BCAA Vs. Pre-Workout – Which Is The Better Supplement?

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By Ryan Brennan

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

BCAA Vs. Pre-Workout

Anyone that works out on a regular basis knows that getting the most out of each workout is necessary when reaching your ultimate fitness goals and desires. Whether you’re looking to add muscle, stay lean, lose weight, burn fat, or build strength, you need to give 110% each time out.

While some people can muster up the motivation, effort, and willpower to do this on their own, other people need that extra boost — whether that’s in the form of a supplement or a trainer. Either way, that boost can be the difference between results and maintaining the status quo.

The good news is there are a ton of different supplements that can help you get there. Two top choices in this arena are BCAA supplements and pre-workouts. The question is, which supplement is better?

That’s where we come in to help you find your answer. If you’re interested in getting more out of your workout, then it’s time to find out which supplement is the right choice in this comparison of BCAA vs. pre-workout. Ready? Let’s dive in!

Exercise And Workout Supplements

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: About the Supplements

When you look at the supplement market for exercise enthusiasts, there are two types of supplements that stand superior — BCAAs and pre-workouts. They’re utilized by millions of people on a daily basis and help you perform your best — albeit in completely different ways. 

In fact, they’re so different that most people add both supplements to their day-to-day routine in order to reach maximum potential when stepping foot inside the gym. Together, they can be a powerful duo, so long as you understand when to use them and how to find a quality formula. 

Don’t worry, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about each supplement, including what they are, the ingredients they utilize, the benefits of each, how to find the right one for you, some of the top-rated brands, how much they generally cost, and much more below!

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout-Supplements

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs, more formerly known as branched-chain amino acids), are a group of amino acids that help enhance strength, muscle growth, endurance, and recovery. As many of you know, amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are necessary for the normal functioning of the body.

There are 20 amino acids found in the body, nine of which are essential to the human body — not made naturally in the body, meaning we must consume them through our diet. BCAAs are composed of three of those nine essential amino acids — leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Together, these three amino acids make up about 35% of the body’s muscle protein. They’re commonly found in protein-rich foods, such as eggs, meat, and dairy products. You generally want to supplement with twice as much leucine when compared to isoleucine and valine. 

What are Pre-Workouts?

Pre-workout supplements are exactly what they sound like — a supplement you take before your workout. It helps give you the energy, strength, focus, and drive needed for an effective workout. Pre-workouts are normally sold in powder form, which is then added to water. 

While most pre-workout supplements contain stimulants — such as caffeine, in a variety of forms — that’s not the case with all supplements. If you’re interested in a pre-workout without increasing your daily dose of caffeine, there are plenty of safe and effective options out there.

One of the most important things to keep in mind with pre-workout supplements is how much caffeine you’re consuming. The FDA recommends no more than 400mg of caffeine per day, no matter the source. Since most pre-workout formulas contain half of that, you must be careful.

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Comparison

BCAA supplements and pre-workouts are utilized by exercise enthusiasts and bodybuilders alike, generally in conjunction with one another. With that said, they’re designed to improve your workout, enhance your performance, and boost your results in completely different ways.

For example, BCAA supplements are much more effective at building muscle and promoting recovery so you can return to your peak performance sooner. On the other hand, pre-workout supplements are much more effective at increasing energy levels and helping you stay focused.

They both have their place in the exercise state of mind, but when and why they’re used are far from similar. That’s why you’ll see a wide range of different ingredients when comparing the two formulas side-by-side. Either way, they can both be extremely effective when used correctly. 

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout Supplements and Powder.

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Supplement Formulation

As we mentioned above, a BCAA formula isn’t going to look the same as a pre-workout formula. Since they’re designed to do completely different things, you’ll find a wide variety of different ingredients in each formula. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re putting in your body.

To help you better understand the differences between the two, we’re going to detail some of the most prominent ingredients featured in each supplement. Keep in mind that most brands feature a unique formula and there’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter formula in the supplement market.

There are, however, several ingredients that reign supreme when looking for the right formula — whether it’s a BCAA supplement or pre-workout. We’re going to outline those ingredients below!

BCAA Ingredients

  • Isoleucine – when broken down, it fuels your muscles.
  • Leucine – stimulates protein synthesis and supports insulin function.
  • Valine – reduces post-exercise fatigue.
  • Glutamine – helps make protein, is the most abundant amino acid in the body.
  • Citrulline – boosts nitric oxide production and improves blood flow.

Pre-Workout Ingredients

  • Caffeine – increases energy levels, focus, and metabolism.
  • Creatine – maintains constant supply of energy and improves fluid retention.
  • L-Theanine – promotes relaxation and reduces side effects of caffeine.
  • L-Tyrosine – improves mental performance in stressful situations.
  • CoQ10 – helps generate energy and acts as an antioxidant.
  • B-Complex Vitamins – break down food for energy.

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Supplement Benefits

BCAA and pre-workout supplements can help you get the most out of your workouts and are generally safe for consumption on a daily basis. Whether you exercise once per day, twice per day, or just a few times per week, these supplements can be a lifesaver in a variety of ways.

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout- Support Workouts

While some people might feel the need to take them both at the same time, other people might only be interested in one. To help you understand which one is best for you and your fitness goals, we’re going to break down some of the most prominent benefits of BCAAs and Pre-Workouts.

BCAA Benefits

  • Increases muscle growth
  • Decreases muscle soreness
  • Reduces exercise fatigue
  • Prevents muscle wasting
  • Enhances muscle recovery

Pre-Workout Benefits

  • Increases energy levels
  • Enhances focus and drive
  • Improve athletic performance
  • Increase intensity levels
  • Boosts strength and endurance

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Other Considerations

By now, you have a solid understanding of what BCAAs and pre-workouts are, the ingredients you’ll likely find in each formula, and what the benefits of each supplement are. That should give you a firm idea of whether or not you would benefit or have any interest in either one of them. 

Of course, it’s important to know that not all BCAA supplements are created equal and the same can be said about pre-workout supplements. To ensure you’re matched with a quality, safe, and effective formula, let’s go over some of the other things you should consider before purchasing.

BCAA Considerations

  • Powdered vs. capsule form
  • Mixes well, tastes great
  • 2:1:1 BCAA ratio
  • Made in FDA-approved and GMP-certified facility
  • Safe for daily use
  • Contains other essential amino acids

Pre-Workout Considerations

  • No more than 200mg of caffeine per serving
  • If you don’t want caffeine, look for a stim-free formula
  • L-Theanine and L-Tyrosine help reduce caffeine side effects
  • Powdered vs. capsule form
  • Mixes well, tastes great
  • Free of banned substances

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Supplement Value 

Of all the things we’ve discussed above regarding BCAA and pre-workout supplements, one of the things we haven’t touched on is the cost. While there’s no standard for how much they cost and all supplements come with a different price tag, we can always take a look at averages. 

For example, your average pre-workout supplement should cost you anywhere from $20 to $40 per 30-serving container (a one-month supply). You can find some formulas that are cheaper and some that are more expensive. Most quality formulas are on the high end of the spectrum.

On the other hand, your average BCAA supplement should cost you anywhere from $25 to $35 per 30-serving container. It’s around the same as a pre-workout supplement in terms of cost. Again, the higher-quality formulas are going to cost you more, but it’s usually worth the money.

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Top-Rated Brands

Much like any other type of supplement, not all BCAAs and pre-workouts are created equal. There are a wide variety of different brands and each one will feature it’s own unique formula — which means unique ingredients at different dosages. That’s why no two supplements are alike.

Since you’re likely interested in one or both of these supplements, we’re going to help narrow your options down to ensure you’re matched with a quality formula that’s both safe and effective. This will help you achieve the best results when adding these supplements to your daily routine. Below are some top options for BCAA supplements and Pre-Workout supplements.

Top BCAA Supplements

  • Transparent Labs – contains 8,000mg of BCAAs (2:1:1 ratio), 5,000mg of Glutamine, 1,000mg of Coconut Water Powder, and 1,535mg of Vitamin C.
  • 1st Phorm – contains Vitamins B3, B6, B12 and B12, sodium, potassium, 7,500mg of BCAAs, L-Taurine, L-Tyrosine, L-Glutamine, L-Citrulline, and Electrolytes.
  • ATH – contains Himalayan Pink Salt, Sodium, Potassium, 5,000mg of BCAAs (2:1:1 ratio), L-Glutamine, Tart Cherry Extract, and Pomegranate Extract.
  • Optimum Nutrition – contains 2,500mg of leucine, 1,250mg of isoleucine, and 1,250mg of valine (2:1:1 ratio). Also contains inulin and lecithin.

top-rated BCAA supplement-Transparent Labs

Top Pre-Workout Supplements

  • Pre Lab Procontains Vitamins D, B2, B6, B9, and B12, potassium, iron, Himalayan Pink Salt, natural caffeine, L-Theanine, L-Tyrosine, Citrulline, Glutathione, and Root Beet Powder.
  • Performance Lab Energycontains magnesium, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, R-Lipoic Acid, CoQ10, BioPQQ, and BioPerine. 
  • Tone It Upcontains Vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium, potassium, sodium, caffeine, and ashwagandha.
  • Performance Lab Stimcontains vitamins B2, B6, B9, and B12, caffeine, L-Theanine, and L-Tyrosine.

top-rated Pre-Workout supplement-Pre Lab Pro

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Which Supplement Is Better?

Since BCAA and pre-workout supplements are designed to do two completely different things, determining which one is better for you will depend on what you’re looking to accomplish with your supplement. In some cases, you could be interested in both of them at the same time.

If you’re often groggy, unmotivated, fatigued, and unfocused when you workout, then you’re going to want a pre-workout supplement. It’ll give you that energy boost you need and help improve your athletic performance. Almost anyone can benefit from a pre-workout supplement.

If you’re looking to build more muscle and improve your recovery process — the stuff that goes on behind the scenes — then you’re going to want a BCAA supplement. This is especially true for those that don’t consume enough leucine, isoleucine, and valine through their normal diet.

If you’re interested in both, you can find some quality formulas that combine the two together. Of course, you can also search for two quality formulas in powdered form and add them both to your beverage of choice — whether that’s a smoothie or just regular water. It’s 100% up to you!

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Ryan Brennan

Ryan Brennan is a health and fitness writer with both personal and professional experience in the field. His passion for nutrition stems from personal experiences dealing with malnutrition, low energy, and other health complications. Through research and experimentation, Ryan was able to overcome these issues and take control of his health. He now aims to help others do the same. Ryan has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and supplementation for the past 7 years. He also has experience in the field, serving as the manager of a high-end fitness facility in Las Vegas, NV where he currently resides.