If you’ve ever spent time looking at information on supplements and nutrition, you’ve probably come across the BCAA and EAA abbreviations.
And, with the amount of praise they receive, you’ve probably asked yourself things like:
“What are these, and are they worth taking?”
So, because there are so many contradicting opinions, we are here to shed some light on the topic today and give you some actionable advice.
What Are BCAAs and EAAs?
Let’s begin with BCAAs – branched-chain amino acids. This is a group of three essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine.
Leucine is the one that is best supported by research. Studies have shown that it stimulates protein synthesis, facilitates growth and development, and aids in the production of growth hormone.
Next, we have isoleucine – an isomer of leucine (having the same formula, but with a different arrangement). This amino acid seems to play an essential role in blood glucose regulation, and it helps prevent muscle protein breakdown.
Finally, of the trio, we also have valine – the least impressive amino acid. The amino acid plays a role in energy production, glucose supply to our muscles, and it helps prevent muscle protein breakdown.
Next up, we have EAAs – the nine essential amino acids. EAA supplements contain leucine, isoleucine, and valine, but they also offer the remaining six amino acids – histidine, lysine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine.
Together, this makes the list of the nine essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce, and we must get them through food.
What Are Essential And Branched-Chain Amino Acids Used For?
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding BCAAs and EAAs in recent years. If you look at some of the supposed benefits, you’re likely to come across claims such as:
- Build more muscle and strength
- Improve your athleticism
- Recover faster
- Perform longer before feeling exhausted
- Improve your immune system function
Sadly, an old saying applies quite well here:
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The benefits sound great, and it would be fantastic if they were real. But, studies don’t show such benefits of supplementing with amino acid products.
In some studies, we’ve seen a beneficial effect of taking branched-chain amino acids. But most people forget to mention the insignificant fact that subjects in such studies often eat very little protein – as little as 70 to 80 grams per day.
When folks follow a high-protein diet, taking BCAAs on top of that doesn’t seem to do anything.
But, what most people neglect to mention when citing these studies is that following a protein-rich diet renders BCAA and EAA supplements useless.
When Are They Beneficial?
If you’ve read everything so far and thought, “Boy, they went after these supplements.” you’re right, to an extent. For most people under most circumstances, these supplements won’t deliver any benefit.
With that said, BCAA and EAA supplementation can be beneficial under some circumstances.
For example, if you prefer to train in a fasted state (when your insulin levels are at baseline) and have a protein-rich meal some time after the workout, then having some amino acids can be beneficial.
This is because fasted training appears to accelerate muscle protein breakdown, and by having some amino acids in your blood (leucine, in particular), you can slow down that process until you get to have a protein-rich meal.
For example, you can get up in the morning, get yourself ready, ingest about ten grams of BCAAs, hit the gym, and then have a protein-rich meal within about two hours post-training.