Essential amino acids, otherwise known as EAAs, have become a popular sports nutrition supplement for athletes. Studies suggest that supplementing with EAAs can help improve the muscle building process and reduce muscle mass breakdown enhancing athletic performance. But do EAAs really work, are they better or complementary to BCAAs, and what are the benefits of EAAs? We’re going to address these questions and more about EAAs.
What Are Essential Amino Acids EAAs
The essential amino acids (EAAs) are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. There are three EAAs which have special characteristics (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) and are called branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).
Often referred to as the building blocks of protein, when protein is metabolized, it’s broken down into its simplest form amino acids. There are 20 common amino acids that play numerous roles within your human biology. Amino acids are composed of an amino group and a carboxyl group which is acidic, hence the name amino acid.
Essential amino acids cannot be produced by your body, therefore it is essential to obtain them from your diet and the foods you eat or from supplements. Nine of the twenty amino acids are categorized as essential. 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, while leucine is part of the branched chain amino acids, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Benefits Of Essential Amino Acids
A large body of evidence has shown that essential amino acids are very beneficial to physical performance, and can help improve strength, reduce post workout muscle soreness, and improve gains in muscle mass.
Several studies have investigated the effects of amino acids, particularly the branched chain amino acids, in addition to the remaining essential amino acids on strength and performance. EAAs put your body in an anabolic or muscle building state when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown.
A study conducted at the University of Arkansas investigated the effects of EAA supplementation in older individuals on physical function and performance. The study found that after 12 weeks of EAA supplementation, physical performance and distance walked by study participants was significantly greater improving strength, and reducing fat mass [R].
Reduces Muscle Soreness
It’s important to note that BCAAs are also essential amino acids. The difference in BCAA VS EAA supplementation, however, is that EAAs contain the remaining six amino acids.
Several studies have investigated the effects of essential amino acids, especially the branched chain amino acids on post workout muscle recovery and found positive effects on soreness and inhibiting muscle mass breakdown.
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 [R, R].
A study published in the Journal Nutrients, examined the effects of BCAA supplementation on recovery from resistance training. Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled research design, participants were enrolled into either a BCAA or placebo group. At 72 hours post workout, the BCAA group reported significant less muscle soreness than the placebo group [R].
Increases Muscle Mass
Supplementation of the diet with essential amino acids (EAAs) can ameliorate the decline in skeletal muscle function by inhibiting muscle mass breakdown, resulting in positive muscle protein balance. To increase and maintain muscle mass, your body requires amino acids. EAAs are the active components of dietary protein responsible for the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.
An 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].
What Are Non-Essential Amino Acids
Eleven of the twenty amino acids, are considered nonessential. Nonessential amino acids are those that your body naturally produces and therefore not essential to acquire through dietary sources. The nonessential amino acids include alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. Additionally, there is a sub-group of amino acids, called conditionally essential amino acids.
What Are Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
Six of the eleven nonessential amino acids are considered conditionally essential amino acids. Conditionally essential amino acids are amino acids that are produced by the body, yet in times of severe physical stress, growth, or trauma, may become depleted. At times your body requires additional stores of certain amino acids which can exceed the amount we naturally produce.
For example, L-Glutamine is one of the most versatile conditionally amino acids. Glutamine is depleted quickly through physical exercise and severe physical stress, 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 glutamine can reduce exercise induce muscle soreness, and muscle mass breakdown, making glutamine one of the best supplements for exercise recovery. A growing body of evidence also supports the use of glutamine for digestive health, specifically in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Inflammatory bowel disease states such as Chron's, ulcerative colitis, leaky gut, and IBS, are characterized by gut hyperpermeability. Glutamine rebuilds and repairs the gut lining by feeding the epithelial cells, which line your digestive tract.
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Which Are Better BCAA or EAA
The research suggesting the differences between EAA Vs BCAA on performance is conflictory at best. Both EAAs and BCAAs have been shown to increase muscle mass by stimulating muscle protein synthesis, and support muscle recovery. Supplementation really depends on your dietary lifestyle choices and nutrition. Some studies suggest that supplementing with essential amino acids, will stimulate protein synthesis more so than BCAAs alone. While some studies also suggest that EAAs may inhibit energy levels, while BCAAs do not. Therefore, more evidence is needed to investigate the ergogenic effects of BCAA vs EAA. Depending on dietary lifestyle, if you do not consume a healthy amount of protein in your diet, then you should consider supplementing with EAAs to get more amino acids in your diet.
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