Glutamine vs BCAA: Which Helps With Recovery & What’s the Difference?

Glutamine vs BCAA: what's the difference and which is better?

It's a question we've seen a lot. And with so much confusion, we decided to compare these two popular intra and post-workout supplements, to find out which benefits our bodies and physique the most.

L-Glutamine: Conditionally Essential

Image of a white supplement powder

Unlike BCAAs, l-glutamine is an amino acid which is naturally produced within our bodies. As well as forming the building blocks of protein, it performs many essential functions, including maintaining intestinal and immune system health.

Glutamine is a very convenient amino acid to get in our day-to-day diets. Its highly abundant in foods such as beef, eggs, and tofu, but under certain circumstances such as illness and exhaustive exercise, we may require additional amounts for recovery.

Despite some research showing that glutamine can reduce muscle soreness after exercise, there is little evidence to suggest that glutamine supplements actually build muscle.

As a critical amino acid within protein, there's no doubt that athletes need glutamine within diets. However, since glutamine is already abundant in protein powder and in our food, there may not be much use in supplementing extra.

Who Might Need A Glutamine Supplement?

  • Those who have been instructed to take it by their doctor
  • Athletes who have been chronically overtrained

Who Can Give It A Miss?

  • Anyone who already consumes a high protein diet

While taking extra glutamine won't hurt, it is likely a waste of your time and is yet another supplement you need to remember to take.

BCAAs: Recovery And Muscle Growth

Image of a man performing a bench press in the gym

Our bodies cannot naturally produce BCAAs. So, to enjoy their beneficial effects, we must either consume them through our diets or take them as a supplement.

Getting BCAA though our regular diets isn’t complicated. Any high protein foods already contain BCAAs. But unlike glutamine, there may still be benefits to taking extra, especially for speeding up recovery.

Leucine, valine, and isoleucine — these are the 3 branched-chain amino acids. However, being responsible for tuning the protein synthesis switch on, leucine is considered the most crucial.

Athletes and weightlifters need frequent spikes of protein synthesis to suppress it's opposing force; protein breakdown. When we get enough amino acids to stimulate more synthesis than breakdown, we are rewarded with faster recovery, less muscle soreness, and more muscle growth.

Who Should Take Them?

Bodybuilders And Weightlifters

Muscles only grow once they have recovered. And strength can only be displayed once fatigue is reduced. While not a recovery cure-all, BCAAs can contribute to faster recovery and thereby muscle growth and strength gains


I'm sure I don't need to tell you how critical improvement is for athletic performance. Put it this way, nobody ever ran world record times with intense muscle soreness.

Who Can Do Without?

  • Those on a budget: while many supplements can help us in one way or another, tried and tested products like creatine and whey give us the most bang for our buck.

Usage Occasions

Deciding whether to take glutamine or BCAAs can be a tricky process. But using my own research and experience, I've come up with 3 of the main scenarios in which both are commonly used.

I'll tell you how to use them to maximize your results in each department.

Image of an athlete running

For Reducing Soreness

Although taking glutamine alone is unlikely to have any positive effects on muscle growth, some research does show that is can reduce muscle soreness. But is it worth it?

Considering we already get a heap of it from our protein powder and favorite cuts of meat, probably not. But it isn't exactly a bank-breaking supplement either, so you may want to give it a shot and see how you respond.

On the BCAA side of things, we have a lot more data available. A 2017 study recruited 15 young men, who were either given BCAAs pre workout, post workout, or not at all. The researchers then had them perform intense 30 rep weight training, and the results were interesting…

The group who took branched chain amino acids before training had less severe DOMS, and less muscle damage than the group who drank them post-workout, and the group who received the placebo.

The takeaway: bcaas might be most effective when taken pre and intra-workout.

For Bulking

Despite being the building blocks of protein  — the most important macronutrient for muscle growth — neither supplement adds mass in the same way a high-calorie diet does.

But how about between those high-calorie meals?

While BCAAs may not make you gain weight, taking them intra-workout and between meals still has its recovery benefits.

Image of a man doing bench press in the gym

While Cutting

If there's one time where we recommend someone invest in BCAAs, its while cutting. Although cutting diets can get you in the best shape of your life, the calorie deficit also increases protein breakdown, leaving you open to muscle loss.

The best way to remedy protein breakdown is by giving your body an additional fuel source. What do I mean?

Let me explain. If you're not particularly lean, your body will happily gobble up your body fat all day long. However, if you are on the leaner side, then your body has fewer pounds of fat that it can use as fuel, making it more likely to use your muscle instead.

After all, muscle mass is super convenient fuel.

Being essential amino acids by nature, BCAAs provide our bodies with a fast and efficient fuel source, that acts as a barrier between our muscles, and their arch nemesis protein breakdown.



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#1 Scivation Xtend






The Best of the Best

#2 BulkSupplements BCAA






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#5 Evlution BCAA Energy






Not bad, but the caffeine isn't for everyone

The Verdict

Overall, both amino acid supplements have their place. However, being naturally found in protein shakes and many whole foods, some lifters and athletes may already consume enough of them naturally.

That said, the real benefit of free-form BCAAs is that you can easily take them during your workout and between meals without any hassle. They're also extremely low in calories, making them excellent tools for cutting and weight loss diets.

As for glutamine, we are less convinced of its effectiveness as a supplement. It is unlikely that you need to take extra glutamine if you already consume a high protein diet. However, there may be other benefits besides the physique advantages that we covered.

We hope you enjoyed our glutamine vs bcaa debate. Hopefully, you have a better idea of what each supplement can and can't do for you. For more information, you can check out our supplement page:

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Jonathan Abbott
Jonathan Abbott
Jonathan is a long time fitness enthusiast who specializes in helping others reach their goals faster with the most up to date sports science. When he's not working, you'll find him challanging his body with heavy squats and deadlifts.