Knowing when to take your supplements will help you get the most out of them. Get your timing right, and your energy levels will be higher, you’ll bounce back quicker, and your gains will be larger. Get your timing wrong, and you’ll basically be flushing your money down the toilet.
This is particularly true for supplements that help with performance and recovery, like creatine and BCAAs. Your system needs these supplements at specific times. They also tend to be quicker release, which means you should be taking them pretty much as you need them.
So, how do you know when to take creatine and BCAAs? Can they be taken together? And do you really need to be taking these supplements at all?
Why should I take creatine and BCAAs?
Let’s start with the last question first – why you should take these supplements.
Both creatine and BCAAs contain important amino acids. As such, both have been shown to provide a range of health benefits. When combined with resistance training, both have also been found to help with everything from muscle strength and growth to recovery and injury prevention.
Creatine is particularly popular with serious gymgoers, thanks to its proven performance benefits. While creatine is naturally produced by the body, supplementing with creatine has been shown to improve muscle health. Studies have also found that taking creatine supplements can improve strength gains from weight training by around 15%.
While there have been some concerns about the impact higher creatine levels can have on the kidneys, these have been disproven. In fact, multiple studies have looked at potential negative effects, and they have consistently proven creatine supplements are safe to use. However, as creatine can cause intramuscular water retention, it’s important to stay hydrated. Otherwise, you may experience cramps.
A range of athletes use BCAAs, mostly to help with muscle recovery. They contain the three branched-chain amino acids – isoleucine, leucine, and valine, which are critical for protein synthesis and muscle development. As the body does not produce these, they must be taken in from dietary sources.
As such, BCAA supplements have been shown to help protect lean muscle mass. This is particularly important for those controlling their caloric intake, as this can lead to muscle wasting. It also means that for those on low-protein diets, BCAAs can be used as a low-calorie alternative to whey protein.
When to take creatine and BCAAs
With most supplements, the best time to take them will be based on your schedule. With creatine and BCAAs, when to take them will be particularly dependent on what you have on, on that day. Specifically, is it a workout day or a rest day?
On workout days, it’s important to take your creatine and BCAAs close to when you’ll be exercising. A number of studies have looked at whether taking these supplements pre- or post-workout is best. Many of these have been unable to draw any real conclusion, with both timings offering similar results.
However, there has been some evidence to suggest that pre-workout supplementation is best for both creatine and BCAAs. Based on this, taking these supplements 10 – 15 minutes before you begin your workout seems to be the ideal. That being said, taking creatine and BCAAs during your workout also seems to deliver good results.
On rest days, the time you take your creatine and BCAAs is a little less important. On these days, it’s more about maintaining your amino acid levels than optimising the timing of your intake. As such, your focus should be more on the amount you’re taking rather than when you’re taking it.
Just on this, an important note on creatine supplementation – you should always start with a loading phase. Because it’s naturally produced by your body, a larger dose is needed initially to push up the creatine content in your muscles. Once this has been elevated, you can revert to a smaller maintenance amount.
With that in mind, for the first five days of taking creatine, you should be looking at a dose of around 20 g. If needed, this can be split across multiple smaller doses (e.g. 5 g in the morning, 7 g pre-workout, 5 g in the evening). Then, after this initial loading phase, you can drop back to a daily maintenance dose of about 3 g – 5 g.
Can creatine and BCAAs be stacked?
Given the best time to take these supplements is the same, it’s fair to ask whether they can be taken together. Sometimes different products can counteract each other, either minimising their effectiveness or completely cancelling each other out. Obviously, this is something you want to avoid.
The good news is, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from stacking creatine and BCAAs. Both are naturally occurring amino acids, which the body is very adept at processing. There’s also minimal overlap in their ingredients, meaning you don’t run the risk of taking in too much of something.
What’s more, creatine and BCAAs actually provide complementary benefits. Where creatine can help increase strength, BCAAs help with recovery and can minimise delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Similarly, where creatine helps improve muscle health, BCAAs helps protect muscle mass.
This makes creatine and BCAAs a powerful combination. It also explains why they’re such a popular duo. In fact, many supplement blends contain both creatine and BCAAs.
One thing to think about when stacking creatine and BCAAs is dosing. As previously noted, when you first take creatine, you should start with a larger dose, then back off to a maintenance amount. However, the right dose of BCAAs will largely stay the same for however long you choose to take it.
Generally speaking, it’s recommended that an average 80 kg male should take about 15 g – 20 g of BCAAs a day. This can be spread over up to three smaller doses (e.g. 5 g in the morning, 7 g pre-workout, 5 g in the evening). This lines up perfectly with the loading phase of creatine supplementation.
However, once you move into the maintenance phase, this will need to be more carefully managed. Many choose to maintain their BCAA dosage and timing and take their entire creatine intake pre-workout to keep the maintenance phase simple.
Choosing the right creatine and BCAAs products for you?
Because of their popularity, there is now a great range of creatine and BCAA products to choose from. Many of these seem similar, have almost identical ingredients, and promise the same results. However, there are some important differences you should be aware of when choosing the right supplement for you.
Most importantly, you should look at the quality and purity of any product you’re considering. As the active ingredients in these products can be quite expensive, some brands compromise on quality to keep the cost down. Others choose to pad their mixes out with cheap filler products, making them less effective.
At MAX’s, we only use the highest quality ingredients and carefully formulate our products to deliver the biggest results. We also give you the best bang for your buck, leaving out all unnecessary fillers and artificial flavours and sweeteners.
While it’s possible to get blended products that contain both creatine and BCAAs, we recommend buying these separately. This allows you to better control your intake of each ingredient and adjust your intake as required.
Also, with regard to BCAAs, these products will contain all three branched-chain amino acids. As each of these provides different benefits, the ratio will impact what the product is best for. For example, if you’re looking to grow lean muscle, a product high in leucine – like our BCAA 10:1:1 – would be best.
What other supplements should I be taking?
For those looking to get even more from their workouts, there are a few other supplements you can add to your stack. Each of these products works well with creatine and BCAAs, helping to improve your performance, gains, and recovery further.
The most obvious addition to your supplement stack is whey protein. Arguably the most popular – and most widely used – supplement, whey protein provides a range of benefits. Most importantly, it gives your body the fuel it needs to build and maintain muscle.
There are also other amino acids that provide a range of benefits. Adding these to your supplement stack could help with everything from speeding up weight loss to boosting your immune system. However, you should carefully choose the additional amino acids you need based on your health and fitness goals.
If you’d like more information on the best supplements for bodybuilding and muscle growth, check out our previous blog post.
Finally, it’s important to remember that supplementation should be exactly that – supplementary to a healthy lifestyle. While creatine and BCAAs can help you achieve your goals, you still need to put in the work. In fact, without a good diet and regular resistance training, most supplements will be largely ineffective.
If you need help getting this right, check out our Ultimate Guide to Nutrition and Ultimate Guide to Training. These explain everything you need to know to develop your own tailored diet and workout plan. They also contain example plans tailored to suit different body types, goals, and experience levels.