Have you heard of BCAAs and EEAs, but don’t know exactly what they are or mean for your health?

Are you considering supplementation both but don’t know which one to choose?

Let’s talk about these two types of essential amino acids so you can work out how to support your body and mind best and achieve your goals.

The amino acid basics

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins; of life. They are important for cellular structure, repairing tissues, manufacturing enzymes and hormones, and supporting immune function. And yes,  building muscle and producing energy too. They play a crucial role in health and fitness.

There are two types of amino acids: essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids — those we’ll talk about in this article — cannot be synthesized in the body. It is “essential” that you consume them in your diet. On the other hand, we can manufacture non-essential amino acids. That’s why they’re called “non-essential.”

There are (generally considered to be) 20 different types of amino acids. Nine of these are essential. The remaining 11 are non-essential. BCAAs — branched-chain amino acids — and EAAs — essential amino acids — fall into the essential category.

What are branched-chain amino acids?

BCAAs are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are called branched-chain due to their chemical structure; they branch like a tree.

This type of amino acid is vital for muscle protein synthesis and can help reduce muscle soreness after exercise.

They are commonly found in protein-rich foods like:

— red meat
— poultry
— fish
— eggs
— legumes
— nuts and seeds
— tofu, and tempeh

They’re also available as supplements.

What are essential amino acids?

EAAs include the three BCAAs plus six additional amino acids: histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan.

These amino acids are crucial for various functions, from tissue growth and function, including muscle, to neurotransmitter regulation, immune function, wound healing, transporting nutrients, and energy production.

Like BCAAs, EAAs are found in protein-rich foods and can be taken as supplements.

BCAAs vs. EAAs: Is one better than the other?

We’re commonly asked: which is better? But that’s like asking which car key is best. It depends on the vehicle you have!

Both branched-chain amino acids and the other essential amino acids play important and different roles.

BCAAs are primarily involved in muscle and fitness performance and recovery and reducing exercise fatigue, while EAAs contribute to a wider range of bodily functions.

The benefits of BCAAs

BCAAs provide some wonderful benefits. Especially in creating a strong, beautiful aesthetic: enhanced muscle growth and recovery and reduced exercise fatigue included.

Enhanced muscle growth and recovery

BCAAs, leucine, in particular, increase protein synthesis. Yes, including muscle growth. Leucine boosts energy metabolism, including glucose uptake and fatty acid oxidation, to provide the energy required to build protein. At the same time, hindering the breakdown of protein.

It’s unsurprising, then, that supplemental BCAAs may ease muscle pain. A study published in the journal Nutrients investigated the impact of branched-chain amino acids compared to a placebo in a group of 20 males. The participants consumed either the supplement or a placebo before and after performing eccentric exercises. The results showed that when compared to placebo, those who took the supplement reported less soreness at both 48 and 72 hours following exercise.

Another study found that in female participants, supplemental BCAAs significantly decreased delayed-onset muscle soreness 24 hours after exercise.

Reduced exercise fatigue

When you’re pushing yourself to the max, doesn’t your brain sometimes go offline?

Do you ever feel like your cognitive function isn’t up to par?

This is not uncommon. Fatiguing exercise can do that. But BCAAs can help.

A study published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that when people were given BCAAs during cycle ergometer exercise, they experienced decreased ratings of perceived exertion and mental fatigue. In essence, the exercise felt both less hard and less psychologically tiring.

But this wasn’t just a feeling…

Tests showed that following a competitive 30-km cross-country race, those who took a supplement experienced improved cognitive performance.

The authors of this study also noted that “In some situations, the intake of BCAAs also improves physical performance.”

The benefits of EAAs

Essential amino acids provide many benefits. As EAAs include branched-chain amino acids and more, they’re considered to have a broader reach — the above muscle, fitness, and exercise benefits and beyond. 6Let’s take a look at three benefits…

A happier, less anxious mood

Tryptophan — one of the EAAs — is a precursor to what’s been dubbed the “happy hormone,” serotonin. With this in mind, the authors of a systematic review published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements investigated the potential mood effects of this amino acid.

The results? Tryptophan “may be an effective approach to decrease anxiety and increase positive mood in healthy individuals.”

They also provided guidance on the best daily intake: between 0.14 - 3 grams daily in addition to the diet.

Our well-loved 100% WPI (Whey Protein Isolate) supplement contains a hearty 0.4 grams per serving. Our Vegan Complete Pro supplement includes 0.23 grams per serving.

A healthier gut

Gut issues are common. If you don’t have what natural healers call a leaky gut (medically referred to as an increased intestinal permeability), you’ll know someone who does. Likely many people, in fact.

While simplistic, you can think of increased intestinal permeability as the gut acting like a strainer rather than a funnel. The “holes” let harmful material that should pass through the gut and exit the body enter instead. This can cause intestinal inflammation and health problems.

This is where the EAA, threonine, can step in.

Protection of the digestive barrier and the maintenance of intestinal integrity— and so the prevention of a leaky gut — relies on the essential role played by this nutrient. Low threonine levels may spell gut trouble.

Yet, research suggests that dietary threonine supplementation improves intestinal structure.

You’ll find 5.39 grams per serving of threonine in our popular Whey Iso Pro supplement, 1.9 grams per serving in 100% WPI, and 0.662 grams in every scoop of our Vegan Complete Pro.

Speedier bone healing

The incredible human body is filled with protein. Amongst other functions, this macronutrient provides structure and strength. Bones depend on it. So much so that protein makes up around half of a bone’s volume.

Yet, sometimes bones snap. As you know, if you’ve ever suffered from a fracture.

Fractures, like other wounds, require healing. A complex, energy-expensive process. One that takes lots of nutrients. The EAA, lysine, included.

Animal research has found that supplementing with lysine, in conjunction with arginine, promotes better bone healing in the first weeks. In short, bone cells and blood vessels build back faster.

Choosing the right supplement for you

Choosing between BCAAs and EAAs depends on your health and fitness goals and whether you’re seeking well-being or looking to improve a specific condition.

If your primary goal is to enhance muscle growth and recovery and reduce exercise fatigue, BCAAs might be sufficient. However, if you want to ensure you receive the broad range of essential amino acids — including the BCAAs — an EEA supplement is the way to go.

Our 100% WPI (100% Whey Protein Isolate) and Vegan Complete Pro animo acids products provide the entire spectrum of EEAs. They provide effective nutrients, and they taste great!

As Sarah H. said about our Vegan Complete Pro, “This protein is delicious! I love how it refuels me after a great workout! It tastes like dessert, so I actually look forward to it.”