. Always consult with a doctor or a nutrition expert before starting any supplement regimen, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions or are taking other medications.
  2. Assess your current protein intake from food sources. If you already consume enough protein, adding BCAAs might be optional.
  3. The average serving for BCAAs is around 5-10 grams, and for creatine, it is 3-5 grams daily. These supplements can be taken 30-60 minutes before a workout for optimal results [7]. On non-training days, continue taking them simultaneously to maintain consistency.
  4. Both supplements dissolve well in water and other liquids. For better dissolution and consumption, room temperature or warmer liquids are recommended.

Can I take BCAA and creatine every day?

Yes, taking BCAAs and creatine daily is common among fitness enthusiasts, but it’s essential to consider their distinct roles and effects on the body.

Daily use of BCAAs and creatine

BCAAs

BCAAs are essential for muscle protein synthesis and can reduce muscle soreness and fatigue post-workout.

However, if you’re already meeting your daily protein needs through diet, additional BCAA supplementation may offer little benefits [8]. 

The effectiveness of BCAAs also varies from person to person, and they should be combined with a well-rounded exercise routine and proper nutrition for optimal results.

Daily use of BCAAs and creatine
Photograph: GeorgeRudy/Envato

Creatine

Regular supplementation of creatine is shown to increase muscle strength and power. It’s important to fully saturate the muscles with creatine for the best results, which can be achieved through consistent daily intake.

The recommended dosage for leucine is between 2 to 10 grams. For isoleucine, the dosage is 48 to 72 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, but only for non-obese individuals. 

However, further studies are needed to determine the optimal dosage of valine and why it should be supplemented. 

If you’re taking a combination of these three amino acids, the recommended dose is 20 grams, with a balanced ratio of leucine and isoleucine [9].

While for creatine, typically, in most studies, creatine supplementation involves an initial loading protocol of approximately 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, divided into four equal doses throughout the day, for 5 to 7 days. 

This is followed by a daily maintenance dose of at least 0.03 g/kg of body weight. For a person weighing 180 pounds (82 kg), the loading dose would be 25 g/day, and the maintenance dose would be at least 2.5 g/day. 

The alternative to creatine loading is taking a smaller dose of creatine daily (usually 3 to 5 g) [10].

Timing

No specific time of day is optimal for taking BCAAs and creatine together. Some suggest taking them before or after workouts, while others recommend spreading the doses throughout the day.

Combining BCAAs and creatine is generally safe but may not be necessary if you’re already getting enough protein from your diet. 

Focusing on high-quality protein sources may be more beneficial than taking BCAAs for those who do not consume sufficient protein.

Should I take creatine or BCAA?

Choosing the right supplement between BCAAs and Creatine largely depends on your fitness goals and personal health considerations. Here’s how you can make an informed decision:

1. Identify your fitness goals

BCAAs are better if you’re focusing on muscle recovery and growth. Choose creatine for enhancing strength and performance in high-intensity workouts.

2. Analyze your dietary intake

BCAAs might be redundant if your diet is already protein-rich. Creatine supplementation can be beneficial if your dietary intake is insufficient.

3. Consider your current health 

Be cautious if you have any pre-existing kidney or liver conditions. Consult a healthcare professional to understand any potential risks.

4. Consult your healthcare provider

Always seek advice from a healthcare provider before starting supplements, especially if you have health concerns or are on medication.

5. Try it out 

Supplements affect each person differently. Observe how your body responds to the supplement regarding performance and recovery.

In closing

Choosing the right supplement, whether BCAAs or creatine, depends on your fitness goals, dietary habits, and health considerations. And while supplements can enhance your workout regime, they should complement a balanced diet and a well-structured exercise plan. 

Always prioritize safety by consulting healthcare professionals, especially if you have underlying health conditions. 

Ultimately, personal observation and adaptability are key – what works for one may not work for another. Stay informed, listen to your body, and choose supplements that align best with your health and fitness journey.

FAQs

What is better, creatine or BCAA?

Creatine and BCAA serve different purposes; Creatine is more effective for increasing strength and power during high-intensity workouts, while BCAA aids in muscle recovery and reduces fatigue. The better choice depends on your specific fitness goals and dietary intake.

What is more important creatine or amino acids?

The importance of creatine and amino acids varies: creatine primarily boosts strength and high-intensity performance, while amino acids, especially BCAAs, are essential for muscle repair and growth.

Is creatine or BCAA better for muscle growth?

For muscle growth, creatine is generally considered more effective as it enhances strength and energy for high-intensity workouts, which is crucial for muscle building. BCAAs are beneficial for muscle recovery but less directly impactful on muscle growth.

[1] https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/
[2] https://www.signos.com/blog/what-is-bcaa#8-benefits-of-branched-chain-amino-acids-bcaas  
[3] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/17674-creatine
[4] https://barbend.com/bcaas-vs-creatine/ 
[5] https://nakednutrition.com/blogs/supplements/bcaa-vs-creatine
[6] https://feastgood.com/can-you-mix-creatine-with-bcaas/
[7] https://www.garagegymreviews.com/when-to-take-bcaa-and-creatine 
[8] https://riptoned.com/blogs/in-the-trenches/can-i-mix-bcaa-with-creatine-exploring-the-benefits-and-safety-of-combining-these-supplements
[9] https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/
[10] https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/how-to-take/ 

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.