Should You Take a BCAA Pre-Workout? Probably Not, Here’s Why

It goes without saying that essential amino acids as well as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are vital for optimal body function. But should you take a BCAA pre-workout supplement?

The short answer is you shouldn’t. There are better options. I’ll tell you why.

Do You Take BCAA Before or After a Workout?

Since these branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) enter your bloodstream rather quickly, their levels will peak about 30 minutes after ingestion, which is why it is recommended you take them before a training session.

Another thing is that leucine levels drop significantly during intense physical activity. Therefore, supplementing with a BCAA pill or powder before a session should help. It should aid protein synthesis and offset muscle breakdown, which should lead to better results in the gym. Emphasis on should.

With that being said, it doesn’t really matter when you take BCAAs.

Can You Take BCAA and Pre-Workout Together?

You can take BCAA and pre-workout together.

Both of these have a fair share of effects on the body and they can be stacked.

Pre-workout supplements rich in caffeine, L-citrulline, L-tyrosine and L-theanine will offer an array of athletic performance and focus-boosting properties.

BCAAs, on top of the aforementioned effects, also lower tryptophan levels in the brain. In case you don’t know, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin which is a “happy hormone” but a hormone that also induces fatigue during exercise.

So, taking BCAAs alongside a pre-workout should improve performance, offset fatigue, and help you train more effectively.

Once again, it should.

When to Take BCAA and Pre-Workout?

The most effective time to take BCAAs and a pre-workout would be 15-30 minutes before your training session.

As we’ve said, BCAAs in form of powder or pills are quick to absorb and start working. Just like caffeine in a pre-workout formula.

Other pre-workout compounds, such as L-citrulline, take a bit longer to become effective but considering they’re there to boost nitric oxide production and improve vasodilation, it might make sense for them to kick in after you’ve already begun your workout.

Does BCAA Have Caffeine?

No, BCAAs don’t contain caffeine. They are simply three essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – which aren’t produced by the body and need to be obtained from external sources such as food.

However, if BCAAs are part of a pre-workout formula, the formula itself will usually contain anywhere from 100 to 400 mg of caffeine.

Benefits of Taking a BCAA Pre-Workout

There is more than one benefit of taking a pre-workout – with or without BCAAs.

For starters, taking BCAA pre-workouts before training helps:

  • Enhance athletic performance
  • Encourage muscle growth
  • Stump muscle breakdown
  • Improve vasodilation
  • Boost cognitive ability
  • Postpone muscle fatigue
  • Ease muscle soreness

Most of these benefits are (or can be) scientifically proven and effectively measured.

It is well-known that caffeine is a stimulant that boosts energy and alertness. L-citrulline helps with vasodilation, leading to better pumps. It is also known that an effective dose of L-theanine can offset caffeine jitters and accelerate mental regeneration. [1]

However, there is little to no research on most of the other stuff manufacturers put in these formulas.

Ingredients like GABA, Agmatine sulfate, Kanna, Huperzine-A, and many like them, yield only anecdotal benefits and are not backed by any research whatsoever.

On top of that, recent research suggests that BCAAs only help with muscle recovery, not muscle growth, which would render them virtually useless as a part of a pre-workout. [2]

But, even more importantly, it has been proven, time and time again, that supplementing with BCAAs is completely and utterly unnecessary.

Here’s why.

Should You Take a BCAA Pre-Workout?

A simple answer to this question is no. You shouldn’t do it.

While there is nothing inherently wrong about taking a pre-workout with BCAAs, it is definitely not something you should actively spend your money on.

First of all, what usually happens you buy a pre-workout with BCAAs is you don’t just get BCAAs – you get a proprietary blend of various EAAs (essential amino acids). So, you don’t really know what or how much you’re ingesting.

Also, there’s a matter of an effective dose. More often than not, you’ll end up with a 5 g dose of 10-15 amino acids, most of which are underdosed to keep more money in the manufacturer’s pockets.

And finally, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, if you eat a well-balanced protein-rich diet and you supplement it with a premium whey protein (with a well-balanced amino acid profile) there’s no need to add BCAAs to the plate and waste your hard-earned money.

If you’re 200 pounds and you consume 160 grams of protein – there is virtually nothing for you to gain from BCAA supplementation.

Conclusion

A well-dosed pre-workout full of quality ingredients can be a great addition to your gym routine. BCAAs, on the other hand, are nothing but a waste of money – alone or within a pre-workout powder.

A well-balanced diet and whey protein supplementation will provide you with all the essential amino acids you need, so additional BCAA supplementing is absolutely unnecessary.

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Pierce Reiten
Pierce Reiten

Pierce Reiten is an NASM certified personal trainer with over a decade of experience in the gym. He's passionate about providing information to help you improve your fitness and life.

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