Branched Chain Amino Acids Vs. Essential Amino Acids (Which Is Better?)

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Essential amino acids consist of 9 amino acids, while branched amino acids consist of 3. BCAA may provide impressive results regarding muscle growth and physical performance. EAA is vital for functions throughout the body, including protein synthesis, tissue repair, and nutrient absorption. There are many pros and cons when it comes to them both, but choosing one depends on your diet and if you work out daily. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, EAAs are a better choice, or else you can consider taking a BCAA supplement too.  

Those who work out regularly know the role amino acids play in helping them build muscles, decrease muscle soreness, and reduce fatigue. Many people around you must take BCAAs for their list of benefits. But although BCAAs do a fantastic job on their own taking EAAs is more promoted now.

There has been a bit of debate on this where some people prefer taking BCCAs and others push for EAAs, and while both of them provide amino acids to our body which one would be the best choice for you? Let’s take a look!

Importance of amino acids 

A young woman has some water with EAAs in it during a walk on the treadmill

Before jumping in to analyze the pros and cons of BCAAs and EAAs, let’s take a quick look at the importance of amino acids. 

Amino acids are compounds that combine to make proteins, and it’s needed by our body to build muscles, cause a chemical reaction in the body, transport nutrients, prevent illness, and carry out other functions. 

There’re 20 different amino acids needed to maintain good health and normal functioning. Out of 20, a healthy body can manufacture the other 11 amino acids, and the remaining 9 are what we need through supplements and are classified as essential. 

Though our body can make nonessential amino acids, it can’t make the essential ones.

We either need to consume food rich in those particular amino acids or take supplements for them, consisting of BCAAs and EAAs supplements.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

Branched-chain amino acids are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Only these three are grouped together because they’re the only three amino acids with a chain that branches off to one side. 

Benefits of BCAAs

  1. BCAAs are broken down in the muscle rather than the liver. Due to this reason, they are thought to play a role in energy production during exercise. 
  2. They are used as building blocks for protein and muscle by our body.
  3. They regulate blood sugar levels by preserving liver and muscle sugar stores and stimulating the cells to take in sugar from our bloodstream. 
  4. BCAAs can help prevent muscle wasting or breakdown. The balance between muscle protein breakdown and synthesis determines the amount of protein in muscle. Muscle wasting occurs when protein breakdown exceeds muscle protein synthesis.
  5. It helps reduce the fatigue one feels after or during a workout session by reducing the production of serotonin in your brain.
  6. Some studies show that BCAA supplements may be effective at increasing muscle mass, especially if they contain a higher proportion of leucine than isoleucine and valine. 
  7. BCAA supplements may also reduce fatigue and improve weakness, sleep quality, and muscle cramps in individuals with liver disease. 
  8. Leucine amino acid is supposed to have the most significant impact on your body’s capacity to build muscle proteins.
  9. Isoleucine and valine amino acids are more effective at producing energy and regulating your blood sugar levels.

Disadvantages of BCAA

  1. There are some side effects involved in taking BCAA supplements when taken up to 6 months, including nausea, pain, and headache. 
  2. BCAAs might also interfere with blood glucose levels during and after surgery.
  3. It’s also risky if you have chronic alcoholism or branched-chain ketoaciduria.
  4. You should avoid using BCAAs if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
  5. They can interact with other drugs, including diabetes, Parkinson’s, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, and proglycem.
  6. Since it reduces the serotonin level to reduce the longer fatigue symptom, this might also hamper your sleep cycle. 

Essential amino acids (EAAs)

Out of the 20 different amino acids required by our body to grow and function properly, those 9 amino acids that aren’t produced by our body are classified as essential amino acids.

These consist of histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine, isoleucine, leucine, and valine. 

If you take notice, the last three essential amino acids that are isoleucine, leucine, and valine, are known as branched-chain amino acids. So, it’s like all BCAAs are EAAs. 

EAAs are mostly known for their role played in muscle development and repair, but they have more roles to play, and a deficiency of these amino acids can negatively impact our nervous, reproduction, immune, and digestive systems. 

Benefits of EAAs

  1. It can effectively improve your mood by increasing your serotonin level regulating your sleep, mood, and behavior. Tryptophan is necessary for the production of serotonin and reducing symptoms of depression. Taking 0.14-3 grams per day can decrease anxiety and increase positive mood. 
  2. It’s helpful for people who are healing after surgery. Several studies on different patients recovering from different surgeries show that conditionally essential amino acids resulted in lower death rates and medical complications. 
  3. It increases muscle protein synthesis by containing all the necessary amino acids required for increasing muscle protein synthesis.
  4. It also helps provide better immunity support due to the presence of an amino acid called histidine that produces histamine.
  5. It also helps provide hormonal balance to the body as it contains amino acids like leucine and lysine that help keep the endocrine system. 

Disadvantage of EAA

It might be harmful to the digestive system of children, so the dosage should be considered under the guidance of doctors.

Difference between BCAA and EAA

BCAA vs. EAA

If both have essential amino acids, then what’s all the fuss about?

One thing is clear that the three amino acids comprised in BCAA are a part of the 9 amino acids that comprise EAA. When you put it like that, you think the answer is pretty straightforward, and EAA supplements should be prioritized over BCAA.

While that might be true, there’s a reason EAA hasn’t been popular even though it comprises all essential amino acids. They have been less common in the past because essential amino acids have been hard to work with due to the inability to bind with water and bitter taste.

On the other hand, BCAA consisting of three essential amino acids, is more focused because of its branched nature, allowing the amino acids to be broken down in muscle tissue instead of the liver. They are unique because they bypass the liver and can go directly to muscles and be oxidized for energy.

This rapid absorption rate of BCAAs has become so popular amongst people who love to work out. But EAA is a complete version consisting of all the nine essential amino acids. 

Many studies suggest that the effects of BCAAs are limited and that using EAAs supplements may produce more impactful results. Your body needs nine essential amino acids to work to its full potential. 

By taking BCAAs, you’re only getting three of them, and if the rest aren’t achieved from a healthy diet, rest are pulled from elsewhere, or the synthetic protein process will stop. By taking EAAs, you get the whole package and get a better protein synthesis response that lasts longer. 

BCAA & EAA comparison table

ParametersBCAAEAA
Molecular structureThey have aliphatic side chains and a central carbon atom bound to a tree or even more carbon atoms.The molecular structure of EAAs constitutes essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids.
Protein synthetic responseBCAAs consist of three amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine.EAAs consist of nine amino acids, including those of BCAA.
Energy levelsBCAAs help fight muscle fatigue and promote endurance and strength during intense training. EAAs aren’t as helpful as BCAAs in fighting muscle fatigue or promoting endurance and strength during highly intense training periods. 
Immunity supportBCAAs don’t provide as good immunity support as EAAs due to the non-availability of histamine, an amnio acid useful for immunity support.EAAs have a component of histidine that produces histamine, which is an essential component for improving immunity support.


FAQs

Can you take both BCAA and EAA?

Intake of BCAA can reduce whole-body protein breakdown, which is essential when you’re trying to preserve lean muscle tissue. BCAA can also help decrease body fat percentage, and EAA effectively preserves and improves lean body mass by encouraging muscle strength. 

To get the greatest response from amino acids, you can strategically implement both BCAA and EAA in your diet to improve your overall health. 

Should I take EAAs on rest days?

Amino acids taken on rest days can promote recovery by encouraging the body to create new muscle tissue, take more glucose into the muscles in the form of glycogen, and guard muscle cells against the catabolic agents that tend to accumulate after intense stress is placed on the body. 

Taking amino acids between meals helps ensure a consistent flow of nutrients to damaged tissues throughout the day. The most effective thing is to have a well-balanced diet. 

Can EAA replace protein?

Amino acids can replace protein.

Even though they’re building blocks of protein, no evidence consuming free EAAs helps build muscles better in a healthy individual than consuming a complete or high-quality source of protein that has all the essential amino acids.

You should still try to have a well-balanced meal to receive all amino acids from food and then make it up with supplements. 

To summarise 

To conclude this debate, we can see there pros and cons of both BCAAs and EAAs.

Choosing between them depends entirely on you after carefully considering all the facts. The best thing is to have a healthy diet and receive your amino acids from it, but it becomes difficult for vegetarians and vegans to do so. 

But the scale seems to be tipping in favor of EAAs as BCAAs are not an ideal choice compared with EAAs, but it’s not a worthless choice either. EAAs supplements seem to be a better choice as they serve as a whole package. 

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Saumya Malik is an ardent follower of everything good for the health and wellness of body and mind. She's passionate about providing effective solutions to general health and mental well-being issues and wants to help people achieve the same. When not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book in a corner or cooking as a form of good mental therapy.
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