Okay, so you’re looking to get into this whole “exercise” thing and you’re thinking, “You know what would really help me out here? Supplements!” and you follow this thought up by heading to the ol’ supplement store, flexing your way straight to the workout supplements aisle and you stand there looking for the, ehm… for the workout supplement.
You know, the supplement for working out.
Except there isn’t just one. There are several, and they’re divided into categories of pre-workout and post-workout.
And some of these damn supplements don’t even say “workout” on their label! In fact, these stacks just say “BCAA” (???) and some come in powder form and others come in pill form. What the hell is going on here?
Okay, odds are you understand the terminology of workout supplements. But you get the gist of what I’m saying here: there are so many different types of exercise supplements that come in so many different forms.
And so, when you consider taking, say, a BCAA supplement to improve your muscle gains and recovery, you have to also ask yourself, BCAA Pills vs. Powder: Which is Better?
Really, the question of formula delivery (pill or powder or liquid?) pertains to all types of supplements. But specifically for branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) stacks, delivery matters, because this supplement relies on specific timing – i.e., when you take this supplement and how fast it enters your body. Other workout supplements tend to be straightforward in terms of how, when, and why to take them. Not so much with BCAA stacks.
So, without further ado, let’s put the rest one of the big BCAA questions:
BCAA Pills vs. Powder: Which is Better?
While they differ in terms of dosage and ingredient quality, all BCAA supplements typically supply the same three amino acid ingredients: L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine. These are the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) most important to anabolic muscle growth and protection.
BCAA supplements emphasis on delivering these three aminos as quickly and effectively as possible is what distinguishes them from your usual protein powder supplement, which focuses more on supplying a bunch of protein all at once – some of which is used to increase muscle mass, some of which is not.
BCAAs target muscle growth with pin-point precision, as compared to protein shake’s shotgun spread approach. But BCAA supplements only work insomuch that the body’s able to absorb them and use them efficiently. So, which does a better job at delivering the benefits of its BCAA formula: pill vs. powder supplements? Here are the respective advantages of both.
The Benefits of BCAA Pills
The obvious benefit is convenience. This is why many nootropic supplements tend to favor pills over powders: the on-the-go convenience allows for the on-the-spot performance enhancement, sort of like popping a pill to achieve the benefits of drinking a cup of coffee.
This sounds very “brave new world!”-ish, but for a supplement that heavily relies on timing the on-the-go/on-the-spot aspects of pills are important. You’re not having to do any prep or shaker-bottle cleaning or anything of that sort. Simply pop and go.
Additionally, because you’re not tasting the formula, the manufacturers aren’t pressured to overload it with artificial flavors and colorants, as they are with BCAA powder supplements. So BCAA in pills (capsules) are much cleaner and natural than BCAA powders.
Yes, while it’s nice to have a powder supplement that tastes good, it’s not at all necessary. In fact, many of those additives may be inhibiting the delivery of the BCAAs while also coloring your insides with unnatural additives.
Pills tend to be pure.
And it’s easier to segment a full dosage into evenly split sub-dosages, if you’re planning to take a BCAA supplement pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout. To accomplish this accurately with BCAA powder would require a scale.
The Benefits of BCAA Powder
Heavy dosages. This is the main advantage of BCAA powders compared to their pill counterparts. Packed into tub containers and lifted with hefty scoops, powder BCAA servings tend to be larger than those of BCAA pills. Not to mention that, with heavier serving sizes, BCAA powders have more room to “hybridize” their formulas with other non-BCAA ingredients.
Not that “hybrid” BCAA stacks are necessarily the best options, given that introducing non-BCAA ingredients to a BCAA supplement may inhibit BCAA absorption. However, if a supplement manufacturer wants to pull off a “BCAA hybrid” stack, it’s likely they’ll do so via powder delivery.
And, yes, while it’s nice to have pure, additive-free supplements, a good tasting supplement isn’t an entirely trivial thing: good flavors condition us to associate exercise with mmm “Razzberry Stardust” (or any other funky, lab-synthesized flavor), increasing our motivation to exercise. It’s a Pavlov’s dog thing: we salivate at the thought of exercise. This isn’t the worst conditioned response to have.
Okay, so BCAA Pills vs. Powder: Which is Better?
Really, it depends on your particular BCAA needs and goals. Do you want to evenly distribute your BCAA intake throughout your workout? Do you value convenience? Or do you want a fat dose of BCAAs to slurp up at the end of your workout?
Personally, I prefer BCAA pills (capsules). Here’s a few reasons why:
- Easier to control and measure my intake;
- On-the-go convenience;
- No junky, synthetic additives;
- One less thing to throw in the shaker bottle.
I already take other powder supplements that are workout-related. I’m unsure that another hefty powder scoop is what I need here. And while I would be hugely skeptical of, say, a protein pill, due to dosage concerns, BCAAs only really need three ingredients to work – and an affordable, sufficiently dosed BCAA pill does get the job done for me.
Otherwise, if you go the pre-workout, BCAA, and post-workout triple powder combo, you’re subjecting your body to a complex mix of synthetic additives and flavors and colorants. Bleck.
I’ll take the clean BCAA pills.
What Else to Look for in a BCAA Stack
The success of a BCAA supplement doesn’t entirely rely on whether it comes in pill or powder form. There are other factors to take into consideration, such as:
- Ingredient Quality: Are the BCAAs naturally sourced or synthetically derived? If the success of BCAAs heavily relies on the timing of intake, it’s important to take a BCAA supplement that’s fit for the job, that supplies only highly bioavailable BCAAs that are easy to absorb.
- Dosage Levels: Are the BCAAs sufficiently dosed? Clinical research does demonstrate significant exercise enhancement effects with BCAA supplementation. However, a BCAA supplement can’t claim these benefits if they don’t at least provide the dosage levels observed in clinical research.
- Dosage Ratios: Having sufficient dosages isn’t all that matters here. One thing that’s often overlooked by BCAA buyers: dosage ratios. Are the BCAAs appropriately dosed in relation to each other? While some manufacturers speculate a lot of L-leucine to be best, research observes ergogenic effects at a 2:1:1 ratio of L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine, respectively.
Whether you decide on going the pill or powder route, it’s important to consider the factors above in judging the efficacy of BCAA stack.
And, again, some supplement manufacturers might be able to pull off the “hybrid” BCAA design, but the problem with these hybrid stacks is that you can’t be entirely sure whether or not the BCAAs are what’s working in the stack. Could be the other ingredients, nullifying the BCAA content. BCAAs are simple: only three ingredients required to achieve significant muscle growth. More in this case doesn’t mean better.
With all that in mind, here’s a BCAA pill stack that demonstrates all of the high points of an effective BCAA formula – pill or otherwise.
The Muscle-Optimized 2:1:1 BCAA Stack
Most BCAA supplements typically only supply the three BCAAs: L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine – but the dosage ratios between these three aminos may differ from supplement to supplement. Some supplement manufacturers supply a 4:1:1 ratio of L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine – some go even higher with a 10:1:1 ratio –– with the sound reasoning that L-leucine is the most anabolic amino of the three, therefore it’s the one you want the most.
However, the belief that a higher respective ratio of L-leucine results in greater muscle gains is mere speculation. The higher the ratio, the more the supplement deviates from clinical research, which observes sports benefits and safe use with the muscle-optimized 2:1:1 ratio.
I say “muscle-optimized” because this matches the natural BCAA ratio found in muscle tissue.
One of the best BCAA pill supplements – and, really, one of the best BCAA supplements period – that hits the muscle-optimized 2:1:1 BCAA sweet spot is Performance Lab SPORT BCAA, an all-natural sport supplement stack designed to improve muscle and strength gains without use of cheap synthetics or unnecessary additives.
Let’s take a deeper look at its formula.
Performance Lab SPORT BCAA Supplement Facts
Take note the “Fermented from Sunflower Lecithin” attached to the “Instantized BCAA” ingredient listing. Not only are sunflowers insanely pretty but they’re awesome, healthier alternatives to the usual soy crap we see in so many supplements.
Yes, while the “soy boy” thing has derailed beyond the interests of health and nutrition, the subtle presence of soy (and corn) in damn near everything is a concerning trend in health supplements (and really all processed foods). By sourcing its BCAAs from sunflower lecithin (not soy lecithin), Performance Lab SPORT BCAA offers a more unique, healthier BCAA stack than what you’re probably used to.
Here are the two main parts to this stack.
Instantized BCAA (Branched-Chain Amino-Acids) (2:1:1 Ratio)
Again, this is a “muscle-optimized” stack of BCAAs – L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine – sourced from clean, green sunflower lecithin. When taken in supplement form, as opposed to food form, BCAAs rapidly absorb into the body and into muscle tissue to enact their fast-acting muscle-protective, muscle-promoting support.
The benefits of Performance Lab SPORT BCAA’s instantized BCAA trio include:
- Stimulating IGF-1 growth hormone to increase protein synthesis;
- Stimulating insulin to enhance amino acid uptake into muscles;
- Fueling cellular ATP energy after glycogen energy depletes;
- Inhibiting L-tryptophan uptake in the brain to maintain stamina;
- Lessening muscle soreness by promoting early anabolic activity;
- Supporting healthy immune system, despite high-stress exercise.
Low bioavailability is an issue with many other BCAA supplements, which supply BCAAs in weak, cheap, hard-to-absorb forms. This is the upside to Performance Lab’s BCAA ingredients; easier absorption and thus greater health benefits, as compared to other synthetic, additive-filled BCAA stacks.
Vegan Plantcaps® Capsules
The BCAAs aren’t all that matter to BCAA supplement, although they are the main attraction. The upsides to BCAA pill supplements is their convenience and lack of additives and generally cleaner delivery system. So, it doesn’t make sense to go for a BCAA pill supplement that covers its capsules with additives and junky colorants, manufacturing lubricants, etc.
Performance Lab’s patented Plantcaps® capsules ensure that there’s nothing getting between you and this formula. One consumed, these all-natural, vegan, fermented, food-based capsules quickly dissolve, allowing the BCAAs to quickly absorb into the system.
The benefits of BCAAs are somewhat time-sensitive, and some exercisers are especially strict on the timing of their BCAA intake. These Plantcaps® pills do nothing to interrupt the intake.
Timing is Everything: When to Take a BCAA Supplement?
Speaking of timing, when should you take a BCAA supplement? Before (pre) the workout, during (intra), or after (post)? Here’s what the “Suggest Use” directions say on the Performance Lab SPORT BCAA bottle:
For best results take 2-4 capsules 45-60 mins pre-workout and 2-4 capsules immediately post-workout. During especially intense physical training, you may take an additional 2-4 capsules mid-way through your session as an intra-workout supplement.
Given the affordable pricing of this supplement, I took a serving of this stack pre-, intra-, and post-workout. As far as how many capsules you should take, that really depends upon your muscle mass (i.e., weight) and your strength goals.
Who Takes BCAA Supplements?
Due to their emphasis on muscle growth, BCAA stacks tend to attract bodybuilders. However, these supplements may appeal to fitness enthusiasts of all training genres – whether bodybuilding or cross-fit or tennis, or whatever the hell the kids are doing these days.
Can I take a BCAA stack while Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
This is actually a pretty common question (hence our asking and answering it here).
Whether you’re engaged in a full-blown IF schedule or simply committed to fasted training (i.e., exercising on an empty stomach), it’s perhaps smart to time your workout at the transition period between fasting and feasting, beginning your BCAA intake mid-way through the workout at the earliest. Once you get into your exercise groove, your muscles are pumping and your everything is sweating, you’re good to take a BCAA serving.
Where to Buy Performance Lab SPORT BCAA?
Interestingly, you can only buy this supplement at Performance Lab’s website, as this BCAA stack isn’t listed on Amazon or GNC, or any other third-party seller. In terms of quelling misinformation, I actually like this move. So much of, say, Amazon is full of meaningless SEO keywords used to “game” the system. By selling all of their supplements strictly on their website, Performance Lab can provide information that’s actually relevant and useful to their products without all the creepy “algorithm” influence.
How Much Does It Cost?
Here’s how pricing works on the Performance Lab SPORT BCAA listing, split into the following order options:
- One Bottle: $25 for 120 pills
- Two Bottles: $47.50 for 240 pills (5% saving)
- Three Bottles: $67.50 for 360 pills (10% saving)
In other words, with each bottle added to the order, an additional 5% discount is tacked onto the entire purchase. Buying bulk in this case saves in the long run. Especially if you’re looking to take this supplement pre-, intra-, and post-workout as I do.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Are BCAA supplements legal and safe?
Yes, for both recreational and professional use, it’s legal and safe to use BCAA supplements for performance enhancement. Additive-free BCAA pills in particular are exceptionally safe, as compared to additive-laden powders. For the vegans, Performance Lab’s BCAA formula stays away from animal byproducts and other unsafe manufacturing processes.
Do I need to cycle BCAA stacks?
No, you can take a BCAA supplement daily without fear of negative health effects or tolerance build-up. Really, BCAAs qualify as nutrition. Given that these are dietary amino acids that your body needs, regardless of whether or not you’re working out.
Oh, yeah, here’s an important question to end on: Does you actually need a BCAA supplement? Especially if you’re already taking a pre-workout stack and a protein powder?
Truth be told, in terms of anabolic muscle growth, BCAA supplements actually make the most sense. Yes, while pre-workout supplements are great – and, more importantly, feel great – BCAAs do a lot to improve actual muscle and strength gains on a metabolic, protein-synthesis level. And while they don’t come with that immediate muscle-pump kick, they do feel great in the long run by reducing muscle soreness and fatigue.
Pills vs. powder? You do you, but pills seem to be the future for a reason: they pack a tight, on-the-go punch and change the game quickly and efficiently and, yes, conveniently. And Performance Lab SPORT BCAA is one of the best BCAA pills on the market.