EAA’s vs BCAA’s - what should you take?
The most commonly asked supplement question of 2020: what is the difference between EAA’s and BCAA’s?
The answer is not what most expect when they find out that BCAA’s actually are in fact EAA’s.
Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s for short) are the 9 amino acids that the human body can not produce or synthesize on its own. They must be taken in from your diet. There are also conditionally essential amino acids, which are able to be made in sufficient quantities most of the time with exceptions, such as extreme catabolic distress, and non essential amino acids, which your body can make.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (or BCAA’s) are actually 3 of the 9 essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They (namely leucine) are the amino acids most responsible for triggering protein synthesis which is the main mechanism of action behind a lot of the recovery benefits of BCAA supplementation. When you take a BCAA, you get those 3 specific EAA’s. When you take an EAA, it’s usually implied that you are getting all 9 of them.
In most cases, it is likely that a leucine dominant BCAA product is adequate for achieving the recovery goals we are looking for IF it is followed up by a complete protein source with the rest of the EAA’s in it. Think of the BCAA’s as the gas pedal in your car. You press it to ignite protein synthesis, but you need the fuel to do anything. The fuel is the rest of the EAA’s. If you don’t have sufficient quantities of the other EAA’s present from a past protein meal or one shortly after your BCAA’s, you don’t get the full benefits of taking your amino acid supplement.
When you take an essential amino acid product, you don’t have to worry about shortcomings in your dietary protein intake around the consumption of your BCAA, because you are getting all the amino’s you need in that one product. I like to think of it as a safety net to ensure you’re maximizing the effectiveness of your Leucine intake. It can’t hurt to have those extras 6 EAA’s beyond the BCAA’s, and in many cases might help.
The rare exception I’d make a case for BCAA’s over EAA’s is if someone is extremely picky on taste. It seems BCAA’s are easier to flavour and most brands do a better job on their BCAA product, and compliance is key when talking supplements. If the taste will make you actually stick to it, then take your BCAA and just make sure to get enough protein in as well.
To sum up, for the most part both will work great. EAA’s provide a little safety net to ensure you are getting the full benefit of your supplementation, but also may not taste as good. Both will work, the results are in making sure you use them properly and combine them with a proper diet and exercise program. The supplements only work as hard as you do :)
Let us know your thoughts! Are you an EAA or BCAA person? What’s your favourite one you’ve tried?