When it comes to options for building muscle, the supplement market is flooded with them! The most loved and popular is obviously protein powder, but BCAAs and EAAs are not far behind...
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein so although they naturally occur in protein powder, people often like to supplement with Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAS) or Essential Amino Acids (EAAs). Both supplements contain amino acids but are grouped in a way that gives them a slightly different chemical structure and giving them slight differences in benefits. But overall, both are intended to help with any muscle growth goals you may have! The question is... Which one should you choose?
We'll help you decide! We're going to give you the breakdown of the pros and cons of BCAAs vs EAAS so you can decide which one is the right amino acid supplement for you.
There are 20 amino acids that are the building blocks to skeletal muscle and tissues in the body. Of those 20, 9 of them are essential, also known as essential amino acids (EAAs) and 11 are non-essential amino acids. The nine EAAs are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine. These are the amino acids our bodies can't produce, but we can get them through whole foods like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, and also supplements!
So, as you can guess EAA supplements are made up of the 9 essential amino acids, among other ingredients depending on the brand. BCAAs, on the other hand, contain essential amino acids, but only three - leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Although they contain 3 essential amino acids, what sets BCAAs apart, is that their chain is branched, hence the name branched-chain amino acids! This allows them to be broken down in muscle tissues as opposed to in the liver.
That's the main difference between these supplements, it comes down to the chemical structure, and that slight difference gives each supplement its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Pros and cons of EAAs
EAA supplements contain all nine essential amino acids that our body can't produce but needs to perform different necessary functions. This gives EAA's notable benefits which include...
- Helping increase muscle protein synthesis: To build muscle, muscle protein synthesis needs to be higher than muscle protein breakdown. EAA's contain all the amino acids necessary to increase muscle protein synthesis thus helping increase muscle growth.
- Helps delay muscle fatigue: A study found in the journal Frontiers in Physiology found that supplementing with EAA's pre-workout delayed the onset of muscle fatigue thus helping improve exercise performance in resistance training sessions.
- Better immunity support: Histidine is an essential amino acid that is used to produce histamine, a neurotransmitter that helps fight free radicals and support your immune system.
- Hormone balance: L-leucine and L-lysine are responsible for keeping your endocrine system balanced, aka your hormones! Keeping your hormones balanced helps keep your body running smoothly, and can even help with weight loss/management.
- Helping with weight management: Talking about weight management... L-threonine and L-methionine help your body metabolize fat and detoxify your blood.
EAA's can even help regulate your mood and keep your hair, skin, and nails healthy! This may all sound too good to be true... So, what's the downside?
EAA's can help with all the benefits listed above, but the ratios in the supplement are important. As you know, EAA's contain three BCAAs, but the supplement you choose most have the proper amount of BCAA's to make the most out of the other six EAAs. So, if you're looking for an EAA supplement, look at the nutrition label and make sure there's an adequate concentration of BCAA's (5-6 grams per serving). Or you can opt for a BCAA supplement instead...
Pros and cons of BCAAs
BCAA's contain the three essential amino acids responsible for increasing muscle protein synthesis, giving them the same benefits as EAAs of helping increase muscle growth. But aside from that, BCAA supplementation can help...
- Reduce muscle fatigue: During high-intensity exercise, the levels of BCAA's in your blood drop, and tryptophan (another amino acid) rise. This is something that you don't want to happen because tryptophan produces a feeling of relaxation. Supplementing with BCAA's pre-workout or during can help you fight training fatigue so you can push through an extra rep or run an extra five minutes. It essentially provides your muscles with sustainable energy which then improves your exercise performance. One study found this to be true! Two groups were observed during exercise, one was given BCAA's during their workout, and the other was given a placebo. The group that supplemented with BCAA's reported up to 15% less fatigue than the placebo group. Other studies showed similar findings.
- Enhance recovery: One of the best benefits BCAA's has, and why they're widely known in the fitness world, is their ability to improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness. Research has shown that BCAA's lower creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase levels in your blood (enzymes involved in muscle damage) help reduce post-workout muscle soreness. Improving your recovery time will help you get back to the gym faster and stronger!
BCAA's essentially help improve your recovery and reduce muscle fatigue to help you perform better during your workout and prepare you for your next! But what's the downside?
BCAA's are widely researched, and some of the evidence is mixed. Remember, BCAA's contain only three of nine essential amino acids, but you need all nine available to convert them into new proteins. And the problem is, if you only have three and aren't getting enough from your diet then they will pull them from elsewhere putting you in a catabolic state. Meaning your body will stop the muscle protein synthesis process thus not giving you the benefits you're looking for and increasing the risk of muscle protein breakdown. On the upside, if you're getting enough protein in your diet then BCAA's can help maximize your training for better muscle growth!
Which supplement should you take?
Both EAA and BCAA supplements have their pros and cons, and luckily, the cons are what will help you decide which is the better of the two for you. EAA's contain all essential amino acids that are necessary for muscle growth, recovery, and other important functions in the body. BCAA's only contain three but have been proven to be effective at improving intra-workout performance and post-workout recovery when paired with a high-protein diet.
Both are great, but if you already eat a high then supplement with BCAA's to reap the muscle recovery benefits! If you're lacking protein in your diet, or follow a mainly vegan or plant-based diet, then consider supplementing with EAAs! EAA supplementation suits those who don't get enough protein in their diet because you'll get the same benefits of BCAA's but without the risk of catabolizing existing muscle which happens when there's not enough protein in the body.
Are supplements absolutely necessary? Not really, but they can help maximize your hard work at the gym by giving you concentrated doses of what your body needs when it needs it. As always, the best protein sources come from whole foods! So, if you want to ensure you have enough amino acids circulating in your body then prioritize lean meats, poultry, seafood, dairy, and eggs. Then use a BCAA or EAA supplement when you feel like you need a little umph in your training and performance!
Looking for a BCAA supplement to help maximize your training efforts?
373 Lab BCAA's are made with the fewest ingredients as possible, making sure that BCAA's is the main ingredient and doing their job - helping reduce fatigue during your workout and reduce muscle breakdown and soreness. We provide 5 grams of BCAAs per scoop at a 2:1:1 ratio of L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine, the ideal split for optimal supplementation.