Essential Amino Acids vs BCAAs: Which is Better?

Having become a secular unction for the modern world, protein and protein supplements have started to now spread their aura of health and fitness to commoners who just have the fetishization to eat ‘good.’ In this article, I compare the two hyped supplements: Essential Amino Acids vs BCAA (EAA vs BCAA).

EAAs vs BCAAs

As if some kind of universal elixir, every supplement aisle that you’ll look down, you will find innumerable labels screaming ‘Packed with Protein,’ ‘Loaded with EAAs’, and ‘Goodness of BCAAs’.

Well, wouldn’t it have been better if all the boxes just said Protein? That way it would have been painlessly easy for you to pick one up and bring it home.

This is where the trouble starts. As simple as it sounds, upping your protein game can be overwhelming, especially when you have so many names whirring in your head, the two major picks being Amino Acids and BCAAs. 

It’s surprising how scarce is the information available on the Internet to help you pick a side or just get to know what differentiates BCAA (Branch Chained Amino Acids) and EAA (Essential Amino Acids). And now that you’re reading this, you are in the right place.

Here’s what we’ll discuss further in the post:

As the title makes it abundantly clear, we shall be learning about the factors that set BCAAs apart from Amino Acids, the benefits of each, and which supplements you should be taking in order to meet your nutritional and fitness goals, and finally compare BCAA vs Amino Acids.

But before all that, isn’t BCAA an amino acid itself? What? Yes, and the question is, why do we say it’s different from the other amino acids? The answer lies in its structure that sets it apart, its properties included.

Before we bring it down to the ultimate battle, let’s understand what BCAAs and Amino Acids stand for.

What are Amino Acids or EAAs?

what is eaa

Anyone having paid enough attention in their Biology class knows that amino acids are the more comprehensive term that includes BCAAs as one of their own.  These building blocks of protein are organic compounds that consist of Nitrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen. 

Moving on from the geeky lecture, our body needs 20 different amino acids to stay in a stable and well-functioning status. This is why these organic compounds are divided into three segments:

  • Essential Amino Acids (EAAs): These are the amino acids that aren’t produced in the body itself. Thence these must be consumed from an outer source, ideally your diet. These include histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. 

The last three EAAs are what makeup BCAAs, but you do not need to scratch your head; we’ll discuss that in detail further. 

  • Non-Essential Amino Acids: There are 11 amino acids grouped under the ‘non-essential’ category. As the name suggests, these amino acids are produced by the body itself and therefore do not need to be supplemented from an outer source (1). 
  • Conditionally Essential Amino Acids: Amino acids under this segment are usually non-essential amino acids that couldn’t be produced by the body under certain conditions. For example, Arginine is initially a non-essential amino acid; however, under conditions such as Cancer, the body ceases to produce them.
    This translates to the fact that arginine now must be supplemented through diet or other sources to allow proper functioning of the body (2). 

Non-essential amino acids are usually termed ‘conditional’ under circumstances of illness or stress.

What are BCAAs?

whats bcaa

BCAAs or Branched-chain amino acids, aforementioned, are amino acids with a slightly different structure that makes all the difference for them.

Consisting of three EAAs, namely, Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, BCAAs make up about 35% of the body’s muscle protein

With a nonlinear or branched C-atom configuration, BCAAs help preserve muscle glycogen and therefore make you last longer during your workout sessions. 

Leucine, the star-player in BCAAs, stimulates MPS, which in turn activates the mTOR pathway, promoting muscle growth, apart from reducing blood sugar levels.

The other two amino acids may not have been studied as extensively as Leucine, but promote glucose consumption and stimulate the central nervous system while repairing tissues, respectively. 

EAAs vs BCAAs- What wins the battle?

This is where the tone finally picks the thrust. Although BCAA is an amino acid itself, it is considered a completely different league. Since both are equally important to consume in optimal amounts through diet, it becomes a rather debatable question when it comes to supplementing the body with protein. 

The difference between BCAA and EAA is that Essential Amino Acids or EAAs are the ‘electric current’ that make it happen, while BCAAs are the ‘control switch’ that decide the course of your fitness goals. BCAA or EAA alone can not drive buffing up or leaning out. 

However, the constantly whirring question that is which is more important for your training regime between EAAs or BCAAs, has its solution obscured in three main factors: 

  • The amount of each amino acid that you consume through diet, setting aside the supplementation.
  • Your fitness goals.
  • The benefits you’re seeking to reap from your protein.

BCAA Benefits

BCAA benefits

Synthesizing new muscle tissue to the highest degree possible may not be so easy when you are stocking up on a single protein source. This is where BCAAs come into the picture.

The craze of BCAA supplementation as a protein source that can help you magically build muscles (the irony of it) went down as quickly as it escalated (3).

However, the one thing that you can be sure of is the fact that they are truly utilitarian in building lean muscle mass and improving endurance. The quick-as-Flash absorption into the body upon ingestion helps BCAAs impart all the more benefits and be doubly efficacious in the following areas:

  • Improved Exercise Performance: If you are already slouching on a couch (well, that rhymed) in a corner after spending only thirty minutes in the gym, you do need a push. BCAAs give you a kick instead. Ingesting BCAA supplements narrow down the effects of intensive workouts while also improving endurance during training. 
  • Recovery from Muscle Damage and Soreness: If anything, BCAAs are most applauded for enhancing a quick recovery from muscle soreness. Lowering levels of enzymes that induce muscle damage post-workout, BCAAs provide protection against further muscle damage while providing a speedy recovery. 
  • Maintenance of Sugar Levels: Leucine and Isoleucine are researched to increase the secretion of insulin, which ultimately translates to a decrease in blood sugar levels. 

The first two amino acids in BCAAs have a boosted sugar take up from the blood, which results in the maintenance of sugar levels in the body.

  • Better Appetite: It is veritable that a high protein diet satiates appetite without demanding a bulky body from you. Since BCAAs can help maximize the MPS rates, they are a great solution to fighting suppressed appetite.
    Eating enough protein for your fitness goals is synonymous with utilizing it while you break your sweat in the gym. BCAAs, in this case, hit the satiety response only when you have had enough protein to help you build new muscle tissues.

Essential Amino Acids or EAA Benefits

EAA benefits

The other six essential amino acids are an indispensable need for the body as well. Although BCAAs have a broad scope of benefits that you can garner, the other six EAAs have an even exhaustive package of rewards. 

  • L-Methionine: This amino acid supports and helps to maintain a healthy liver function (4); it is involved in the production of cysteine, a sulfur containing molecule.
    Essential for the production of collagen, a compound that helps to improve the skin tone and makes the connective tissues strong and elastic, L-Methionine keeps the arteries clean of fatty substances.
    It also helps to bring natural shine and smoothness to your hair, with the help of keratin, which is manufactured when methionine is present in the body.

Hail hair care!

  • L-Phenylalanine: It helps in the production of amino acid and molecules like Tyrosine, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, and Dopamine, which helps to elevate mood, enhancing cognition and learning skills.
  • Lysine: Necessary for optimal growth, Lysine is crucial for the production of carnitine; it also indirectly helps maintain cholesterol levels. Lysine is also involved in the production of antibodies, hormones, and enzymes, which support and strengthen the immune system.
  • L-tryptophan: It is an essential amino acid that helps in the production of serotonin hormone; serotonin in the brain helps to regulate one’s mood, fight anxiety, improve sleep, and maintain the level of happiness.

Bottom line: This amino acid is your happy pill! (pun intended)

  • L-Threonine: It is beneficial in promoting normal growth by maintaining proper protein balance in the body, simultaneously supporting the immune system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, and liver.
    Threonine helps in the building of strong bones and tooth enamel while also supporting the immune system by aiding in the production of antibodies, which speed up healing and recovery rate.
  • L-Histidine: It helps in tissue repair, creation of blood cells, facilitation of growth, and maintenance of myelin sheath.
    Histidine is metabolized into histamine by our body, which is a crucial compound involved in local immune responses, reproductive health, helps in the proper functioning of the gut, and improves digestion. 

When to take EAA supplements? 

‘Are you a fitness maniac? High probability you need an EAA supplement’. 

This is NOT AT ALL TRUE! If you’re consuming enough healthy protein from your diet, you may not need to consume supplements as you may not short of the amino acid profile. 

However, if you don’t get enough protein from your meals, or you want to step up your game in a hulk-me-up way, EAA supplements are your go-to. Stimulating a strong anabolic response, EAAs can significantly increase your exercise resistance when compared to the average placebo drink. 

I would not repeat the fact that they can significantly improve muscle growth and stimulate lean muscle mass formation. 

Guess I already did.

Apart from this, EAA supplementation is a great mood-lifter. No, we are not talking about appreciating the fruits of your hard-labored hours in the gym. EAA supplements can truly improve mood and enhance better sleep. How? As I mentioned. Your happy pill – the Tryptophan. 

When to take BCAA supplements?

Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs is a term that is being tossed quite frequently by fitness enthusiasts these days.

With a growing demand for BCAA supplements and the fairly bad rap that it has been shrouded with, it becomes almost important to know if and when you should be loading up on these EAAs.

Chances are, if you are worried about not consuming enough BCAAs in your diet, you’re already consuming more than enough to satiate your body from a nutritional viewpoint. This means that what matters is BCAA supplementation to gain athletic rewards through it. 

If you’re looking to recover from post-workout muscle soreness and recover from the muscle-damage caused through strenuous exercising, BCAA supplements can be a great help by boosting nitrogen concentration in the muscles. 

Turbocharging your grueling training regime, BCAA supplements alleviate tiredness, so you can hop back into your game more efficaciously, with a fuelled-up body. 

Picking a side – EAA vs BCAA?

difference between bcaa and eaa

While you are in the gym, working out, amino acid supplementation is of gargantuan importance. BCAAs, on the other hand? Not so much. You get enough BCAAs from a healthy meal. 

When comparing EAA vs BCAA, EAA are important and should be prioritized, while BCAAs in the form of supplements should be optional since you could already be getting them from diet.

Supplementing BCAAs as an extra is your choice. It may benefit muscle growth and enhance rapid recovery from muscle pain and soreness; it can not work even half of its maximum potential if you lack in the complete amino acids’ department.

If it were subtle so far, here’s the answer: EAAs or just the comprehensive term ‘amino acid’ wins it by far. In simple terminology, BCAA and its supplements are a ‘decent’ option that works towards recovering your muscles from soreness while facilitating growth.

A complete amino acid profile, more specifically, the six EAAs, are greatly utilitarian and crucial to maximize the muscle-building potential and gain an athletic build. 

BCAAs don’t produce an impressive protein synthesis response when compared to EAAs, whose response is much extended. Although leucine is an important amino acid to increase muscle protein synthesis, it is only EAAs that sustain the response. 

Robert Wolfe, in his study, suggested that BCAAs are an incomplete source of protein that can have reversing effects on muscle growth if the body doesn’t have enough amino acids, especially EAAs. BCAAs, in the deficiency of EAAs, synchronize and synthesize amino acids from other parts of the body, thus deprecating the protein concentration in the body.

BCAAs catabolize existing EAAs.

Supplementing EAAs alone might take time to show results, but consumption of BCAAs in the absence of any EAA supplementation is equivalent to going to Destiny Child’s concert, only that Rihanna isn’t going to perform the song.

You don’t want that.

From a nutritional viewpoint, both BCAA and EAA stand to parallel importance. However, when it comes to an athletic standpoint, Amino Acids are more important than BCAAs to get the best out of the hard-spent hours working out. 

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