After years in the spotlight, almost overnight, the consensus has gone from 'BCAAs are essential for muscle retention and recovery' to 'don't waste your money, EAAs are the way to go'. We're here to give the facts on both supplements and debunk some of the myths causing confusion in the fitness industry right now, so that you can make the best choices for reaching your goals.
EAAs vs BCAAs
Of the 20 total amino acids required by the body, 9 of these are essential. Which is to say, our body cannot synthesise them. Therefore, we must get them from food and/or supplementation. These are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Included in here are the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine. This is an important point to understand: BCAAs are a component of any EAA formula.
Traditionally, the 3 branched chain amino acids were considered the most relevant to athletes, so formed a supplement of their own. Here are some of their roles:
- Valine is oxidised in muscle tissue, making it important for muscle growth and repair.
- Leucine is also important in muscle tissue in addition to playing a part in blood sugar control and the synthesis of growth hormone.
- Isoleucine helps with energy, recovery, immune function and haemoglobin production. It is also found in abundance in the muscle tissue.
The research on BCAAs which led to many of the claims surrounding them was carried out in rats in 2006. New human research is pointing to a balanced profile of amino acids being most beneficial for protein synthesis (i.e., the building of new muscle). This is mainly because each amino acid does not work independently. All are required in order to carry out their roles, including protein synthesis. Any supplement which disrupts the balance of their levels, including BCAAs, may actually disrupt this process.
Strengths of BCAAs:
- Can be picked up easily from any supplement store
- Very specific applications to athletes
Strengths of EAAs:
- Prevent a catabolic state (useful if training fasted)
- Assist in building muscle mass
- Supports BCAAs in their specific roles
We would advise that EAAs are the superior choice here for the serious athlete looking to maximise their muscle building potential. EAAs will give you ‘more bang for your buck’ for around the same price. Of course, you should ensure that all other variables are perfected first. These include:
Adequate protein intake from quality sources (meat, fish, eggs)
Progressive overload and consistency in the gym
We would suggest investing in a well dosed essential amino acid powder. To maximise delivery to the muscles during and after an intense workout, we would suggest stacking with cyclic dextrin in a jug to sip on while you train. Read more on supplementation around your sessions here.