BCAAs or Pre-Workouts: Which Performs Better?

by Scott Reid

Brainched-chain amino acids, commonly known as BCAAs, are known for improving muscle protein synthesis. They are also known to increase strength, endurance, and power during workouts. BCAAs are often consumed as a pre- or post-workout supplement.

However, there are also supplements containing several ingredients that have been specifically formulated to be taken before workouts. Pre-workout supplements are believed to provide people with peak performance when they are training.

This situation has made people confused, particularly those who are beginners in the field of bodybuilding and fitness. Meanwhile, there are people who stand for either BCAA or pre-workouts only.

That leads us to the question “Which should I take before workouts – BCAAs or pre-workouts?” And which of them will provide the better results based on the time and money spent?

In this post, we’ll take a look at the difference between the two based on scientific studies.


What Are BCAAs?

BCAAs are a category of essential amino acids that have a branched molecular structure including anabolic properties. The three amino acids used in BCAAs are valine, isoleucine, and leucine.

These branch chain amino acids are essential for muscle growth, muscle recovery, and for providing fuel for the body during workouts. Out of the three BCAA amino acids, experts have found leucine to be the most crucial.

BCAA supplements, when they are consumed as a pre-workout provide the following benefits:

  • Enhances muscle endurance during workouts
  • Enhances recovery and soreness of muscles after workouts
  • Enhances strength during workouts
  • Improves muscle protein synthesis


The three amino acids present in BCAAs work as a singular unit in repairing and building muscle tissue, yet they can also work independently as well.

Leucine has been found to stimulate protein synthesis compared to any other amino acid. It is capable of stimulating chemical signals that promote protein synthesis.

Leucine has also been found to support insulin function, which aids in transporting nutrients such as glucose to the muscles. Doing so ensures the presence of energy throughout the body.

Meanwhile, isoleucine is known to effectively act as fuel for the muscles while valine reduces exercise fatigue by lowering tryptophan uptake in the brain.

The benefits of BCAAs are why people have been adding them to their workout routine. However, BCAAs are not the only supplements. There are also pre-workouts that have been found to provide benefits as well.


What Are Pre-Workouts?

The supplements known as pre-workouts are dietary supplements intended for bodybuilders and athletes to improve their energy levels. They are taken before a training session to give them as much focus, energy, and endurance throughout the session.

Pre-workout supplements contain various ingredients such as vitamin B, antioxidants, carbohydrates, creatine, caffeine, and more depending on the product.

Nearly every brand in the market provides a unique formula with its own distinct combinations to supposedly provide the best effects.

Out of all ingredients, the best quality pre workout supplements have BCAA included. This is where we explore the next question.


Why Use Pre-Workouts?

Pre-workouts ensure that the user has the best performance during exercise. The top ones contain a combination of natural ingredients that contribute to achieving peak performance.

These supplements can contain stimulants such as caffeine, which is common in coffee, that help in improving energy levels.

Pre-workout supplements that are consumed 15-30 minutes prior to warming up can provide better energy levels, extended stamina, and increased focus.

The following are the most common ingredients in pre-workout supplements:

  • Creatine This substance provides the muscle with higher creatine levels before workouts to ensure a constant supply of energy.
  • L-Citrulline – This promotes protein synthesis while lowering amino acid breakdown during exercise. It is also known for improving blood flow (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5999519/).
  • L-Theanine – This amino acid is obtained from tea leaves and is a great pre-workout ingredient. It has been shown to work well with stimulants. Combining this with caffeine can help improve cognitive function (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4787341/).
  • Caffeine – Another excellent pre-workout ingredient that improves energy levels while stimulating metabolism.

For every training session, the best approach is to stick with the recommended dose of the supplement. Recommended dosage for pre-workouts depends on many factors, including the ingredients they contain.

Users may want to avoid taking more than 200mg of caffeine in supplements that contain this ingredient. Going past this level can result in a loss of focus and jitteriness.


Also, products containing creatine have to be selected carefully. Each serving should not exceed 1 to 2mg.


How do Pre-Workouts Differ from BCAAs?

Quality pre-workout supplements are going to have BCAAs in them. However, although BCAAs are excellent for developing muscles, increasing metabolism, and maintaining muscle mass, there are other ingredients that can do better.

Substances such as caffeine can help improve focus while vitamins promote better endurance and mood. This is what most pre-workout supplements contain.

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Molecules such as beta-alanine and betaine in pre-workout supplements are great compliments for BCAAs as they improve endurance, muscle growth, and strength.


Difference Between Pre-Workouts and BCAAs

Pre-workout supplements are meant to make users achieve the best performance while they workout. Meanwhile, BCAAs are more intended to provide the body with the muscle fuel it needs for synthesis.

A pre-workout supplement often contains stimulants that BCAAs do not possess. This can improve motivation, focus, and energy to those taking them.


Quality pre-workout supplements also have vitamins and natural composites that improve mood and endurance. BCAAs do not have these elements.

Finally, the power molecules betaine and beta-alanine are present in pre-workouts. These two are known for muscle growth and improved strength.

Although BCAAs are great for muscle recovery and growth, they are not able to improve energy levels and focus during workouts. Pre-workout supplements containing an array of ingredients can do just that and more.


Can BCAAs Be Used as a Pre-Workout?

This is going to depend on the goals of the user. BCAAs can be consumed more than once per day and can be applied as a pre-workout supplement. They can be consumed as fuel to enhance performance when taken before exercise.

Consuming BCAAs as a pre-workout supplement improves muscle growth and performance while reducing DOM, or delayed onset muscle soreness. DOM is quite common among athletes who perform high-intensity exercises.

In one study, researchers reported that users who took BCAA supplements as a pre-workout experienced less fatigue during and after the session.


When it comes to dosage, studies have shown that 0.03 to 0.05g/kg of body weight, approximately 2 to 4 grams per hour can be consumed. The standard guide for daily BCAA consumption is 144 mg/kg of bodyweight. This is equivalent to around 9g for the average woman and 12g for men each day.

Users should take them at least 30 minutes before training to give them time to metabolise properly. Avoid taking too much of these supplements as they can lead to headaches, dizziness, and jitteriness depending on their ingredients.


Which Is Better: BCAAs or Pre-Workouts?

In general, quality pre-workout supplements are better because they help improve fitness levels and allows users to work hard. That is why people who wish to build lean muscle mass prefer them.

However, muscle growth requires users to consume the right ingredients, or else they will struggle. This can be achieved by taking complete proteins containing essential amino acids.

Using BCAA is more relevant to bodybuilders and athletes.


Can Pre-Workout and BCAA Be Mixed?

It is possible to mix pre-workout supplements and BCAAs. In fact, as they are consumed together, the combination can provide more energy and focus for training. It also helps ensure that the body has the right muscle fuel for development.

Many pre-workouts contain BCAA as a primary ingredient that can give users the best of both worlds. They also work fine together and can help people achieve different goals.

Pre-workout can be taken before exercise while BCAA can be consumed after for maximum effect. The first step helps in enhancing energy, performance, and focus while the second phase enhances protein synthesis and recovery. These two stages can help people develop stronger and bigger muscles.

Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Pre-Workout vs BCAA

The following are the most commonly asked questions regarding pre-workout and BCAA supplementation.


When Is the Best Time to Take Pre-Workout and BCAA?

It is best to take pre-workout supplements 15 to 30 minutes before exercise to get the maximum benefit.

BCAAs can be consumed several times a day. When using it as a pre-workout, it has to be taken at least 30 minutes before exercise. This will ensure that the body has enough time to digest the substances and put it to good use.

For taking both, pre-workout has to be taken before exercise and BCAAs after the session. Post-workout supplementation is best taken 30 minutes to an hour after completing the exercise.


Do All Pre-Workout Supplements Have BCAAs?

The five primary ingredients present in most pre-workout supplements are caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, L-citrulline, and BCAAs.

Many pre-workout supplements contain BCAA. Those that do not have them may contain other essential amino acids that could improve muscle protein synthesis.

However, it is best to select a pre-workout supplement containing BCAA. The reason for this is because the amino acid leucine is considered to be one of the most potent amino acids for building muscle.


What Can Pre-Workout Do to the Body?

Pre-workouts contain a mixture of ingredients that can help improve heart rate, blood flow, energy, endurance, and focus for an amazing workout. The formulation of pre-workouts, however, differs from one brand to the next.

They often contain antioxidants, vitamins, and amino acids that can be beneficial physically and mentally during workouts. They can also contain stimulants to improve focus and energy.

Good-quality pre-workout supplements often contain BCAA to enhance muscle and protein synthesis.


Are There Any Drawbacks?

Overall, BCAAs are relatively safe to use. The body needs these elements to function normally. You can find these substances in the food that you eat.

Many people have been found to receive great results by consuming BCAAs before and after they train. However, it can be very easy to overdose. Although it is not dangerous, it can lead to nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches if you take too much.

It is best to stick to the recommendations in each product label.



The pre-workout supplements provide the necessary nutrients to the body. Its sole purpose is to give users the maximum benefits before working out. It does not only ensure better endurance, more energy, and less muscle fatigue, it also makes sure that the brain is mentally stimulated.

The boost in energy required for workouts is supplied by these supplements to ensure you get peak performance at all times.

Meanwhile, BCAA supplements can be used as a pre-workout as well. However, they are more focused on providing proper nutrients for muscle growth by improving protein synthesis and minimising recovery time.

Many pre-workout supplements contain BCAAs as one of their primary ingredients. They can also include others.

If you are planning to take them together, make sure you do so without exceeding the necessary levels to avoid problems.

Scott Reid
Scott Reid


Scott Reid is a 2 x Britain’s Strongest Man U105kg winner (2007 & 2008) and IFSA World's Strongest Man U105kg Competitor. He is an expert in strength and conditioning and also coaches functional nutrition. Scott’s passion for understanding the human body and how to optimise every aspect of it has driven him to study under legends such as Paul Chek. Scott now coaches MMA Athletes, Strongmen and Bodybuilders to name but a few, helping them to implement a well structured diet and become more powerful, explosive versions of themselves.

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