For those of you who read up on fitness and supplements, the battle over BCAAs vs. EAAs is not new. It has been quite the debate for a while now. Which is better as a supplement? Which will help muscle growth more? Why take one over the other? And of course, just like anything else, there are 5,001 opinions out there.
Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements for many years have been hugely popular among fitness enthusiasts.
I’ve discussed previously what BCAAs are and the ways they can help, now it’s time to discuss what EAAs are and exactly what they do and why some argue for them being better than BCAAs when it comes to a post-workout supplement.
Essential amino acids (EAAs) are the building blocks of protein. They are called essential because we need them in our diet to live, and yet, our body cannot produce them on its own.
Essential amino acids are classified as such because they cannot be made by the body from other compounds, so they must be obtained from foods or supplements. The nine essential amino acids for humans are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Each of the nine essential amino acids has a specific job in our body.
Histidine is a neurotransmitter vital to immune response, digestion, sexual function, and sleep-wake cycles(1).
Isoleucine (also a BCAA) is involved in muscle metabolism and is heavily concentrated in muscle tissue. It’s also important for immune function, hemoglobin production, and energy regulation (2).
Leucine (also a BCAA) is critical for protein synthesis and muscle repair. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, stimulates wound healing, and produces growth hormones(3).
Lysine plays major roles in protein synthesis, calcium absorption, and the production of hormones and enzymes. It’s important for energy production, immune function, and the production of collagen and elastin (4).
Methionine Is important for metabolism and detoxification as well as necessary for tissue growth and the absorption of zinc and selenium (5).
Phenylalanine plays an integral role in the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the production of other amino acids (6).
Threonine is a principal part of structural proteins, such as collagen and elastin. It also plays a role in fat metabolism and immune function (7).
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, and mood (8).
Valine (also a BCAA) helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration and is involved in energy production (9).
Not everyone needs to take an EAA supplement. Many people can get the EAAs they need through their diet. Diets rich in protein will receive the EAAs their bodies need. The following foods are common sources of essential amino acids: (10)
While a deficiency in EAAs is rare, there are still benefits to taking EAAs, including:
In addition to the above, taking an EAA supplement may also improve exercise performance and recovery. (11)
Essential amino acids contain the branched-chain amino acids PLUS six more that have important roles in metabolism and other crucial body functions. But aside from the number, why the argument that EAAs are better than BCAAs?
It comes down to what the body needs to do what you’re wanting it to. Most of the people who are taking BCAAs are doing so because they want to build muscle or strength, but the fact is, your body can’t create new muscle tissue with just valine, isoleucine, and leucine. It needs all 20 amino acids in order to build that new muscle tissue so taking a supplement that contains nine amino acids versus just three is more likely to help you accomplish your goal.
Another point to keep in mind is that if you are someone who doesn’t often meet their daily protein needs through diet, then supplementing could be really helpful in this case.
Overall, both BCAAs and EAAs can have their uses and like anything you should evaluate your goals, speak with your doctor and determine what the best course will be for you in developing a plan to reach your goals.