Why are EAAs good? The supplement you need
- EAAs contain the three amino acids that make up BCAAs, along with other amino acids your body needs.
- BCAAs can speed up recovery time after a workout.
- If you’re deciding between EAAs or BCAAs, EAAs are the best way to go, as you receive all 9 of the amino acids you need.
- Supplementing with EAA powder can help increase your intake.
EAA vs BCAA - An introduction to essential amino acids
What is EAA?
Essential Amino Acids (EAA) fuel muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Research suggests that supplementing with EAAs before you workout can improve your anabolic exercise response overall.
An anabolic response can be defined as the difference between protein synthesis and breakdown, or the net protein balance, in response to ingestion of protein alone, a mixed meal containing protein or a protein supplement.
Taking an EAA powder or EAA capsule before going to sleep or before, during and/or after exercise can produce an increase in protein synthesis that might create a positive protein balance and result in a muscle-building state allowing you to recover and build muscle more easily.
What are the potential EAA benefits?
While essential amino acids can be found in a variety of foods, taking more concentrated doses in supplements has been linked to several health benefits including:
A recent study found that taking up to 3 grams of EAA per day may help decrease anxiety and increase positive mood in healthy people.
This is due to EAA containing tryptophan which is necessary for the production of serotonin – a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter in your body. Serotonin is an essential regulator of mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, wound healing and bone health.
While low serotonin levels have been linked to depressive mood and sleep disturbances, several studies have suggested that taking tryptophan supplements may help reduce symptoms of depression and enhance mood.
2. Exercise and recovery
In a small 2017 study, resistance-trained athletes took EAAs. This resulted in improved performance, muscle recovery and decreased muscle soreness compared with a placebo.
A review of eight studies found that taking EAAs were superior to rest for promoting muscle recovery and reducing soreness after exhaustive exercise.
Furthermore, another review found that taking EAAs helped reduce muscle damage and soreness after resistance exercise in active men.
What is BCAA?
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) are made up of three amino acids – leucine, valine and isoleucine. Amino acids cannot be synthesised by the body and need to be included in your diet.
BCAA powder is supplemented to potentially increase muscle growth and improve performance. Leucine is a particularly essential BCAA as it signals to ‘switch on’ muscle protein synthesis, improving muscle recovery and performance.
What are the potential BCAA benefits?
1. Increase muscle growth
One of the most popular uses of BCAAs is to increase muscle growth. As in one study, people who consumed water with 5.6 grams of BCAA’s after weight lifting had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis, compared to those who were taking part in the placebo.
However, protein synthesis is 50% less than what was observed in a similar study, where people consumed whey protein containing a comparable amount of BCAA’s. This concluded that whey protein contains all the essential amino acids needed for muscle growth.
Therefore, while BCAAs can increase muscle protein synthesis, this can only be done to an extent without other essential amino acids, found in whey protein or other protein sources.
2. Decrease symptoms of sore muscles
Research suggests that BCAAs may help to decrease soreness after a workout.
Feeling sore after a few days of working out is relatively normal, especially if you’re trying out a new routine. Known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this develops 12-14 hours after exercise, lasting up to 72 hours.
Researchers believe that DOMS is the result of tiny tears in the muscle after a workout.
BCAAs have been shown to potentially decrease muscle damage, reducing the length of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Several studies concluded that BCAA’s decrease protein breakdown during exercise, decreasing levels of creatine kinase, which indicates muscle damage.
Therefore, supplementing with BCAAs before exercise may speed up your recovery time overall.
3. Reduces fatigue
Experiencing exhaustion and fatigue due to exercise is only normal. But the rate at which we tire depends on several factors, including exercise intensity and duration, nutrition, fitness level and environmental conditions.
Your muscles use BCAAs during exercise, causing levels in your blood to decrease. When blood levels of BCAAs decline, levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan in your brain increase.
In your brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, a chemical that contributes to the development of fatigue during exercise.
In a recent study, participants who were supplemented with BCAAs improved their mental focus during exercise, which is thought to result from the fatigue-reducing effect of BCAAs.
However, this decrease in fatigue is unlikely to translate to improvements in exercise performance.
BCAA or EAA - What are the key differences?
Amino acids are the smaller components of protein. It is vital for us to consume amino acids to repair and build proteins and muscles in our bodies. We cannot make EAAs on our own, so we must get them from our diet.
The nine essential amino acids include phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, leucine, and lysine.
Three of these EAAs have a chemical structure, known as branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs - leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Every BCAA is an Essential Amino Acid, but not all EAAs are Branched Chain Amino Acids.
So, to put it simply, your body requires nine essential amino acids (EAAs) from your diet and only three of these are BCAAs.
Therefore, by consuming EAAs rather than BCAAs, you will receive all the desired amino acids, without missing any of your BCAA needs.
Who might consider taking additional EAAs?
1. Regular gymaholics
As previously mentioned, exercise creates microtears also referred to as hypertrophy in our muscles that usually need rest to repair. Amino acids are the protein building blocks of our muscle mass, aiding the healing and recovery process. Therefore, supplementing with EAAs may help you to recover faster.
2. Aiming to build muscle mass
There are various factors to increase your muscle mass, including adequate exercise, a balanced diet to incorporate amino acids, fruit and vegetables, plenty of fluids, knowing what time of the day you are eating and rest and recovery days. Extra sources of protein are needed if you are wanting to build muscle, rather than maintain weight, so EAAs would be helpful in building muscle mass.
3. If you follow a restricted diet
You might not get all the EAAs you need through your diet alone if it's low on proteins. This can often be the case for some vegan or vegetarian diets. Soy, quinoa, spirulina and chia seeds are always good options, but some plant-based proteins don't contain all the EAAs your body needs. This would be a good opportunity to take a daily dose of EAA supplements if your diet is restricted and you have spoken with a healthcare professional before use.
Take home message
To conclude, amino acids are essential for our bodies to function properly, they can’t be produced by your body and must be obtained from your diet, while BCAAs contain 3 of the essential amino acids; leucine, valine and isoleucine.
Studies have shown that EAAs may help you to build muscle, maintain muscle and recover. If you’re concerned about not getting enough EAAs in your diet, it is best to speak with a healthcare professional before taking food supplements. Whether your goals are to get fit, lose weight, or put on muscle, protein should make up a significant part of your diet.