Muscle & Workout Supplements Review (Creatine and Branched-chain Amino Acids)
Do Creatine and BCAAs Really Improve Strength and Recovery?
What Does Creatine Do?Creatine is an amino acid that helps supply muscles, including the heart, with energy, particularly for short-term, maximal exercise (See What It Is). Some, but not all studies suggest creatine supplements can improve muscle strength and endurance during repeated high-intensity exercise of short duration, such as weight lifting and sprinting, but is not helpful in purely aerobic exercise. Creatine may also be useful in improving exercise tolerance in patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) and muscle strength in people with muscular dystrophies. It does not improve memory in young adults and has shown very limited benefits on cognition in older adults (see What It Does).
Is Creatine Safe?Creatine is generally considered safe when taken in appropriate amounts for short periods of time, but little is known about potential long-term adverse effects of creatine. There is some concern that long-term use at high doses (20 grams/day) may adversely affect the kidneys and cardiovascular system (see Concerns and Cautions).
How to Take Creatine?Commonly, a "loading" dose of creatine is taken for 5 to 14 days, followed by a maintenance dose. However, some studies have shown a benefit using a constant dose rather than a larger loading dose. If using a powder or mix, mix it in very warm water to help it fully dissolve and drink it as soon as possible after mixing with water -- creatine will begin to break down once in liquid. Also, when using creatine supplements, it is important to drink about 8 cups of water per day. For dosage details, see ConsumerTips.
Which Creatine Supplement Is Best?Creatine comes in various forms, the most common being the monohydrate form, which also yields the greatest amount of free, usable creatine. Certain formulations are inherently unstable and should be avoided. Among products Approved in testing, the cost to obtain 5 grams of creatine monohydrate ranged from 26 cents to more than $1. Among these, CL selected a Top Pick that provides 5 grams of pure creatine monohydrate powder at reasonable cost, as well as a chewable creatine tablet (see What CL Found and CL's Top Picks).
What Do BCAAs Do?Branched chain amino acids are the essential amino acids isoleucine, leucine and valine that the body cannot produce (see What It Is). Taking BCAAs before and after exercise may help reduce or delay the onset of muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery. Leucine appears to be the most significant BCAA for stimulating protein synthesis (see What It Does).
Are BCAAs Safe?BCAAs are considered safe at standard doses, but may interact with certain medications (see Concerns and Cautions).
How to Take BCAAs?For muscle recovery and to prevent soreness, daily doses of 1 to 5 grams have been used. How to take this and doses for other uses are explained in ConsumerTips.
Which BCAA Supplement Is Best?ConsumerLab's tests revealed that one product contained less isoleucine than claimed. Among products that passed CL's tests, several provided 5 grams of BCAAs for as little as 25 to 50 cents, with others costing over $1 to $2. CL chose Top Picks for BCAAs as flavored and unflavored powders, and as pills.
Other Muscle Enhancers
Learn about glutamine, HMB, and taurine. Also see information about the muscle enhancing effects of vitamin D, protein powders, and "nitric oxide" supplements.
Alphabetical list of creatine or BCAA supplement brands compared in this review
Alani Nu BCAA - Sour Gummies
BulkSupplements.com Creatine Monohydrate (Micronized)
California Gold Nutrition BCAA 500 mg
GNC Pro Performance BCAA
GNC Pro Performance Creatine Monohydrate
Legion Recharge Post-Workout Drink - Unflavored
NOW Sports Branched-Chain Amino Acid Powder
NutraBio BCAA 5,000 - Strawberry Lemonade Artificial Flavored
Nutricost Performance BCAA
Old School Vintage Build
Optimum Nutrition [ON] Micronized Creatine Powder - Unflavored
Solgar BCAA Plus
Ultimate Nutrition BCAA 12,000 Powder
Universal Creatine Chews - Grape Flavor
Xtend The Original Zero Sugar - Blue Raspberry Ice
In this comprehensive review, you'll discover:
- Which creatine supplements and BCAA supplements failed testing and which passed
- CL's Top Picks among the best creatine and BCAA supplements
- Cost comparisons to help you choose a creatine or BCAA supplement offering the best value
- What creatine and BCAA supplements may and may not do for your health
- The differences among forms of creatine: creatine monohydrate, creatine HCL, creatine AKG, dicreatine malate, tricreatine malate, and KreAlkalyn
- Differences among the BCAAs (isoleucine, leucine, and valine)
- Dosage for specific uses of creatine and BCAAs
- The best way to take creatine and BCAA supplements
- Safety concerns, potential drug interactions and side-effects of creatine (including if creatine causes hair loss) and BCAAs
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