While amino acids are widely known for their relation to protein and muscle protein synthesis, muscle growth, and repair, amino acids’ claim to fame may soon be something totally different.
In the most recent studies surrounding BCAAs, EAAs, and amino acids at large, the body of research strongly suggests a benefit to one’s general health and well-being, reaching far wider than the scope of muscle building.
In what follows, we’ll be doing a comprehensive comparison between BCAAs and EAAs. Throughout this article, we’ll be exploring what amino acids, both essential and non-essential are, the differences between BCAAs and EAAs, and what option is most viable and superior to the other based on one’s goals and objectives in both health and fitness.
Lastly, we will digress with some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the topic. So, if you’re eager to become more educated on the world of amino acids, continue reading!
What are Amino Acids?
Just as proteins are known as the building blocks of life, amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein. Because protein is essential to muscle growth and human function at large, amino acids are doubly important to the structure of arguably the most important macronutrient; protein.
Scientifically speaking, amino acids are comprised of hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen. There are a total of 20 amino acids, nine of which are considered essential, the others non-essential. In what will be discussed a little later, these nine essential amino acids are what is more commonly known in the supplement industry as EAAs.
Amino acids play several critical roles in bodily function, both muscularly, hormonally, and neurologically. If one finds it difficult to receive a sufficient amount of amino acids from food, or they desire particular results requiring essential amino acids, this would be grounds for why one would supplement with an amino acid product (i.e. BCAAs, EAAs).
What are BCAAs?
BCAA’s is an acronym for Branched-chain amino acids. Simply put, BCAAs are a chemical structure comprised of a group of three essential amino acids. BCAAs are commonly supplemented in powdered form, especially in the fitness and bodybuilding industries.
Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients found in protein-rich foods, playing an integral role in promoting muscle growth, boosting metabolism, among other things.
As previously stated, from the total of 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential, three are known to be branched-chain.
Below are the three amino acids comprising BCAAs:
Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are the three amino acids that make supplementing with BCAAs so beneficial. The most popular of the three being leucine, leucine has been shown in research to provide the largest physiological benefit.
In other words, if you’re experiencing muscle growth and you’re supplementing with a high-quality BCAA supplement, leucine is largely to thank. In short, by triggering a process known as muscle protein synthesis, leucine and its counterparts are able to thus stimulate muscle growth in conjunction with intentional resistance training.
While BCAA’s are most commonly used for helping build and repair muscle tissue, it’s been shown in research to be beneficial in several other scenarios as well. Below is a quick summary of the benefits one can come to expect from regularly supplementing with BCAAs:
- Muscle growth and repair
- Less soreness and fatigue
- Improved brain function
- Beneficially Associated with diabetic symptoms among other health conditions
Unlike other amino acids that are metabolized in the liver, BCAAs are broken down in the muscles. This unique property gives them the edge over other amino acids and makes them important in instant energy production during exercise.
Now that BCAAs have been discussed, it’s time to distinguish them from the arguably superior EAAs…
What are EAAs?
EAA is simply an acronym for Essential Amino Acids. With a total of nine essential amino acids, these chemical compounds are those unable to be produced by the body. Thus, EAAs must be supplemented synthetically.
All nine essential amino acids play an integral role in bodily functions, including but certainly not limited to muscular growth, nutrient absorption, immunity function, and energy production.
Below are the nine essential amino acids comprising EAAs:
The benefits of supplementing with EAAs are vast. Below is a quick summary of the benefits one can come to expect from regularly supplementing with EAAs:
- Improved Sleep
- Boosted Mood
- Accelerated Exercise Performance
- Promotion of Muscle Growth
- May Prevent Muscle Deterioration
- May Aid in Weight Loss
In contrast, there are also non-essential amino acids. The main distinction between essential and non-essential amino acids is whether or not the body can naturally produce them. Properly named, non-essential amino acids are amino acids that can be produced by our bodies.
Non-essential amino acids include Alanine, Glutamine, Arginine, Glycine, Proline, Asparagine, Aspartic acid, Cysteine, Tyrosine, and Glutamic acid.
When Should You Consume EAAs?
Similar to other amino acid supplements, EAAs are best consumed immediately before, throughout, or immediately after an intense workout. This is, in large part, due to maximizing the absorption of nutrients.
By supplementing with the recommended 5-15 grams of EAAs daily, mixing it with 8 ounces of water ideally, and taking it at optimal times, EAAs are incredibly effective, research-backed, and associated with several benefits outside of the vane muscle building gains.
With that said, it’s not crucial that you time consumption perfectly. Similar to caloric intake and macronutrient calculations, as long as you meet your needs each day, the time in which you take it is irrelevant. The key here is consistency.
Differences Between BCAAs and EAAs
If you haven’t already caught on, because all three amino acids comprising BCAAs are also found in EAAs, the superior option is likely the obvious choice. In other words, all BCAAs are EAAs, however, not all EAAs are BCAAs.
As such, there are no distinct differences between the two. Think of it like this: if all three amino acids comprising BCAAs can be found in EAAs, yet EAAs also contains an additional 6 essential amino acids on top of that, wouldn’t you presume that EAAs are superior?
EAAs boast all of the benefits that BCAAs do, yet also boast several other distinct benefits. Sure, BCAAs may help trigger muscle protein synthesis, however, so do EAAs. BCAAs may also help reduce intra-workout fatigue, however, so do EAAs.
The choice largely comes down to preference, however, there’s no doubt which is the superior option.
Essential amino acids are amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and thus, must be supplemented or gotten from whole foods. Branched-chain amino acids comprise three of the nine essential amino acids. While both aid in building muscle, EAAs are most likely more effective.
Other differences not discussed, yet are unrelated to the effectiveness or chemical structure of the product, are taste and cost.
Which Amino Acid Supplement Should You Take?
As previously mentioned, there’s no rule book that suggests that you can’t consume both BCAAs and EAAs In conjunction with one another. With that said, each provides its own unique benefits, more appropriate for different populations respectively.
For those who are elite weightlifters, competitive bodybuilders, endurance athletes, or generally active individuals, BCAAs and EAAs can be of benefit. However, because of the physical demand of these lifestyles, BCAAs are necessary for encouraging muscle repair and fending off muscle breakdown.
Because it’s likely going to be difficult for this population to receive all the necessary nutrients from whole foods, supplementation is likely required.
For populations with dietary limitations, allergies, preferences, or restrictions, EAAs are likely to be more suitable and beneficial. Because of these dietary restrictions, certain nutrients, compounds, and amino acids are likely to be lacking. Supplementing with EAAs will ensure that the muscle tissue will absorb the necessary nutrients not otherwise present from one’s diet.
Both BCAAs and EAAs are great tools for the replenishment of nutrients and the repair of muscle tissue. Choosing one over the other simply depends on goals, needs, preferences, and resources.
With that being said, due to recent findings, the literature suggests that EAAs are more comprehensively beneficial, in large part because of the fact that they encompass all nine essential amino acids, while BCAAs only comprise three. Moreover, the research suggests that while BCAA has been deemed beneficial in the past, it may not contain enough to stimulate muscle protein synthesis; the primary benefit that BCAAs were once thought to boast…
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
In this section, we’ll be answering the most frequently asked questions surrounding branched-chain amino acid supplementation and essential amino acid supplementation.
While most of the questions tend to revolve around safety, efficacy, recommendation on consumption, and benefits or lack thereof, you may come across a question or two that you’ve never thought of yet could benefit from knowing!
Let’s get into it.
Are BCAAs and EAAs Safe to Consume Daily?
While there hasn’t been enough research on the long-term effects of frequent amino acid supplementation, the evidence presented to date doesn’t suggest any harmful concerns. As long as you follow the instructions and recommendations, supplementing with BCAAs and EAAs should only elicit beneficial results to your health and fitness goals.
Is Amino Acid Supplementation Better at Building Muscle Than Protein?
No, in fact, to the contrary. There is currently no research that suggests that amino acids, both BCAA and EAA, contribute to greater muscle protein synthesis than that of protein. With that said, supplementing with protein or consuming protein-rich whole foods are likely to aid in the anabolic benefits of amino acids.
Can BCAAs or EAAs Be Consumed During A Fasting Period?
It’s debatable. While most amino acid supplements claim to be calorie-free, it’s typically not 100% accurate. Because the supplement industry isn’t regulated by the FDA, most brands are able to get away with borderline false claims.
While most amino acid supplements are extremely low in calories, they do likely contain enough calories to kick you out of the fasted state. With that said, some experts suggest that depending on the type of fast you’re performing, BCAAs/EAAs may be able to be consumed in small amounts.
What Food Sources Contain EAAs?
Food sources that contain all nine essential amino acids are otherwise known as complete protein sources. Foods like animal meat, seafood, eggs and poultry, and dairy products like milk and yogurt are all great sources of EAAs. In addition, plant-based food sources like quinoa and buckwheat are also considered complete protein sources.
What Happens When Someone is Deficient in Amino Acids?
The result of amino acid deficiency, especially those that are essential, can be unpleasant. The most common consequences include a compromised and weakened immune system, digestive issues, cognitive brain fog, mental illness like depression, and even fertility issues in both men and women. That’s why it’s important not only to supplement with but get amino acids from whole foods.
What’s the Difference Between Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids?
As mentioned earlier, essential amino acids refer to the amino acids that our bodies don’t produce naturally. As such, essential amino acids need to be supplementing or consumed from whole foods.
Non-essential amino acids are those in which the body can produce naturally. In other words, essential amino acids must be consumed through one of two means: food, or supplementation (i.e. EAA or BCAA powder).
Are BCAAs and/or EAAs Worth It?
Again, it depends. Like any supplement, choosing the right supplement for your desired goals and objectives is imperative. Otherwise, yes it’s a waste of money. With that said, amino acid supplementation can also be a great benefit to many.
If you’re finding it difficult to meet your amino acid and nutrient requirements through your diet, supplementation can be of benefit. Moreover, if you’re looking to reduce fatigue, improve performance, enhance muscle protein synthesis, and reduce muscle soreness, BCAA/EAA supplementation is a great tool.
Both BCAAs and EAAs are highly beneficial to one’s health and fitness goals when supplemented over a consistent period of time. This is most definitely the case with regards to muscle growth and repair.
With that said, while amino acids are essential to the function of our bodies, it’s important to understand that it’s not the only necessary solution to reaching your goals. In other words, without the implementation of a well-rounded diet and effective exercise regimen among other factors, supplementing with amino acids, both BCAA or EAA, would be quite benign.
Nevertheless, with all things equal, supplementing with amino acids is a great compliment to one’s overall lifestyle. As discussed throughout, it seems as though the research suggests a superior nod to EAAs when it comes to endurance, performance, and muscle protein synthesis, among other benefits.
However, you truly can’t go wrong with BCAAs either. In fact, there’s no rule that states you can’t supplement with both! If it’s within your budget to do so, this is something you might want to consider!