Food or BCAA: Which is Best for Muscle Recovery?

After an intense workout, recovery is key to repairing the microtramas in your muscles (refer to How To Increase Your Fat Burn for 48 Hours!). What is best for muscle recovery, food or Branch Chained Amino Acids (BCAA)?

Auburn researchers conducted a study searching for the answer. They compared blood levels of amino acids in 10 male subjects (average age of 30 years old) after 3 different recovery formulas: consuming a mixture of BCAA in easily absorbed form; eating the same amount but as whole protein in the form of cottage cheese; and consuming a mixture of the two. Each treatment consisted of a similar range of amino acids and totaled about 23g protein, 5g carbohydrate, 2g fat, and included just 20ml of water. Each subject's diet was also standardized prior to the study.

After 15 minutes, the first and third treatments (those including BCAA) produced a much higher level of circulating amino acids than the whole protein treatment.

Why would cottage cheese take so long to digest? Where does whey protein powder fit in this debate? According to Gordon Wardlaw, author of Contemporary Nutrition,

Cottage cheese contains casein and whey proteins. While whey protein is easily digested by your body, often in less than an hour after eating, casein takes longer to digest, requiring upwards of seven hours.

What does this mean?

When trying to develop and repair muscle fiber, BCAAs are superior to whole proteins. They have a shorter absorption time, meaning how quickly can the product (protein or BCAA) can liquefy into the bloodstream and deliver to your "in need of repair" muscle fiber. Cottage cheese contains casein which can take up to seven hours to recover. Whey protein absorbs faster than cottage cheese but still will take almost an hour to digest. In other words, the cottage cheese and whey protein need to be broken down before they are absorbed. Since the BCAAs don’t need to be digested or broken down, they are absorbed within minutes.

What are you to do?

While consuming proteins throughout the day is very important to maintaining muscle mass, post workout recovery should be BCAA due to the extremely fast absorption time (minutes) vs. food (many hours) and whey protein (almost one hour).

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Steven Zahn

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