What Is the Difference Between BCAAs and EAAs?
Next to creatine, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, the trio of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) — consisting of leucine, isoleucine, and valine — is the most popular sports supplement in the world today.
Trumpeted by three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane, who has relied on amino acids since the 1960s, BCAAs are believed to spur muscle growth/prevent muscle wasting, decrease muscle soreness, and reduce fatigue while exercising.
Yet, lately, there’s been more and more talk about essential amino acids, or EAAs, which begs the question: what are they, and how are they different from BCAAs?
What Are BCAAs and EAAs?
Twenty amino acids comprise thousands of unique proteins in the human body. Nine of these amino acids are considered “essential” (they are not produced by the body and must be obtained through one’s diet). Additionally, three EAAs — leucine, isoleucine, and valine — have a distinct structure consisting of an aliphatic side-chain with a branch (hence the name “branched-chain” amino acids).
In other words, this means that all BCAAs are EAAs, but not all EAAs are BCAAs.
What Do BCAAs Do?
If amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, then BCAAs are the MVPs — or so it was long-believed.
A 2017 study1 showed that people who consumed 5.6 grams of BCAAs after their resistance workouts had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who did not. (Why 5.6 grams was decided on — as opposed to 5.5 or 5.7 grams — is a mystery best pondered after several shots of tequila.)
Leucine, in particular, has been lauded for its ability to promote protein synthesis.2
Here’s a list of all three branched-chain amino acids, along with the benefits of BCAAs:
- Leucine is important for protein synthesis and numerous metabolic functions. It also contributes to the regulation of blood sugar levels, as well as human growth hormone (HGH) production.3
- Valine plays a key role in protein synthesis along with muscle growth and tissue repair.4
- Isoleucine promotes glucose consumption and uptake.5
What Do EAAs Do?
The notion that BCAAs increase muscle protein synthesis has been around for years, yet this belief comes almost exclusively from studies on rats. In human studies, when solely BCAAs were administered, muscle protein synthesis actually decreased.6
Further Studies7 have shown that BCAAs cannot initiate muscle protein synthesis without the other six EAAs. Let’s take a closer look at these six essential amino acids and discuss the benefits of EAAs:
- Histidine is instrumental to growth, blood cell creation, and tissue repair.8
- Lysine plays a crucial role in muscle-building, helps maintain bone strength, and regulates hormones, antibodies, and enzymes.9
- Methionine, along with cysteine (a non-essential amino acid), plays a role in the health of the skin and hair.10
- Phenylalanine helps the body utilize other amino acids, along with proteins and enzymes.11
Threonine plays a crucial role in the production of tooth enamel, collagen, and elastin. It also aids in fat metabolism and may help ease indigestion, anxiety, and depression.12
Tryptophan promotes better sleep quality and may alleviate depression and boost emotional well-being.13
Multiple EAA supplement studies14,15 have indicated EAAs also increase your BMR (basal metabolic rate). In simple terms, this means they help you burn more calories.
Other studies16,17 indicate that methionine, phenylalanine, lysine, and histidine — along with the non-essential amino acids arginine and glutamine — may promote human growth hormone secretion. HGH helps to produce, maintain, and repair organ tissue, as well as build muscle mass, boost metabolism and burn fat.
When To Take EAAs and BCAAs
Although EAAs and BCAAs can be taken at any time, most fitness professionals recommend consuming them during and after workouts. According to these pros, we have an “anabolic window” of about 30 minutes following a workout. During this time, they say, it is important to refuel the body with essential amino acids to minimize muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis — which is exactly what EAAs do, according to studies.18,19
What Is the Best EAA and BCAA Supplement?
While essential amino acids can be obtained from a variety of sources — steak, chicken, and other protein sources — taking a powder or ready-to-drink (RTD) EAA product is a great idea for those wishing to refuel within the anabolic window.
“Free-form EAAs do not require digestion, so they are absorbed rapidly, resulting in large increases in blood EAA concentrations,” notes Bang Energy CEO and Chief Science Officer Jack Owoc. “Whole-food proteins, such as beef and chicken, must be digested before amino acid absorption, which delays absorption.”
Owoc suggests trying either MPS-X10™, which contains 10,000 mg of full-spectrum EAAs, including 7,500 mg of BCAAs in a scientifically proven 2:2:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, respectively, or Noo Fuzion™, which is a revolutionary carbonated RTD beverage.
“Noo Fuzion contains a whopping seven grams of EAAs,” Owoc points out, adding that it also contains 2,500 mg of betaine anhydrous.
“Studies have shown that 2.5 grams of betaine anhydrous can result in increases in lean mass and reductions in body fat,” Owoc explains. “A 2010 study20 found that athletes who took 1.25 g of betaine twice daily increased their strength by 25% and muscle by 20%. It was also confirmed that betaine significantly increased factors affecting protein synthesis in muscles compared to a placebo.”
The Bottom Line on EAA Aminos and BCAA Aminos
For those looking to maximize their results in the gym or get many of the same benefits provided by protein (minus the bloating), EAA supplements are a great alternative, especially for those working out on an empty stomach.
Note: As always, consult your doctor or health specialist before embarking on any new diet or exercise plan.
1 Jackman, S. R. (2017, June 7). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28638350/
2 Blomstrand, E. (2006, January). Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16365096/
3 Leucine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/leucine
4 Valine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/valine
5 Isoleucine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/isoleucine
6 Wolfe, R. R. (2017, August 22). Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9
7 Zhang, Monleon, Verhamme and Staessen. (2018, September 10). Branched-Chain Amino Acids as Critical Switches in Health and Disease. Hypertension. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.118.10919
8 Histidine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct.
9 Lysine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct.
10 Methionine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct.
11 Phenylalanine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct.
12 Threonine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct.
13 Tryptophan – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2021, September 2). Science Direct.
14 Consuming a supplement containing branched-chain amino acids during a resistance-training program increases lean mass, muscle strength, and fat loss. (2009). PubMed Central (PMC).
15 Nutritionally essential amino acids and metabolic signaling in aging. (2013, September 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3618985/
16 Smeets, E. T. H. C. (2017, August 1). Do anabolic nutritional supplements stimulate human growth hormone secretion in elderly women with heart failure? The Physiological Society. https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.14814/phy2.13366
17 Chromiak, J. A. (2002). Use of amino acids as growth hormone-releasing agents by athletes. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12093449/
18 Assessing the Role of Muscle Protein Breakdown in Response to Nutrition and Exercise in Humans. (2018). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5790854/
19 Glynn, E. L. (2010, August). Muscle protein breakdown has a minor role in the protein anabolic response to essential amino acid and carbohydrate intake following resistance exercise. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20519362/
20 Lee, E. C. (2010, July 19). Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-7-27