Branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements have long been popular with bodybuilders but recent research points to something else that’s more effective, essential amino acids (EAAs). Learn what the difference is between BCAAs and EAAs, why EAAs are all you need, and which EAA supplement is best.
What’s the Difference Between BCAA and EAA?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Without them, your body cannot synthesize muscle. Among the 20 amino acids utilized by the human body, 9 are essential. You must get these 9 EAAs from your diet, because the body cannot synthesize them on its own. 3 of the 9 essential amino acids are called branched chain amino acids. BCAAs have a more complex molecular structure which include a side-chain.
The Problem with BCAAs
Branched chain amino acid supplements contain various ratios of the three essential BCAAs; leucine, isoleucine and valine. Back in the day, research on mice demonstrated that supplementation with these complex molecular structures improved muscle synthesis in rats. However, more recent research finds no evidence1 this effect is duplicated in humans. In fact, if you’re supplementing with BCAAs alone, you may be limiting your gains.
More of a good thing isn’t always better. While BCAAs are necessary for protein synthesis, they don’t work alone. Each is part of a network of amino acids which requires a precise balance for optimal function. Supplementing with just 3 of the necessary essential amino acids disrupts this balance and can actually decrease2 muscle protein synthesis.
One reason? BCAAs contain just 3 of the 9 essential amino acids needed for muscle synthesis, so they must grab the remaining ingredients from your body to complete their work. And where will the BCAAs get these 6 remaining essential amino acids? By breaking down your muscles. In fact, studies in humans show that longer-term BCAA supplementation can cause muscle breakdown to exceed muscle synthesis. This is certainly not the intended result of those who supplement.
The Benefits of EAAs
Supplementing with essential amino acids carries equal risk if the supplement isn’t specifically engineered to match the body’s EAA usage profile. But when delivered in the right amounts, EAAs far out-perform BCAAs as a muscle-building and performance-enhancing supplement.
Although there are 9 essential amino acids, only 8 are recommended as supplements for optimal health. While it’s possible to get these EAAs from diet alone, EAA supplements allow consumption of these valuable protein precursors without the added calories.
The 8 essential amino acids include the following:
- Leucine (Branched Chain)
- Isoleucine (Branched Chain)
- Valine (Branched Chain)
Three of the essential amino acids also happen to be BCAAs. But if you supplement with BCAAs alone, you’re missing out on the 6 additional EAAs that are needed for protein synthesis and muscle growth.
Why Should I Take EAAs vs BCAAs?
There’s little scientific evidence that BCAA supplements work as promised in humans. But research supports some very positive benefits of EAA supplementation, especially when administered in the perfect ratio for usage, known sometimes as the Master Amino Acid Pattern (MAP) or Perfect Human Ratio (PHP).
EAAs Promote Muscle Growth
Research demonstrates ingesting even a small amount (6 grams) of EAAs is enough to stimulate muscle synthesis3 after resistance exercise. What’s more, this effect is more potent when the 6-gram supplement is composed of EAAs alone.
This suggests there may be a dose-response relationship to EAAs. So if your EAA supplement contains extras like whey, carbs or additional amino acids as filler, these add-ons may simply be making your shake less effective.
EAAs Improve Performance
It’s long been theorized that BCAAs and EAAs can reduce fatigue and improve athletic performance. Using a technique that measures electrical activity in a firing bicep, a 2018 study4 on the efficacy of pre-workout EAA supplementation found those who supplemented with EAAs had better endurance and less muscular fatigue while performing bicep curls than those who didn’t.
EAAs Speed Recovery
When consumed in the ideal ratio for human use, EAA supplementation also promotes quicker recovery5 EAAs improve the clearance of lactate from blood and muscle, which lets you work out more intensely, and more consistently. This same study of the MAP protocol also confirmed earlier findings; that EAAs increase muscle mass, strength and endurance.
EAAs Can Help You Lose Weight
Remarkably, EAAs promote hypertrophy, but also help you lose weight. EAA supplements are an effective means of meeting minimum protein requirements6 without the added calories. When taken in the ideal ratio, EAAs have also been proven effective in minimizing the side-effects7 of weight loss such as stretch marks, sagging skin tissue, hair loss, and fragile or brittle nails. With EAA supplementation, cutting calories no longer requires you to cut protein.
EAAs Work For Everyone
While promoted heavily within bodybuilding culture, EAAs are just as effective for anyone seeking to improve or maintain their musculature. EAA supplementation is beneficial not only for pro athletes, but for adults with sarcopenia. In a randomized, controlled, double-blind study8 just 12 weeks of EAA supplementation was able to counterbalance more than one year of age-related decline in muscle mass and strength.
FAQs About BCAAs vs EAAs
With research clearly pointing to EAAs as the muscle-building supplement of choice, there shouldn’t be any question as to which supplement to take. Still, the top 3 frequently asked questions are answered below.
Should You Take BCAA and EAA Together?
No. One EAA supplement, delivered in the proper ratio, is all you need. Taking excess BCAAs or an unbalanced ratio of EAAs can be detrimental to your goals. The body uses EAAs to build protein and muscle in a specific ratio. Disrupt this ratio and you can do more harm than good.
When Should I Take BCAA vs EAA?
There’s no BCAA in the morning and EAA at night. It makes no sense to take one as a pre-workout and one as a post workout. The research is clear, only EAAs are effective at helping humans build muscle and lose weight. If you’re asking when to take your EAA supplement, we recommend right before bed because your body builds muscle overnight.
Does EAA Build Muscle?
EAA supplements are better for bodybuilding than BCAAs. Multiple human studies have shown EAAs are effective in promoting muscle synthesis, but only when taken orally in the ideal ratio for human use.
The Best EAA Supplement for 2023
The best EAA supplements are those that provide all 8 essential amino acids you need (and nothing else) in the exact ratio the human body uses to build muscle. The best of these offers this formula in a low-calorie package that’s easy to mix and digest. Only Fortagen, by Jaquish Biomedical, checks all these boxes.
Fortagen is a fermented protein product, which means the EAAs in Fortagen are easily digested within 30 minutes, and up to 99% of the protein is used by your body. Compare this to some whey powders which take up to 6 hours to digest, resulting in just 18% usability.
With just 4 sugar-free calories per serving, Fortagen is suitable for use during intermittent fasting, and won’t spike your insulin or leave you hungry.
Just 1 serving can replace up to 50 grams of dietary protein, making Fortagen an easy solution for anyone struggling to meet their protein needs.
The EAA benefits far outweigh the alleged benefits of BCAAs, all of which are questionable in humans. Fortagen guarantees you’ll get the most from your supplement choice by offering you the EAAs your body needs, in the exact ratio you need them, without any extras. Sometimes keeping it simple is the smartest choice.
Effects of 12 Weeks of Essential Amino Acids (EAA)-Based Multi-Ingredient Nutritional Supplementation on Muscle Mass, Muscle Strength, Muscle Power and Fatigue in Healthy Elderly Subjects: A Randomized Controlled Double-Blind Study ↩︎
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