Author: Morgan Jones • Fact checked by: Gainful Registered Dietitians • April 6, 2022
With so many nutritional supplements on the market that promise to help you gain muscle, build strength, and improve your athletic performance, it can be confusing to sort through all of your options and understand which one will serve you best.
While your body can produce some of the compounds it needs to build muscle on its own, others must be obtained from your diet.
Protein powders and other fitness-focused supplements often include EAA or BCAA, but what really are these ingredients, and which is best for you?
If you’re looking to add a protein supplement to your daily routine, it’s easy to become confused about amino acids if you’ve never heard the term before.
Amino acids are compounds that perform many important functions in the body, including synthesizing neurotransmitters and hormones, creating proteins, breaking down food, repairing body tissue, and acting as a source of energy.
Amino acids are commonly referred to as the building blocks of life. The human body needs a total of 20 different amino acids in order to carry out all of its functions.
There are three primary types of amino acids: essential amino acids, nonessential amino acids, and conditionally essential amino acids.
Nine of the 20 different amino acids that your body needs to function are considered essential amino acids (EAAs). That’s because your body cannot manufacture them on its own, meaning that they must be obtained through your diet.
Without these EAAs, your body is unable to function properly. The nine EAAs include histidine, leucine, methionine, threonine, valine, isoleucine, lysine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan.
The body naturally produces nonessential amino acids. As a result, you don’t need to take in these amino acids through your diet; under normal circumstances, your body makes enough on its own.
Nonessential amino acids include:
In some situations, nonessential amino acids can become conditionally essential.
Conditionally essential amino acids are those that your body needs to obtain from your diet only in certain situations, such as serious illnesses.
The human body naturally produces enough conditionally essential amino acids to meet its needs under normal circumstances; however, when faced with stress or illness, your body cannot produce enough to keep up with its own needs.
In these instances, you may need to supplement the amino acids you are lacking.
Conditionally essential amino acids can include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are a subset of EAAs. Thus, all BCAAs are EAAs, but not all EAAs are BCAAs. The term “branched chain” refers to the structure of the molecules that make up BCAAs. Three of the nine EAAs are considered BCAAs, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Your body uses leucine in order to produce more protein and repair your muscles after a tough workout. It is also needed to synthesize growth hormones, maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and help your body heal from injuries. Leucine is commonly found in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and milk.
Isoleucine is a BCAA that is stored in the muscle tissue. Your body uses isoleucine to synthesize new muscle tissue, maintain healthy energy levels, support immune function, and produce hemoglobin.
Valine is used by the body to support healthy energy levels, promote muscle repair and recovery, and stimulate muscle growth. Valine is most commonly found in foods like meat, soy, fish, and dairy.
As noted above, BCAAs are also categorized as EAAs.
When it comes to using EAAs or BCAAs as nutritional supplements, there are some important differences between the two.
Your body relies on the nine different EAA to perform a range of functions. EAAs are instrumental in functions like regulations of the digestive system, supporting healthy energy levels, supporting a healthy mood, promoting muscle growth, helping to repair damaged muscle tissue and other tissues, and helping to grow strong hair, nails, and skin.
In other words, EAAs are critical for a variety of processes throughout the body.
BCAAs are a smaller subsection of EAAs, consisting of just three amino acids. These amino acids also perform essential functions, but they primarily impact functions that support athletic performance.
Your body uses BCAAs as fuel during your workout and for a variety of tasks afterward, including reducing feelings of fatigue after a workout, preventing muscle breakdown or waste, reducing muscle soreness, promoting muscle growth, and helping you recover more quickly overall.
These amino acids are quickly digested and head straight to your muscles, so they are commonly ingested right before a workout as a quick source of energy for your muscles while you exercise.
Because of their important functions for athletic performance, BCAAs are commonly represented as a must-have for people who want to increase their strength, boost their lean muscle mass, or improve their performance.
Some go as far as to suggest that BCAAs are critical for anyone who works out regularly regardless of their goals, but the reality is more complex.
Gainful Personalized Protein and Pre-Workout includes BCAAs to aid muscle strength and recovery. Personalized Protein pairs BCAAs with organic pea protein, brown rice protein, or whey protein, green tea extract for metabolism support, and tapioca dextrose to help drive recovery.
Gainful Personalized Pre-Workout includes BCAAs, l-theanine for focus, creatine for strength and endurance, and beta alanine for workout intensity. This formula is personalized based on your desired endurance and recovery time so you can make the most of your workouts.
Both formulas are personalized depending on your dietary restrictions, activity type, and fitness goals.
If your goal is to improve your athletic performance, it may seem obvious that BCAAs would be better for you than EAAs, but not so fast.
As noted, BCAAs are critical for functions like building muscle, recovering quickly, and improving performance, but they don’t act alone. BCAAs also interact with other EAAs to maintain the protein synthesis response over time. If you take BCAAs alone, you could be missing out on a key component that leaves your muscles without the fuel they need, and it may affect your overall health.
BCAAs are catabolic, meaning they draw amino acids from other places in the body into the muscles. Without a sufficient supply of EAAs, your body may not have the amino acids it needs to carry out its other functions, contributing to an overall decline in your health and performance.
Are EAAs enough on their own? Numerous studies have been done on the topic, with some suggesting that a combination of BCAAs and EAAs is the most advantageous for achieving your fitness goals.
Combining BCAAs and EAAs may have other benefits as well, such as boosting your energy levels and supporting a healthy mood. For the majority of people, consuming both BCAAs and EAAs is essential to maintain good health and improve your athletic performance.
You may have heard that the timing of your protein supplement is important in order to maximize its effectiveness.
It should be noted that while there is never a bad time to take a protein supplement containing BCAAs and EAs, your body may benefit more from taking the supplement at certain times of day if your goal is to boost athletic performance.
BCAAs can act as short-term fuel for your muscles during a workout because they are digested quickly and head straight to the muscles. They’re also an important factor in recovering quickly and helping build new muscle.
Therefore, it’s recommended that you take EAAs or BCAAs either during an intense workout, immediately before the workout, or immediately after a workout. Doing so may help reduce muscle soreness and boost your anabolic rate, allowing your muscles to grow more quickly.
There’s no such thing as a bad time to take EAAs or BCAAs. Your body can use amino acids any time of day, but better performance is supported by consuming amino acids during or right after a tough workout.
EAAs and BCAAs both serve essential functions in the body. EAAs perform a wide range of tasks, including synthesizing neurotransmitters and hormones, creating proteins, breaking down food, repairing body tissue, and acting as an energy source.
BCAAs are critical for functions like building muscle, recovering quickly, and improving performance, but they need support from EAAs to carry out these functions.
As a result, it may be advantageous for those looking to improve their athletic performance to focus on obtaining both EAAs and BCAAs in their nutritional supplements to maximize their benefits and gain muscle more quickly.
Gainful takes a science-backed, expert-led approach to our products so that you can rest assured your supplements will bring you real results. With personalized performance products that consider your activity level, sweat level, and dietary preferences, Gainful can help you reach your goals.
Amino acids | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness | National Library of Medicine
Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? | National Library of Medicine
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