BCAA Vs. EAA (Essential Amino Acids): Pick a Side…


Have you heard about branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs?

Well, these are also essential amino acids (EAAs) that might be included in the powder formula you consume.

Take note that 35% of the essential amino acids are considered BCAAs.

But, what makes them different from the EAAs?

In this article, you will be able to learn about the differences between BCAA and EAA and which of these is more suitable for you.

Essential Amino Acids or BCAAs? – Let The Battle Begin…

What Are the Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)?

Short-term for essential amino acids, EAAs are important for maintaining the normal functions of the human body.

There are 9 essential amino acids and these include the following:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan 
  • Valine

Compared to non-essential amino acids, EAAs are proteins that cannot be produced by the body. 

Thus, for you to fill your body with these essential amino acids, you have to consume foods rich in EAAs (plant-based proteins) or complete protein products. 

What Are the Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)?

Branched-chain amino acids, BCAAS, are also included in the 9 essential AAs.

Furthermore, from these 9, three amino acids that contain branches, namely:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine

Being essential nutrients, branched-chain AAs inhibit muscle protein breakdown.

Instead, they use these proteins as sources of energy for the body, especially during vigorous exercise.

EAA Vs. BCAA Comparison

Although Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are considered essential nutrients, they still have some similarities and differences compared to the EAAs.

To understand more, read the following sections.

The Similarities

Both EAA and BCAA are organic compounds and are widely known as intra workout supplements. However, there are quite many similarities between EAAs and BCAAs. Some of these include the following:

1) Building blocks of proteins

According to medical doctors from Japan, all essential amino acids are considered building blocks of proteins.

Therefore, even Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are also protein components.

2) Not synthesized by the body

Both EAAs and BCAAs are not synthesized endogenously by the human body.

Thus, the benefits of these essential and branched-chain AAs such as increased lean muscle mass and muscle growth can be acquired through diet (animal protein) or consumption of amino acid supplements.

3) Improves sleep

According to a study published in the Journal of American Lifestyle and Medicine, essential amino acids and branched-chain AAs are effective sleep enhancers.

In this study, it was reported that the quality of sleep of patients with heart failure can be increased when these essential nutrients are consumed together with melatonin.

In another study published by medical doctors from Italy, it was reported that essential AA supplementation may improve the quality of sleep of patients with a medical health condition called COPD.

Take note that this health condition may disrupt sleeping patterns. 

Thus, trying whey protein bars from different supplement companies that contain these essential AAs would help in improving insomnia.

4) Enhances mood

In one report published in Clinical Nutrition, it was stated that essential amino acids, including branched-chain AAs, can help in improving the mood of the patients.

In this study where the participants are the institutionalized elderly, it was found out that an oral EAA supplement or BCAA supplement can reduce depressive symptoms of the patients, leading to an improved quality of life.

5) Increases athletic performance

As cited in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, essential nutrients including BCAAs can improve athletic performance.

However, there is a certain condition to achieve this ability.

In the same study, it was reported that additional nutrients are needed and the protein requirements of active individuals vary.

For endurance athletes, 1.2–1.4 g protein/kg body is needed.

On the other hand, for athletes who do resistance exercise or training, 1.6–1.7 g protein/kg body is needed.

You can consider a whey protein shake or beverage as your replacement meal in case actual protein whole foods are not your type.

6) Prevents muscle loss

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, not just the BCAAs are effective methods of preventing sarcopenia.

Instead, EAA supplements could help too.

Since this sarcopenia (muscle tissue loss) is associated with aging, filling your body with these essential nutrients, especially leucine, can combat this age-related muscle breakdown.

Additionally, when you age, your muscle myofibrillar protein synthesis declines, causing increased protein turnover.

However, as you undergo amino acid supplementation, you help your body stimulate muscle protein synthesis, no matter how old you are, or how old your muscles are.

7) Promotes weight loss

Consuming a well-balanced amino acid diet through protein sources can help in building lean muscle tissue mass and enhancing healthy muscle growth.

But, did you know that those essential nutrients can also help in promoting body weight loss?

According to a study, essential nutrients, especially branched-chain AAs, are effective weight loss supplements.

The higher branched-amino acid is, the higher chance it is for patients to experience weight loss.

In this study, it was reported that the more essential amino acids consumed, the lower the prevalence rate of being overweight or obese.

The Differences Between EAAs and BCAAs

Now, let us move on to the differences between EAA and BCAA. 

These differences will focus on the chemical structure of these two groups and how can this structure distinguish them from one another.

1) Chemical structure

The first thing to know is the structure of the essential amino acids.

All essential amino acids contain an amino group.

However, in terms of the BCAAs, they contain an additional aliphatic side-chain with a branch.

These branches are mainly responsible for the unique functions of BCAAs compared with the other 6 essential amino acids.

2) Anabolic property

According to a study, the 6 essential AAs are not anabolic.

This means that the branched-chain AAs are the only ones that can build muscle mass and boost muscle protein synthesis, leading to healthy muscle gain.

However, in the same study, it was also reported that EAAs can still help in stimulating muscle protein synthesis as long as a proper suboptimal protein dose of whey protein powder or supplement is consumed.

To know your daily protein intake, you can consider using calorie counter apps.

Although they focus on calorie intake, they also provide protein intake monitoring.

3) Pure Quantity

Another difference between EAAs and BCAAs is their pureness.

A BCAA supplement contains a higher purity of amino acids compared to an EAA supplement.

This means that A BCAA supplement provides a purer amino acid supplementation compared to EAA.

Therefore, for athletes, BCAA supplements are more effective for building muscle mass.

4) Onset of action

In terms of their onset of action, the branched-chain amino acids are fast-acting compared to the essential amino acids.

According to a study published in the Frontiers in Physiology, this onset of action is based on the fact that BCAA is metabolized by the skeletal muscle.

This means that they are not metabolized by the liver, unlike the essential amino acids, thus, they can enter the bloodstream in a short time frame.

5) Energy enhancement

BCAAs can enhance the energy of a person while EAAs cannot.

In this study, it was also reported that persons with energy deficiency may experience muscle mass loss.

Thus, patients who want to prevent muscle mass loss and increase energy may consider BCAA supplements.

6) Immune function and support

According to a study published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, aside from stimulating protein synthesis response (protein synthetic response), EAA supplementation can promote a balanced immune response while BCAA supplements cannot.

This is because of the histidine amino acid.

Histidine can produce histamine which is vital for immunity support.

In this study, it was also reported that the systemic inflammation and infection of a patient can be reduced with the help of all the amino acids.

Drawbacks of BCAAs Vs. EAAs

Just like the other medications, BCAAs and EAAs come with disadvantages.

In this section, the downsides of BCAAs and EAAs will be provided.

BCAA Disadvantages

  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Cannot be used by pregnant and lactating women
  • Not for patients with Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD)

EAA Disadvantages

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances and digestive system harm especially in young children when taken on an empty stomach
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Cannot decrease muscle soreness or fatigue

The Takeaway: Which is Better

Indeed, both EAA supplements and BCAA supplements have their pros and cons.

So, knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the EAA and BCAA, it is about time to finally decide which of these two are better for you.

If you are an active athlete and you regularly exercise, branched-chain AAs are better for you.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a supplement that can support your overall health especially when you have pre-existing health conditions, EAA supplements can be considered.

Lastly, if you do not want to consume actual food as your protein source, you can consider drinking protein shakes which are more convenient to use.