As the technology and techniques used by fitness fans have become more advanced, supplements have followed suit. While simple powdered protein was once considered the gold standard for fitness supplementation, the list of effective options is far longer today, with advanced, refined products like BCAAs taking the place of traditional protein in many a routine. However, even under the umbrella of “BCAAs,” there are distinctions to be made, including the difference between plant- and animal-based BCAAs. Each of these products can be easily found in stores and on websites, and each promise to provide the results you want when working out. So, is one better than the other? What are the differences between the two options? To learn the answers to these and other questions, keep reading as the team at aminoVITAL® – makers of plant-based BCAA supplements for athletes – provide their insight on the matter.
How Animal-Based BCAAs Are Made
For a long time, virtually any BCAA-based supplement you could find on the market was made with animal-based amino acids, because the production process was much cheaper and easier for companies to implement. More recently, alternative methods of BCAA production have become more affordable, but many brands still rely on the familiar animal byproduct-based process.
Generally speaking, animal-based BCAAs are cultivated from keratin, a protein found in hair, skin, and nails. In the supplement production process, this keratin is taken from hair and feathers, which form the basis of most animal-based BCAAs. To extract the amino acids, however, the hair and feathers must be broken down through a harsh, acid-based process that forces the proteins to undergo hydrolysis, dissolving them into their constituent parts, which include BCAAs. Then, the resulting substance is filtered to remove excess material, dried out, and further refined into the supplements people then consume with their workouts.
How Plant-Based BCAAs Are Made
In many settings, the debate between the merits of animal- vs plant-based BCAAs is framed in different terms; rather than calling them plant-based or animal-based, many refer to BCAAs made with plants as “fermented” BCAAs, while those made from animals are “non-fermented.” This is a reference to the fact that most plant-based BCAA supplements are made through the process of fermentation in much the same way that many food products are created, such as soy sauce, sourdough bread, yogurt, and even beer.
Initially, companies like Ajinomoto – provider of the BCAAs in aminoVITAL® products – take plant-based ingredients, such as soy or wheat, and place them in a tank with bacteria cultures to start the fermentation process, which is further encouraged with the addition of molasses and sugar to the mix. This fermentation allows microorganisms to break down the proteins in wheat and soy into amino acids, a process that many consider more natural than the acid-based techniques used to make animal-based BCAAs. The resulting broth is then purified to make the BCAAs used in aminoVITAL® supplements.
How Plant-Based BCAAs Differ from Animal-Based BCAAs
In addition to the differences between how these two types of amino acid products are made, people often ask in what other ways these products are distinct from one another. In truth, a BCAA is a BCAA; whatever source it comes from, these three amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – still serve the same purpose, so getting these amino acids from an animal vs. from a plant shouldn’t yield much of a difference. That said, a BCAA supplement is made up of more than just the amino acids themselves; the addition of various ingredients and the potential for contaminants will not be the same from one brand to another, and the use of chemicals to extract animal-based BCAAs is thought by some to mean an increased risk of unwanted exposure to some of those chemicals, though the likelihood of this is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the plant-based BCAAs in aminoVITAL® supplements can offer some substantial benefits to those who exercise.
Benefits of Using aminoVITAL®’s Fermented Plant-Based BCAAs
Not only is the process often considered to be more favorable, but using fermentation to make BCAAs can also yield some very high-quality compounds; the plant-based BCAAs in aminoVITAL® products, for instance, are pharmaceutical grade, and they’re manufactured in the U.S. – at our facility in Raleigh, N.C., to be specific. Our plant-based amino acids have the additional benefit of being vegan, and they’re certified by the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), which rates the quality of supplements available to the public.
Ultimately, however, all of these benefits skirt around the real point of BCAA supplements, which is to aid your performance and results during and after exercise. Because the body can use BCAAs as a source of energy when taken as a pre- or mid-workout supplement, using with these amino acids can both provide a burst of energy and protect the muscles from being destroyed through catabolism, the process by which the body breaks down tissues to make fuel. In addition, the BCAAs can help improve your gains by stimulating muscle protein synthesis – the way your body makes new muscle tissue – and they can speed up your recovery times and reduce soreness when used as a post-workout supplement.