Written by Ben Carlisle
Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022
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Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and creatine have become two of the most popular supplements used by fitness enthusiasts and athletes alike. However, is it wise to take both of them together? What are the benefits of taking BCAAs and creatine together?
Both BCAAs and creatine help to improve endurance, muscle growth, fat loss and overall performance. It has also been shown that combining BCAAs, creatine, caffeine, whey protein and cordyceps may help with aerobic performance, endurance, and maintaining lean muscle mass.
Before you start taking BCAAs and creatine together to supplement your fitness regime, you need to be aware of what you’re putting in your body, what these supplements do, and how to improve your performance levels. This article will help you to better understand the benefits of taking BCAAs and creatine together.
Branched chain amino acids are essential amino acids that are produced naturally by your body to aid protein synthesis, which helps to build and maintain muscle, among many other benefits. There are 20 amino acids that comprise muscle protein in total and nine are considered essential (1). However, we will focus on the three most important ones, of which there will be a higher concentration in the BCAA supplements that you will be taking: Leucine, Isoleucine, and valine.
Leucine is the BCAA that stimulates protein synthesis and directs your body on a low-caloric diet to burn fat for fuel (1). However, leucine is not a precursor for protein synthesis, it simply aids in the regulation of the signalling involved in the process.
Leucine may also initiate an anabolic response in your body, which also aids protein synthesis and hinders muscle breakdown when taken in conjunction with protein (either supplements or protein-rich foods), while also burning fat (1).
Also part of the process of protein synthesis, isoleucine aids with the ingestion of leucine acids, activating the metabolic pathways that oxidize BCAAs (1). It also aids in recovery.
With leucine and isoleucine, valine is the third BCAA that is involved in protein synthesis. It is released through the pyruvate, which is the output of the metabolism of glucose known as glycolysis (2). It boosts energy and helps with muscle repair.
The primary reason for athletes to take BCAAs is to promote the maintenance of lean muscle mass (3). They activate the enzymes in your body that, when supplemented with resistance training and a low caloric diet (i.e. “the cut diet”), maintains lean muscle mass and preserves skeletal muscle performance.
BCAAs are especially helpful with helping regulating blood sugar and therefore inhibiting cravings. By following an effective “cut diet”, carbohydrate storages in your body are depleted, which makes your body turn to fat stored in your body for fuel (3). More importantly, your fat loss will not occur in conjunction with losses in muscle mass, as stated above, which helps you get into a more “cut” shape, rather than looking skinny.
Another great benefit of BCAAs is that they allow you to exercise with more intensity, and for longer. BCAAs restore serotonin by regulating your body’s tryptophan levels, which reduces fatigue and elevates mental focus. By spending more time in the gym, you will see better results in a shorter space of time.
BCAAs promote muscle growth by activating muscle building enzymes in your body and aiding protein synthesis, which allows you to convert protein in your diet or from supplements into muscle mass. It also prevents the breakdown of muscle tissue and aids with recovery so that you can push your muscles to their limits every day.
BCAAs have been shown to enhance recovery, with evidence showing that taking supplements can alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) (10).
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance found within your body’s muscle cells. During high-intensity exercises and resistance training, creatine aids your muscles in producing energy during the process.
It is a popular supplement among athletes, which aids in muscle growth, strength exercises and improves performance (5). It is chemically similar to amino acids. Your body can produce more creatine through the amino acids arginine, which improves performance and recovery; glycine, which promotes muscle growth; and methionine, which has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties (5).
Creatine has been shown to enhance high-intensity exercise endurance, which offers a lot of benefits in terms of training volume and allows you to reach your fitness goals faster (5).
Recovery is important for exercise and, without allowing your muscles to repair adequately between workouts, there can be negative consequences such as muscle tears that can hamper your process (6). Reduced recovery times from creatine supplements also help you to push yourself further and more frequently.
Creatine effectively promotes both short and long-term muscle growth for people, regardless of how much they exercise. It increases muscle fiber growth by two or three degrees of magnitude (5).
Creatine improves muscle hydration and the water content within your muscle cells, which gives them more volume and plays a big role in muscle growth.
Creatine is also an excellent supplement to help increase resistance to fatigue and tiredness, which helps you to get more out of your fitness regime.
As you can see, BCAAs and creatine have very similar effects on the body, but BCAAs are more useful for activating protein synthesis and assisting with muscle recovery (8).
Creatine, on the other hand, is best used as a means to take on a bigger workload, which allows you to build more strength over time and boosting short- and long-term muscle growth (9).
While creatine and BCAAs are both incredibly useful supplements in their own right, there is also evidence that suggests that taking the two simultaneously prior to high-intensity can significantly improve training volume and endurance, while building, growing and maintaining lean body mass (11).
When both are taken with caffeine, whey protein, and cordyceps (a Chinese medicine), you may also experience positive effects on aerobic performance – although it’s not clear why.
Data from a limited number of studies has been fairly contradictory about when you should be taking creatine and BCAA supplements. The importance of timing (pre-, post-, or during your workout) remains relatively unclear and there’s no solid evidence to show any significant difference between taking supplements at one time rather than another (12).
You may be concerned that taking BCAAs and creatine together could be unsafe. However, there is no evidence of any adverse effects that could arise as a result (13).
There’s also no evidence to suggest that it could have any detrimental effects on performance.
Taking BCAAs and creatine as a supplement for your fitness regime can have several positive effects, such as promoting muscle growth, maintaining lean muscle mass and alleviating craving for high-calorie foods. They also aid muscle recovery and improve endurance.
Furthermore, taking both supplements in conjunction can enhance the effects even further and there’s no evidence to suggest that it could have any adverse effects.