EAA vs BCAA

BCAAs have been a long-time fan favorite amongst ordinary gym-goers, bodybuilders, and endurance athletes to help increase the muscle building and recovery process. As of late, however, EAAs have gained significant momentum in the market, claiming that having all essential amino acids, induces greater anabolic changes than just branched-chain amino acids alone. So the question is, what’s the difference between EAA Vs. BCAAs? And which one should you be using and why? 

In this article, you will learn 

  • Amino Acid Basics
  • What Are BCAAs
  • What Are EAAs
  • What Are The Differences Between EAAs Vs BCAAs?
  • Which One Should You Take EAAs or BCAAs?

AMINO ACID BASICS

Before we dive into what the differences are between BCAAs vs EAAs, it’s necessary to have a basic understanding of what amino acids are and what they do. Protein is metabolized and broken down into 20 total amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are considered to be ‘essential’, (EAAS) meaning that your body cannot create them on its own and that they must be obtained through dietary sources, or through supplements. These essential amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, histidine and tryptophan. Of those nine amino acids, three are what’s called Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAS. Those three are leucine, isoleucine, and valine and play a pivotal role in muscle protein synthesis.

Your body constantly utilizes amino acids from your diet and is in a steady state of turnover, meaning that new proteins are constantly being produced, while older proteins are being degraded. These amino acids are utilized in several enzymatic reactions and support the muscle-building process, prevent muscle mass breakdown, and provide your body with more energy through neurotransmitter regulation. When your body exceeds the number of amino acids that are being broken down, you are in what’s considered to be a ‘positive amino-acid balance’ also known as a muscle-building or anabolic state. When the amount of amino acids being broken down, exceeds the number of amino acids being created, you are in what is considered a breakdown of muscle mass, or a catabolic state. Theoretically, the anabolic state can also be achieved through inhibition of muscle protein breakdown. High-intensity training requires fuel for energy. The first line of energy comes from glycogen, obtained from the food you eat. The secondary source or reserve tank is obtained from amino acids.

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

CONDITIONALLY ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS

HISTIDINE 

ALANINE

ARGININE (essential in children, not in adults)

ISOLEUCINE

LYSINE

ASPARAGINE

CYSTEINE

LEUCINE

METHIONINE

ASPARTIC ACID

GLUTAMINE

VALINE

PHENYLALANINE

GLUTAMIC ACID

GLYCINE

THREONINE

PROLINE

TRYPTOPHAN

SERINE

ISOLEUCINE

TYROSINE

LEUCINE

VALINE

 

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs or Branched Chain Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and contain a branched molecular structure. BCAAs are comprised of three essential amino acids, Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. 

Branched Chain Amino Acids are one of the most popular and effective sports supplements on the market. Research suggests, that BCAAs positively impact muscle protein synthesis, the muscle-building process and prevent protein degradation or muscle mass breakdown. Maintaining a positive amino acid balance, during high-intensity training is crucial to maintain and build lean muscle mass. BCAAs are also beneficial for post-workout muscle soreness. If you’re sore after your workout, then BCAAs might be exactly what you’re looking for to speed up your recovery and get you back under the squat rack faster. 

What Are EAAs?

Of the 20 total amino acids, 9 of them are essential (EAAs), which include leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, histidine and tryptophan. Each amino acid, is separately, or in combination responsible for various functions in your body. Tryptophan, for example, is used to make niacin, melatonin, and serotonin, which promote healthy sleep and a positive mood state. 

So, what about the other amino acids? Six of the eleven remaining non-essential amino acids are considered to be conditionally essential amino acids. In times of physical stress, growth, or injury, your body requires additional stores of certain amino acids which can exceed the amount we naturally produce. L-Glutamine, for example, is one of the most versatile conditional amino acids. Glutamine is depleted quickly through physical exercise and is one of the very few amino acids, that can cross the blood-brain barrier while supporting healthy intestinal lining and immune function. Studies have shown that in addition to helping repair muscle mass breakdown, glutamine supports irritable bowel disease such as chrons, ulcerative colitis, and IBS, by directing nitrogen usage, to help rebuild intestinal lining and prevent intestinal permeability.

RELATED ARTICLE How L-Glutamine Can Help Irritable Bowel Disease

Not to mention, it’s the best amino acid to help recovery by reducing exercise-induced muscle soreness.

RELATED ARTICLE L-Glutamine: The Best Supplement For Recovery

EAAs Vs BCAAs 

Unlike other essential amino acids, BCAAs have aliphatic side chains, with a branch or (a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms), distinguishing them molecularly and functionally. BCAAs provide several beneficial roles to the human body and building lean muscle mass since they are the building blocks of protein. According to a research study published in the Journal of Nutrition BCAAs LeucineIsoleucine, and Valine, particularly Leucine have anabolic effects on protein metabolism by increasing the rate of muscle protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation [R] Every time you workout, you produce small tears in your muscle tissue, which then repairs and grows in the process. BCAAs help build muscle mass by repairing those tears.

The School of Kinesiology at Auburn University in Alabama performed a ten-week randomized double-blind controlled study to examine the effects of BCAA supplementation with trained cyclists on select body composition, performance, and immune health over a 10-week training season. 18 trained cyclists were administered 12g of BCAAs per day or a maltodextrin placebo. The results showed a 19% increase in peak power performance and mean power [R]

RELATED ARTICLE Clinical Study On BCAA Supplementation & Peak Performance

BCAAs also have been shown to improve exercise recovery times. In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial twelve male participants performed 100 consecutive drop jumps to examine the effects on recovery of BCAA supplementation on markers of exercise-induced muscle damage. The results showed that BCAAs taken before and after workout reduced exercise-induced muscle damage and accelerated recovery time, on all time variables of 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours post-workout [RR]. 

It's important to note that the supplement protocol, was based around a 12-day testing period, with a 7-day loading phase at 10g per day. Therefore, it’s recommended to supplement with BCAAs daily to fully optimize muscle recovery.

BCAAs also help fight muscle fatigue and promote endurance during intense training periods [R] Changes in brain serotonin levels, is a potential cause for fatigue during exercise. During exercise, tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier, which is then converted into serotonin. Higher serotonin levels, signals to the brain that your body is fatigued, which translates into less energy, endurance, and power. Since one of the EAAS is tryptophan, this can be contradictory, since tryptophan and the branched-chain amino acids are transported along the same carrier pathway. Although BCAAs typically win this battle, supplementing with added EAAS which includes tryptophan, as opposed to just BCAAs can cause more serotonin uptake, causing inefficient utilization of amino acids resulting in suboptimal performance outcomes. 

RELATED ARTICLE Do BCAAS Really Work? The Ultimate Guide To BCAAs

However, some studies suggest that an abundant amount of all EAAs is a requisite for significant stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. [R]. Since EAAs cannot be produced by the body, intracellular EAAs are derived post-workout and are derived from muscle protein breakdown. Although consumption of BCAAs post-workout will increase the efficiency of recycling EAAS from protein breakdown back into protein synthesis, some studies suggest it is theoretically impossible for the consumption of only BCAAs to create an anabolic state in which muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown [R].

A very interesting study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted at the University of Texas investigated whether supplementation with EAAs vs balanced amino acids, could treat muscle loss in an elderly population and replenish amino acid levels with a reduction in overall food intake. The results concluded that essential amino acids were primarily responsible for amino acid stimulation for muscle protein anabolism [R]. 

Which Should You Take, EAAs vs BCAAs?

In short, it’s always best to take the food first approach. If you have a well-balanced diet, then you will receive all of your essential amino acids, through protein intake and food. Therefore, supplementing with BCAAs during and after your workout, will help inhibit muscle protein breakdown, promote endurance during your workout and help achieve overall athletic goals. This is also why most athletes, choose to supplement with Whey Protein Isolate post-workout, to support muscle growth and recovery. Athletes that have restrictive diets, or those with plant-based diets, will benefit more from consuming a supplement with a complete EAA profile, to replenish and ensure optimal amino acid levels, to promote new muscle growth and repair.


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References

Volpi E, Kobayashi H, Sheffield-Moore M, Mittendorfer B, Wolfe RR. Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78:250–258. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Wolfe, Robert R. “Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 14 30. 22 Aug. 2017, DOI:10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9

Volpi, Elena et al. “Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 78,2 (2003): 250-8. DOI:10.1093/ajcn/78.2.250

Blomstrand*†4, Eva, Jörgen Eliasson*†, and And Håkan K. R. Karlsson**. "Branched-Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise." The Journal Of Nutrition(2006): n. pag. Web.

Kephart WC, Wachs TD, Mac Thompson, Brooks Mobley, Fox CD, McDonald JR, Ferguson BS, Young KC, Nie B, Martin JS, Pascoe DD, Arnold RD, Moon JR, Roberts MD, “Ten weeks of branched-chain amino acid supplementation improves select performance and immunological variables in trained cyclists.” Journal of Amino Acids (2016)

Kaido, Toshimi. "Branched Chain Amino Acids and Organ Transplantation." Branched Chain Amino Acids in Clinical Nutrition(2014): 181-90. Web

Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, Bell PG, French DN. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched-chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9:20.

Fouré, Alexandre, and David Bendahan. “Is Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation an Efficient Nutritional Strategy to Alleviate Skeletal Muscle Damage? A Systematic Review.” Nutrients vol. 9,10 1047. 21 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9101047

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