Protein powder and BCAAs are both commonly seen in different shaker bottles around the gym. Both are designed to increase our body’s ability to repair and build the muscles we tax day in and day out during fitness. Before we dive into the what, who, why, and how, let’s first get a little background information going:
Amino acids are essentially the building block components that make up the concept of protein.
20 total amino acids exist = 9 essential (not produced by our body) + 11 non-essential (produced by our body)
What are they?
BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are three of the nine essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs do not contain protein, fats, or carbohydrates. BCAAs also show no evidence of performance enhancement during exercise.
Protein powders are easily digested and quickly absorbed forms of protein that mix well in liquids. They tend to contain varying amounts of fats and/or carbohydrates in addition to protein, which assist with energy replenishment post-exercise. High-quality protein powders should contain all nine essential amino acids. However the quantity of the amino acids depends on the source of protein.
Stay tuned for this week’s video on the types of protein powders!
Who should use them and why?
BCAA powders are designed for rapid digestion which means a sudden, high concentration influx into the blood stream which is carried directly to the muscles for repair. During fitness, our muscles are taxed and challenged which in turn breaks them down. In order for our muscles to rebuild and repair themselves, they require amino acids. BCAAs then are meant for individuals who need or want to repair their muscles quickly during or after exercise, especially if the individual is unable to eat a proper protein filled meal within the ideal 40 minutes to 1 hour post-exercise window.
Protein powders are also designed for rapid digestion and utilization. By providing all 9 essential amino acids along with some level of fat or carbohydrate, protein powders are ideally used during or immediately after fitness by those who 1) want to rebuild their muscles quickly, 2) want to replenish their energy stores quickly, 3) want to maintain the optimal level of protein intake per day, and 4) may not have the immediate ability to consume a meal containing protein right after exercising. According to Antonio (2008) studies have shown that muscle repair is greatest when the source contains whey protein, amino acids, and carbohydrate together. (i.e. a quality source protein powder)
WARNING: protein powders are not designed to replace quality protein consumed through food choices. As the term indicates, they are designed to SUPPLEMENT your already high-quality, well-rounded nutritious diet.
How should someone use them?
Nutrient timing is everything - almost more important than the overall amount consumed each day.
BCAAs can be consumed during or immediately after exercising, OR during a point in the day when protein intake is low or difficult to maintain. As stated above, BCAAs do not contain protein, fat or carbohydrates which means they provide no calories. Their sole job is to begin muscle repair.
Mixing your BCAAs with a liquid containing carbohydrates or a little fat will assist not only in muscle repair, but energy replenishment as well which is also vital after intense exercise. However, if you are looking to repair muscle without consuming additional calories, mixing BCAAs with water is ideal.
BCAAs are also great for those who are unable to always consume high-quality protein sources, such as vegetarians or vegans. Plant-based protein sources can contain either parts of or all nine essential amino acids, however their quantity is much lower compared to sources stemming from animal products. Adding a BCAA supplementation throughout the day to ensure muscle mass is being properly repaired and saved (i.e. not used for survival) could be very beneficial for vegetarians or vegans.
Protein powder timing is best either prior to, during, or immediately after exercise to ensure the body’s quick digestion and utilization of all its components. Antonio (2008) reports that studies have proved greater increases in muscle mass and strength in those who consume a protein supplement immediately after exercising versus waiting to consume the supplement later in the day.
In terms of drinking some, not necessarily all, of your protein powder drink prior to exercise is ideal for those who are intending to workout fasted or have gone more than 2-3 hours since last consuming a protein filled meal prior to exercising.
Stay tuned for this week’s video on Thursday which will also cover ideal protein powder consumption around workouts and how to select a quality protein powder or BCAA supplement, in addition to the different types of protein powder available.
As always, feel free to reach out to me at the box or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions regarding your individual nutrition!
Your C5 Nutrition Coach,
Antonio, J., Kalman, D., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Willoughby, D. S., & Haff, G. G. (2008) Essentials of sports nutrition and supplements. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press.
Smith-Ryan, A. & Antonio, J. (2013). Sports nutrition & performance enhancing supplements. Ronkonkoma, NY: Linus Learning.