Supplements are one of the most pivotal factors in succeeding at your goals with fitness training. When you use the correct supplements, you are benefiting your body as well. There are tons of supplements on the market, and the names can undoubtedly get confusing. Within the realm of fitness, two terms get tossed around a lot in the gym, like BCAAs and EAAs. What are they? What do they do? Is there any difference, and should you be using either one? Today, I’m going to answer those questions about EAAs and BCAAs and enlighten you about which ones you should really be using.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
There are three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are part of the essential nine out of the twenty amino acids that exist. Those three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The reason these are called branched-chain is a reference to how these acids have “branches” jutting off the side of its molecular structure. Leucine and valine are critical for muscle repair and also work to stabilize blood sugar levels. Valine can influence energy. Leucine stimulates growth hormone production. Then, isoleucine boosts muscle metabolism and helps with hemoglobin production and regulating energy.
For these reasons, people choose to use BCAA supplementation to help with promoting muscle growth and reducing the wear and tear on the body after long bouts of exercise.
Benefits of BCAAs include:
- Increased muscle growth by stimulating protein synthesis pathways
- Reduced muscle fatigue. BCAAs have been found to increase concentration and focus during workouts.
- Decreased muscle soreness after intense workouts. Although DOMS is not fully understood, it is believed that BCAAs can decrease protein decomposition during exercise, thus decreasing levels of creatine kinase, which increases as muscles tear and get damaged.
- Improved health for individuals with liver disease and cirrhosis by reducing the symptoms and protection against liver cancer.
Essential Amino Acids
Like BCAAs, the essential amino acids are not contained within the body and must be consumed to meet the requirements. Amino acids like the nine essential amino acids are often called the building blocks of protein, which is the building blocks of muscle and other tissues within our bodies. Plus, EAAs are needed to things like the synthesis of hormones, neurotransmitters, and proteins. Excluding the three BCAAs mentioned above, the remaining six EAAs include histidine, lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine, and phenylalanine. These EAAs are precursors to neurotransmitters, play roles in metabolism, sleeping and waking, and other vital functions.
EAAs also carry with them all the benefits of BCAAs that were listed above and a few more:
- Improved mood and sleep. Tryptophan is necessary for serotonin, which influences mood, sleep, and behavior.
- Boosted metabolism, due to a feeling of fullness throughout the day. EAAs can reduce body fat while increasing muscle size and strength.
- Prevention of muscle wasting in those with cancer or elevated age.
What is the difference between BCAAs and EAAs
Though both BCAAs and EAAs are considered “essential,” BCAAs are comprised of more than just EAAs but are not a complete protein.
According to sources like the Essentials of Strength Training and Condition and other guidelines, muscles are most receptive to amino acids for up to 48 hours after exercise, which is why many fitness professionals and enthusiasts are using amino acid supplementation before and after workouts.
To further the evidence that BCAAs are a worthwhile supplement, a recent study from Frontiers in Physiology found that 5.6 grams of BCAAs after strength training lead to a 22-percent better muscle protein synthesis. Conversely, a report in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition stated that you need a supply of all the EAAs to stimulate muscle growth, not just BCAAs.
So what is the answer then?
Choosing BCAAs or EAAs
Whether you choose BCAAs or EAAs depends on your nutrition. Do you think you are getting enough EAAs a day? BCAAs work well with promoting a better workout and faster recovery in individuals who are getting enough EAAs in their meals. Meanwhile, if you find yourself missing meals or not consuming enough protein, then essential amino acids are going to help you more with protein synthesis than branched chain amino acids. When compared to BCAAs, EAAs are more efficient at providing the energy necessary for muscles to grow pre- and post-workout. Since the body needs protein, EAAs can create an environment where protein synthesis remains productive, not redundant.
The main struggle for many busy people is eating whole foods with the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Vegetarians, vegans, and others with restrictive diets might also be missing integral sources of EAAs and need supplementation to ensure they are meeting their protein needs.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition and ACSM, active adults need at least 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. In other words, if you weigh around 150 pounds, you’re going to need between 95-136 grams of protein. Some people might have no problem consuming this amount of protein, but this could be extremely challenging for others. If you can’t hit the mark, opt for EAAs, not BCAAs.
In short, EAAs are best for those who don’t meet the daily protein requirement. BCAAs are best for those who eat enough protein and just want an extra edge.
Hopefully, you should now realize that BCAAs and EAAs are both similar yet rather different in their functions. When a person isn’t getting enough amino acids from their diet, taking a supplement can help you reach your goals by filling in nutritional gaps. That said, BCAAs aren’t a cure-all. For improved protein synthesis post-workout, you should be using EAAs, especially if you are going hard in the gym all the time and need to recover or find yourself repeatedly falling short with your nutrition.
Which one you use, though, is ultimately up to you—and both BCAAs and EAAs can help you succeed.
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