BCAAs Vs. Protein: What's the difference and Why you need them?

Key Takeaways

BCAAs vs. Protein – Which One Do You Need?


  • Benefits: Directly supports muscle synthesis, reduces workout fatigue, and speeds recovery.
  • Ideal for: Athletes and fitness enthusiasts focused on enhancing muscle growth and reducing muscle soreness.


  • Benefits: Supports overall body functions, aids in muscle repair, and helps with weight management.
  • Ideal for: Individuals seeking balanced nutrition, muscle maintenance, and those with general fitness goals.

Choosing Between BCAAs and Protein:

  • Goal-Oriented: BCAAs for targeted muscle building and recovery; protein for comprehensive nutritional support and muscle maintenance.
  • Nutritional Needs: Consider overall diet and specific fitness goals to determine the best supplement.

Our bodies require 20 different amino acids in order to produce thousands of proteins. Virtually every function in our bodies that requires proteins depends on these amino acids. When it comes to what you should take in order to boost these functions, often the question comes down to BCAAs vs. proteins, either through diet or supplements. 

Of these 20 amino acids, nine of them are considered essential amino acids. This means the body cannot synthesize these amino acids and we must get them from dietary sources. Three of the essential amino acids are what is known as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. As you evaluate BCAAs vs. proteins, it is important to understand where BCAAs fit into the amino acids your body needs.  

BCAAs can be taken as supplements in powder forms. Proteins also come in powder supplements. When you need to decide between BCAAs vs. proteins, you will need to determine which is going to work best for your fitness and training goals. 

What are BCAAs vs. proteins? Which is best for your workout and training goals? How do you evaluate whether you should use BCAAs vs proteins in a supplement? This guide will offer you everything you need to know about BCAAs vs proteins and how to get the most out of the supplements that work best for you.  

What Is Protein? 

Proteins are what are called macronutrients. They are essential for building muscle mass. We get proteins in our diet through animal products and from plant-based foods like legumes and nuts. Most of us will get enough protein simply from eating meat and beans. However, athletes and people who work out regularly may require added protein in the form of a supplement.  

There are three macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. From these we derive calories for energy. We require large quantities of macronutrients simply to live. These are the fundamental nutrients required for life. Hence the name, “macronutrients.” Chemically, proteins are made of amino acids. These are organic acids made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Amino acids are the building block of protein. When proteins are broken down in the body they are free to be synthesized into muscle mass. Amino acids also build proteins that are essential to the immune system.  

What Are BCAAs

Branched-chain amino acids consist of three of the essential amino acids our bodies cannot make on their own and must be obtained from a food source. These essential amino acids are molecules that have a chain of elements attached. The chemical function of these chains is complex. What we need to understand is that these three amino acids are essential for building muscle. This is how they get the name. The three branched-chain amino acids are: 

  • Leucine: Considered the most important of the three, leucine helps maintain energy levels by stabilizing glucose in the bloodstream. Leucine is important for building muscle because it assists in the biochemical production of muscle tissue. It can also help with recovery because leucine boosts our ability to heal muscles. This reduces soreness. Leucine can lead to a 25% increase in muscle tissue. 
  • Isoleucine: Our bodies cannot produce isoleucine and we must get it from some outside source. Obviously, nutritional sources are the main way we obtain isoleucine, but protein supplements can also provide this essential amino acid. Isoleucine functions in a way that is similar to leucine except leucine performs its metabolic work through fats only. Isoleucine can metabolize through fats and carbohydrates. 
  • Valine: Similar to leucine and isoleucine, valine helps build muscle by bringing more glucose to the muscles as they are stressed and worked. On its own, valine does not build muscle. But taken with leucine and isoleucine, it helps facilitate greater muscle development. Valine also assists with brain function, and it can help you sleep. A bonus for the insomniacs. 

These three blocked chained amino acids are the dynamic trio of muscle growth and development. Together, these three amino acids build muscle, speed recovery from workouts, and reduce the soreness from workouts.  

BCAAs Vs. Protein Differences

The real difference between BCAAs and proteins is that BCAA supplements only contain the three amino acids. While they are powerful supplements for building muscle, they provide no other real benefit. 

Proteins, on the other hand, will provide you with the full range of amino acids; those that build muscle and those that serve other physiological functions. Proteins and protein supplements contain the three primary BCAAs. Since they are fully made proteins, they naturally contain the necessary amino acids to build a protein. You will get BCAAs simply by eating proteins or by taking some type of protein supplement. However, not everyone is taking proteins and BCAAs for the same reasons. 

For someone whose primary goal is to build lean muscle mass, BCAAs may be the right supplement to take. The three amino acids that are in BCAA supplements become immediately available to the body to build muscle. As opposed to protein, which must be metabolized and broken into component amino acids. 

Once broken down through the metabolism, all amino acids become available for the various processes on our bodies. Some amino acids are used to bolster the immune system, others are used to build muscle. For people who are training for advanced competition, for example, the direct availability of a BCAA supplement may be a better option. 

When to Take Protein

Since BCAAs and proteins clearly overlap in terms of the basic nutrients they offer, it is best to determine your specific goals to decide when to take one or the other. Some of the things that will make it best to take protein include losing weight. Some people may not be primarily interested in building muscle. If this is the case, proteins may be best for you. In fact, protein is one of the most important nutrients for losing weight. A high-protein diet can help increase your metabolism and reduce your appetite. 

Protein helps curb your appetite by reducing the production of a hormone called ghrelin that makes you feel hungry. Protein simultaneously helps boost levels of other hormones that reduce appetite. What this means is that even a high-protein snack between meals will reduce your need to eat. If you are taking a protein supplement you will not feel as hungry and are less likely to overeat and fill up on snacks.

Maintaining Muscle Mass

Another reason you may prefer protein over BCAAs is to maintain muscle mass. Sometimes the goals are to keep what you have rather than build up more muscle mass.  Particularly as we get older, maintaining muscle mass can be important. Studies show that people lose anywhere from 3-8 percent of their muscle mass every decade past the age of 30. This muscle loss is one of the things that contributes to fractured bones as we age. 

A typical American diet consists of about three times as much protein at dinner than at other times of the day. It is better to measure your protein intake at a more uniform level over the course of the day. Doctors recommend taking a balanced level of protein spread out across the day to prevent muscle loss. This is especially the case as we get older. Taking roughly 25-30 grams of protein per meal appears to be sufficient to ward off muscle loss. 

Building Muscle

Of course, taking the protein is helpful for building muscle. Protein contains everything necessary to build muscle since muscle is made primarily of protein. 

If you are working out, or if you are training competitively, you will naturally break down muscle tissue. This is part of the process. You need to replenish that muscle with proteins to rebuild and increase muscle mass. 

Many athletes and trainers take protein supplements 15-60 minutes after exercise. This time frame is referred to as the anabolic window. This is believed to be the optimum time to get the most out of the nutrients you take to increase the benefits of your workout. However, some experts claim that taking a protein supplement any time up to two hours after a workout provides you with all the amino acids you need to build muscle mass. 

In any case, protein is certainly great for building muscle. In terms of your overall goals, it may be better to take BCAAs because they are readily assimilable for building muscle protein. 

When to Take Aminos

BCAAs are taken by trained and advanced athletes and by people who are just working at staying fit. There are distinct advantages to BCAAs as opposed to proteins. 

BCAAs are known to build muscle, reduce fatigue, and cut down on the intensity and length of muscle soreness post-workout. The fact that these specific amino acids are readily available for protein synthesis means BCAAs can work toward building and repairing muscle immediately. You should take BCAAs when you need to build muscle.

One of the BCAAs, leucine, activates a specific metabolic mechanism that stimulates muscle protein synthesis. This is the process of making muscle in the body from the elements that amino acids provide.  The science suggests that taking as little as 5.5 grams of BCAAs after a resistance workout can increase muscle protein by more than 20 percent. It appears that the best time to take BCAAs is immediately following your training or workout. 

Benefits of BCAAs:

  • Build muscle
  • Reduce soreness
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Prevent muscle loss
  • May benefit liver disease

  • Benefits of Protein

  • Added muscle
  • Reduce muscle soreness
  • Prevent muscle loss
  • Nutrition

  • Best Protein Supplement

    There are hundreds of protein supplements available in stores and online. You can exhaust yourself just by looking through the choices. Certainly, the best protein supplement is Nutriwhey from NF Sports. NF Sports formulates this supplement from whey protein because whey protein is considered to be the most ‘anabolic’ (the best muscle tissue-repairing protein) of the protein sources because it’s higher in BCAAs.

    This means Nutriwhey is not only the most effective protein supplement but also the most active when it comes to repairing muscle tissue to facilitate greater muscle protein synthesis. 

    Best Amino Supplement

    Of the vast array of BCAA supplements you can buy, the one that stands out is the Natural Amino from NF Sports. This supplement gives you a solid dose of BCAAs with a special emphasis on the one that matters most. 

    The key amino acid amongst the BCAAs is leucine, it is primarily responsible in this signaling process. Natural Amino contains four grams of leucine per serving in a 4:1:1 ratio which is double the typical leucine ratio for BCAAs (typically 2:1:1).

    Wrapping Things Up

    When you consider the supplements that are going to help you build muscle and make it possible to keep going in your training and workouts, the decision often comes down to BCAAs vs. proteins. Whether you are interested in high-intensity training or general fitness, BCAAs and proteins can offer what you need; the decision really comes down to your primary goals. Both BCAAs and proteins will help you build muscle. Both will help reduce soreness and fatigue. The key difference is in the ready availability of BCAAs for muscle protein synthesis versus the full boost of amino acids you get from a whole protein.

    BCAAs go straight to the metabolic processes that repair and build muscle tissue. Proteins must be metabolized into the component amino acids. However, you will ultimately get the same amino acids. 

    Proteins appear to be an advantage for people whose main interests are in nutrition and preventing muscle loss. Older people who require extra nutrition benefit from taking protein supplements. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts may prefer a BCAA supplement since they are likely to get nutrition in dietary sources. The main goal is building muscle. In either case, both BCAAs and proteins can help give you real results in your training and workouts. 

    Health and Safety Notice for Our Readers

    At NF Sports, we're dedicated to supporting your fitness journey with high-quality, natural supplements made in an FDA-registered facility. Our content and product recommendations are for informational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice.

    Consult Your Doctor: Before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have health concerns or conditions, consult with a healthcare professional to ensure it's safe and right for you.

    FDA Disclaimer: Our products are designed to support your wellness journey but have not been evaluated by the FDA to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


    What are the main differences between BCAAs and protein?

    BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) consist of three essential amino acids crucial for muscle synthesis: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Protein, a macronutrient, contains all the essential amino acids, including BCAAs, required for various bodily functions, not just muscle building.

    Why might someone choose BCAAs over protein supplements?

    Individuals focused on muscle building and rapid recovery may prefer BCAAs for their direct role in muscle protein synthesis and their immediate availability to the body post-workout.

    Can protein supplements effectively provide BCAAs?

    Yes, protein supplements, especially those derived from whey, are rich in BCAAs, along with other essential amino acids, offering a comprehensive approach to nutrition and muscle repair.

    When should you take protein supplements?

    Protein supplements are beneficial for overall nutrition, weight management, and muscle maintenance. They can be taken throughout the day, but many find post-workout consumption within the "anabolic window" to be most effective for muscle recovery.


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