BCAA vs. Pre-Workout Differences & Which Is Better to Take

pre workout vs bcaa
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents:

  1. Pre-Workout vs. BCAA: A Brief Introduction
  2. Can You Mix BCAA and a Pre-Workout?
  3. Pre-Workout vs. BCAA: Which One Is Better?
  4. BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Do You Really Need Both?
  5. The Takeaway

When committed to training, we try to do as much as we can to get the best results and prepare the most effective workout sessions. We often turn to supplements, as an extra boost to our efforts. Yet, we are often faced with crucial questions: can we take two particular supplements together? If not, which is better? Having discussed mixing pre-workout with a fat burner, let’s delve into the case of pre-workout vs. BCAA. Can they be taken together? Which one is better? Find out below!

Pre-Workout vs. BCAA: A Brief Introduction

To answer whether you can mix BCAA with a pre-workout, we need to understand what both of these are. Thus, we’ll start with a brief introduction.

Pre-workouts are supplements taken before training to enhance your performance and thus achieve more in one training session. They serve two purposes: to energize you and reduce the feeling of fatigue. What are pre-workouts made of? Mainly caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and, surprisingly, BCAA.

BCAA is the term for a set of amino acids, such as valine, leucine, and isoleucine that your body metabolizes to provide your muscles with energy. Their main function is to accelerate muscle protein synthesis, hinder muscle protein degradation, and alleviate muscle damage. You may both take them as a separate product or find them in other training supplements.

Can You Mix BCAA and a Pre-Workout?

The answer is: yes, you can. While many pre-workouts already contain BCAA, their amount is still below the maximum safe dosage, so taking them together should not be an issue. But, to do that, you should still read the label on your supplements to see how many branched-chain amino acids are in every serving, to ensure that you do not overdose them.

How much BCAA can you take when mixing it with a pre-workout? This may vary depending on different sources. Weber claims that a dosage of up to 255 mg/kg/day is effective, trainers mostly recommend 10g/day, while you may also find suggestions that you should stick to 1g/10kg body weight/day. The safest option is to stick to the lowest of these values – you will be sure that you won’t overdo it.

While both pre-workouts and BCAA should be taken before your workout sessions, there’s one key difference that you should consider when mixing them. The branch-chained amino acids will only be effective when taken regularly, and you should stick to using them also on non-training days, which is quite different from typical pre-workout timing.

You should also bear in mind that many natural products contain BCAA. Thus, when calculating how much you should mix with your pre-workout, think about the food you eat. Where can you find branched-chain amino acids? Here’s a list:

  • Corn
  • Whey
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Baked beans
  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Almonds

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

Finally, let’s take a look at which one is better: pre-workout vs. BCAA. The main challenge to this discussion is the diverse formula of different pre-workouts, which will make us generalize a bit.

Let’s look at their purpose first. The aim of BCAA is to stimulate muscle growth and regeneration, while pre-workouts focus on increasing the effectiveness of your training. While both lead to the same goal – a lean, strong body, they do this in different ways. But, considering that many pre-workouts contain enough BCAA to stimulate your muscle growth, this aspect is in favor of the pre-workouts.

When it comes to the effect that you will feel, it all depends on what you need. A pre-workout will keep you energized, letting you take your training to the maximum, so it’s great if you desire an energy boost. BCAA, on the other hand, will significantly reduce muscle soreness after your workouts, so it’s better if you feel out of fuel after the training, or if you’re about to begin a new workout program.

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Training Type

When deciding on which one is better, it’s also worth considering what types of training you are going to undergo. BCAA’s are much more efficient for low-intensive but long exercises, while the pre-workouts work great for the opposite. Let’s look at it in more detail.

BCAA is better for:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking

Pre-workout is better for:

  • Sprinting
  • CrossFit
  • HIIT
  • Plyometrics
  • Weightlifting

BCAA vs. Pre-Workouts: Side Effects

We should also look into the side effects of each of these supplements. What exactly are they?

BCAA side effects:

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • stomach upset
  • headache

Pre-workout side effects:

  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • trouble falling asleep (if train in the evenings and take a stimulating pre-workout)
  • jittery

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: Do You Really Need Both?

You know that you can take BCAA and a pre-workout together, you know how they work and what they are best for, so it’s time for the most crucial question: do you really need to take them both?

In most cases, a high-quality pre-workout, such as the ones offered by DarkLabs should do the trick. The amount of BCAA in them will be enough to stimulate muscle growth, while gym workout sessions are usually not long and intensive enough to require the effects of branched-chain amino acids.

The only case when you may want to take both is if you combine both strength training and intensive cardio. Do you regularly hit the gym and go swimming every other day? Maybe there are certain days of the week when you hop on your bike and go for a long ride? In such cases, you can take both BCAA and a pre-workout to optimize your routine.

The Takeaway

BCAA vs. Pre-Workout: what’s the difference? The former is used to stimulate muscle growth and prevent muscle reduction while alleviating the damage caused during training. The latter helps increase focus and energy for a short, but intense, workout session. They can be taken together, as long as you pay attention to the dosage since many pre-workouts contain BCAA. Which one is better? It all depends on you: for longer, but less intensive training choose BCAA; for shorter, fierce workouts pick a pre-workout.

Did you like this article? You may also read: Can We Take Fat Burners With Pre–Workouts?


Weber, M. G., Dias, S. S., de Angelis, T. R., Fernandes, E. V., Bernardes, A. G., Milanez, V. F., Jussiani, E. I., & de Paula Ramos, S. (2021). The use of BCAA to decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness after a single bout of exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Amino acids, 53(11), 1663–1678.


What’s the difference between BCAA and Pre-Workout?

BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids, including valine, leucine, and isoleucine, which fuel your muscles and promote muscle protein synthesis. Pre-workout, on the other hand, is a supplement designed to enhance performance and reduce fatigue during workouts. Interestingly, some pre-workouts contain BCAA.

Can I mix BCAA with Pre-Workout?

Yes, you can mix BCAA with Pre-Workout. Most pre-workouts contain BCAA, but it’s essential to check the label for the exact dosage to avoid overconsumption.

How much BCAA should I take with Pre-Workout?

BCAA dosage can vary, with recommendations ranging from 10g/day to 1g/10kg body weight/day. It’s safest to start with the lower end of these values to prevent overuse.

When should I take BCAA and Pre-Workout?

Both BCAA and Pre-Workout should be taken before your workout sessions. However, BCAA can also be used on non-training days for maximum effectiveness.

Where can I naturally find BCAA in foods?

You can find branched-chain amino acids in foods like corn, whey, milk, soy, beef, chicken, fish, eggs, baked beans, whole wheat, brown rice, and almonds.

Which is better – BCAA or Pre-Workout?

The choice between BCAA and Pre-Workout depends on your goals. BCAA stimulates muscle growth and reduces muscle soreness, making it ideal for less intensive exercises like running or swimming. Pre-Workout provides an energy boost for intense workouts like HIIT or weightlifting. Many pre-workouts already contain BCAA, so they can cover both needs.

Are there specific exercises where BCAA or Pre-Workout is more effective?

Yes, BCAA is more efficient for low-intensity, long exercises like running or cycling, while Pre-Workout is better suited for high-intensity activities like sprinting or weightlifting.

What are the side effects of BCAA and Pre-Workout?

BCAA side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, stomach upset, or headaches. Pre-Workout side effects can include diarrhea, headaches, and jitteriness, especially if taken in the evening.

Do I need to take both BCAA and Pre-Workout?

In most cases, a high-quality Pre-Workout with added BCAA should suffice. However, if you engage in both strength training and intensive cardio, taking both supplements can optimize your routine.

What’s the key takeaway when comparing BCAA and Pre-Workout?

In summary, BCAA stimulates muscle growth and recovery, while Pre-Workout enhances focus and energy for intense workouts. They can be taken together, but the choice depends on your exercise type and goals.

pre workout vs bcaa

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