Ah, the age-old debate between BCAAs and EAAs: which is superior?
With so many nutritional supplements on the market that promise to help you gain muscle, build strength, and improve your athletic performance, it can be challenging to filter through all of your options and determine which one will serve you best.
While your body can make some of the substances necessary for muscular growth, others must come from your food.
EAA or BCAA are frequently found in protein powders and other fitness-related supplements, but what exactly are EAA and BCAA? What distinguishes them from one another, and which is ideal for you?
We combed through the literature to uncover the differences between BCAA and EAAs, the escalating controversy around BCAA supplements, and the best strategy to reap the rewards of EAAs. You are therefore in the right place if you’re looking for the answers to such questions.
But First, let’s talk a little about proteins and amino acids.
What Role Does Protein Serve In Our Body?
You likely already know how important consuming enough amounts of protein is for developing and maintaining lean muscle mass. However, did you realize that the 20 amino acids in the protein actually carry out the necessary functions? These compounds act as the foundation for developing new cells and tissues. They are also essential for a number of other physiological functions, such as hormone production and immune system regulation.
Proteins are essential nutrients and your body’s building blocks. For your intestines as well as your muscles, organs, skin, tendons, and ligaments. Protein is also used in the production of hormones and enzymes. If you want your body’s cells to function properly, you need protein.
Your body is mostly made up of proteins after water and fat have been removed.
Why Do You Need Amino Acids And What Are They?
Your body is made up of the protein you consume. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and there are twenty of them. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, which are also very small building blocks.
Your digestive system breaks these chains down into free amino acids when you consume a protein-rich meal. They are then taken up by your circulation from the intestines and transported to areas of your body that require the creation of new cells or the repair of damaged ones.
Essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids are the two types of amino acids.
EAAs – Essential Amino Acids
Nine of the 20 amino acids used to form most proteins are required by humans. Because the body is unable to produce these necessary amino acids on its own, they are known as EAAs. EAAs must be taken by way of diet.
Phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine are the nine essential amino acids (EAAs).
The nine essential amino acids, in alphabetical order, are:
The majority of individuals consume the daily necessary amount of EAAs through protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. However, EAA supplements are also available. Additionally, they are increasingly being sold to athletes as a BCAA substitute for enhancing exercise performance.
NEAAs – Non-Essential Amino Acids
There are 20 amino acids in protein, 9 of which are necessary, leaving room for 11 more amino acids. These amino acids are non-essential which means, you don’t necessarily need to acquire them from food because your body is capable of producing them.
The following is the list of non-essential amino acids:
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
You consume these amino acids regardless of whether you need to do so in order to maintain your health and grow muscle. All of these are obtained from the protein you consume, frequently in large quantities.
BCAAs – Branched-Chain Amino Acids
We can now see how branched-chain amino acids fit into the equation. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three EAAs that make up BCAAs. So yes, there are only three EAAs included in BCAA supplements. Additionally, because they have a somewhat distinct chemical structure, BCAAs are frequently clustered. They can be broken down in muscle tissue as opposed to the liver because their side chain is branched.
In fact, taking BCAAs orally is extremely comparable to receiving them intravenously. That is how quickly they are taken up. Most substances pass through the liver first before circulating through the body. Being able to bypass the liver and reach the muscles immediately makes BCAAs special. In fact, muscles can oxidize them for energy.
BCAAs have gained popularity among bodybuilders as a low-carb, high-protein fuel to push through a few extra reps and promote protein synthesis while training on an empty stomach due to its quick absorption rate.
What’s the Difference Between BCAAs and EAAs?
There is none. BCAAs are essentially EAAs (pardon the pun).
To be clear, EAA supplements are just full-spectrum BCAAs. They are regarded to be more beneficial for developing muscles and recovering from demanding workouts since they provide all nine EAAs as compared to just three.
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are simply referred to as “BCAA” to indicate their chemical makeup. They only make up three of the nine essential amino acids, but they do so in a special way that makes them resemble a canopy of branches. This branch-like structure is absent from the other necessary amino acids.
Getting Amino Acids From Food vs. Supplements
You’ll never need to take amino acid supplements to meet your needs if your diet is good enough. The protein in your food comprises all the amino acids: EAAs, BCAAs, and non-essential amino acids. Additionally, you can get all 20 amino acids, including BCAAs, by taking a protein supplement.
Your Muscles And EAAs, BCAAs
So now you know that you just need to obtain the essential amino acids from your food if you’ve read this far which also applies to gaining muscle.
To add new muscle growth, you need all the amino acids, but your body can create the ones that are not essential as needed. Research demonstrates that X grams of necessary amino acids alone or X grams of essential amino acids with X grams of non-essential amino acids will both result in the same amount of muscle growth.
A meal high in protein has little effect on the non-essential amino acids.
You get plenty of non-essential amino acids from all the protein you consume, even if you ignore the fact that your body can produce them when you need them. You don’t have to worry about getting enough of the non-essential amino acids or give them a second thought.
How Protein And Amino Acids Work On Your Muscles
When you consume protein, your gut and intestines convert it into free amino acids. They then travel to your bloodstream. Your body interprets an increase in blood levels of amino acids as “building material for my muscles! better start working!
The amino acids are easily accessible when you take a BCAA or EAA supplement. They don’t need to be broken down by your body first. They are absorbed more quickly than the same amino acids from a regular meal.
Muscle protein synthesis is the process of building new muscle which we will briefly discuss in the next passage.
Role Of BCAAs In Triggering Muscle Protein Synthesis
A rapid influx of amino acids into your blood activates signals that tell your body to create muscle.
Not all amino acids, nevertheless, are in charge of this outcome. The most important ones are branched-chain amino acids or BCCAs.
The particular amino acid that starts the process is leucine. However, you won’t notice much of a difference if your blood leucine level is too low.
You can find BCAAs in all types of protein. You will most effectively promote muscle protein synthesis if a protein-rich meal contains 2.5–3 grams of leucine.
The protein that has the highest leucine is whey protein. Maximum stimulation of muscle protein synthesis occurs at about 25 grams of whey protein. Leucine content in other proteins is somewhat lower per 100 grams, therefore you need to consume more of it to get the same muscle-building effects.
More necessary amino acids, such as BCAAs and leucine, are present in animal proteins such as eggs, meat, poultry, dairy, and fish than in plant-based proteins.
For instance, to have the same anabolic impact as you would from 25 grams of whey protein, you would need to consume 38 grams of pea protein, 40 grams of soy protein, or a staggering 54 grams of hemp protein.
BCAAs: Advantages and Drawbacks
The majority of people consume BCAAs as part of a pre-workout supplement to aid boost muscle growth and provide them with some energy during fasting exercises. In order to lessen muscular aches and support strength development, BCAAs can also be consumed as a post-workout recovery drink.
The process of muscle protein synthesis, which turns on the genes responsible for muscular growth, is closely linked to leucine in particular. These claims are supported by some studies. One 2017 study, for instance, discovered that BCAAs enhanced muscle protein synthesis by 22%.
However, since BCAAs have been studied more thoroughly, some studies contend that their effects are limited and that taking supplements containing all nine EAAs may result in more significant impacts. Isolated BCAAs appear to be the most plausible exception because they can aid to lessen muscular pain.
As it has been observed earlier in many cases, many supplements have fantastic beginnings as brilliant ideas or great hunches, but they frequently fail when put to the test. and with BCAAs, that appears to be the case.
According to one study by Robert Wolfe, BCAAs are so deficient that they are catabolic, which means they will cause your body to draw amino acids from other parts of the body.
Every available amino acid must be converted into a new protein while you are producing new proteins. One issue with BCAAs is that you have a limited source of amino acids if you only consume the three of them.
If the remaining nutrients cannot be obtained through diet, you can either obtain them from another source or the production of new proteins will halt. Physiologically speaking, though, it won’t cause you to shrivel up in order to remove amino acids from your body.
Even though it’s unlikely that taking BCAAs will actually cause muscle loss, experts and research tend to show that BCAA supplements may be a waste of calories and money.
Which Works Better, EAAs Or BCAAs?
People are taking EAA supplements instead of BCAAs because they think that a more complete amino acid profile is probably better for the muscles.
BCAAs are not better for exercise, and they don’t make your body synthesize more protein faster. When you look at both [EAAs and BCAAs], the response from EAAs to protein synthesis is better, and it lasts longer.
Even though there isn’t a lot of research in this area, there are a few studies that back this up. In 2016, a randomized, controlled study found that EAAs were better than both BCAAs and leucine alone at boosting muscle protein synthesis (even though the researchers concluded the effect is still largely attributable to BCAAs). A 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology found that taking EAA supplements before a workout delayed the time when muscles got tired and made resistance training sessions better.
Still, EAAs are likely to be most helpful for people who don’t often get the amount of protein that is recommended for each day. This is especially true for vegetarians and vegans who don’t eat sources of complete proteins and for older people who need more EAAs to stop muscle loss that comes with getting older.
Do You Need EAA Supplements?
All nine EAAs are needed to build muscle, and research shows that taking these amino acids as a supplement before a workout can help build muscle. But researchers at McMasters University compared the effects of low-dose whey supplements with leucine or EAAs to those of complete whey protein. They found that all three could increase MPS right after exercise, but only the complete whey could keep MPS going for three to five hours after that.
It seems that EAAs found in food are paired with other nutrients like immunoglobulins, casein, and glucose, which work to raise insulin levels (insulin is an anabolic hormone that stops muscle breakdown and helps muscles grow), boost energy production and support training goals even more. There’s more to food than just amino acids on their own.
So, It becomes evident that combining glucose with a source of amino acids will improve protein synthesis which leads us to understand that obtaining the required amino acids can be far better when acquired through whole foods, followed closely by whey protein.
Most of the time, there aren’t many good reasons to choose an amino acid supplement over a protein supplement or a meal with a lot of protein. As long as you get enough protein from your regular diet, there isn’t much evidence that taking a supplement of amino acids will help.
In short, if you eat the recommended amount of complete protein every day, you’re probably already getting enough BCAAs and EAAs. If you want a little extra help, whey protein or another type of protein powder may be a cheaper and more effective way to get enough EAAs.
Don’t believe what marketing tells you. You can build just as much muscle with X grams of essential amino acids from these options as with X grams of essential amino acids from an EAA supplement.
BCAAs might have some other benefits, like reducing muscle soreness and giving you energy for your workout, but they’re not enough for building muscle. EAA supplements do work, but a protein shake would help you the same.
As is usually said at the end of sports nutrition articles, the most important things for how your body looks and works are how many calories you eat, how much protein you eat, and how often you work out. Supplements, as the word “supplement” suggests, can help you get better results if everything else is good.