Intra-workout drinks have recently become quite a hot topic. Good ol’ H2O was always seen as the best bottle to have next to you during your training, which you should always have regardless. The favourite option at the moment are BCAA’s, favoured for their high leucine concentration and great taste. But there has been some evidence lately to show that perhaps whey protein may be the better alternative.
Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAA’s, are made up of three essential amino acids, namely; Leucine, Iso-Leucine, and Valine. All three work synergistically, but Leucine can definitely be identified as the dominant amino acid. It is responsible for the activation of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) because they activate the mTOR pathway signal, letting the body know it is time to grow.
They have also become very popular with folks who don’t like to drink plain water, as they are a great way of flavouring it. However, there is some very fresh evidence from early studies to suggest that BCAA’s are not helpful in sustaining MPS.
What role Leucine plays
Leucine is responsible for stimulating MPS, as has been said before. Recent studies have shown that while they are efficient at stimulating MPS, they are not as strong at keeping it going. The longer your rate of MPS, the more protein your body can utilise to grow muscle. In other words, longer MPS means more muscle growth. The same study found that consuming a protein source that includes all 9 essential amino acids (EAA), which whey does contain, is more efficient at sustaining MPS than BCAAs
Why is whey the way?
The leucine found in whey is what is known as “intact” Leucine, whereas in BCAA’s it is known as free-form leucine, and research has found that the body is much better at using the “intact” Leucine. This could suggest that whey protein offers a better MPS response than BCAAs. The reason for this is because Leucine is not the only factor that has a large influence on MPS.
There has been research looking into the bioactive compounds in whey protein that may impact MPS, particularly something called “whey-protein-derived exosomes”. An exosome is a nanoparticle in the body that carries protein and other molecules around the body, and have been found to have a clear impact on MPS.
Which is better?
The research being done is still quite new and so while the evidence may point one way or another, it is still in infancy. Whey protein has been proven to prolong protein synthesis compared to BCAAs but drinking a whey protein during training could cause a number of issues, particularly cramping and bloating.
To enjoy the benefits of both, consume a BCAA powder such as Supreme Amino while you train, as it has numerous other performance benefits along with BCAAs. This will activate the stimulation of MPS while you are working out, it will keep you hydrated, as well as give you a great tasting and easy to digest intra workout drink. Directly after training, consume a whey protein shake such as Whey Isocon. This will prolong the protein synthesis you have kick started while training, as well as push your body into recovery mode. This way, you get the best of both worlds.