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EAA vs BCAA: What You Need to Know

Posted on September 20, 2018

EAA vs BCAA: What You Need to KnowDividerimage


What are BCAAs and EAAs?

EAA is short for essential amino acid, while BCAA means branched chain amino acid. There are nine EAAs in total, three of which are also called BCAAs (underlined).


The essential amino acids are:

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


Essential Amino Acids, which include the three BCAAs, are important nutrients for maintaining health, repairing tissues and building muscle mass. They must be consumed through the diet or supplementation, as our body cannot synthesize them, or at least it can’t produce enough to maintain health.


Essential amino acids are typically found in good proportions in high quality protein foods, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.


Therefore, if all nine EAAs are present, you can bet your bottom dollar that the BCAAs are there too.


EAAs and BCAAs are a foundational part of any quality nutrition plan. They are the building blocks of proteins found in the human body, such as enzymes, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), collagen (skin) and muscle fibers.  


Essential Amino Acids are even more important if you exercise regularly, such as gym workouts or sports. The more active we are, the more we need these crucial nutrients.


EAAs stimulate muscle repair and recovery, helping us adapt to the type of exercise we are regularly engaging in.


The BCAAs are an important part of the EAAs. In fact, one of the BCAAs, called leucine, helps the other eight EAAs work more effectively.


Are BCAAs the same as EAAs?

BCAAs are three of the nine EAAs. This means that BCAAs are also technically EAAs. Though not all of the EAAs are BCAAs.


All nine of the EAAs, cannot be synthesized by the body. Unlike non-essential amino acids, such as glycine and arginine, EAAs need to be consumed through diet or supplements.


A quality EAA supplement will contain all nine of the essential amino acids, including tryptophan. Whereas BCAA supplement only contain three of the nine EAAs.


Are there 8 EAAs, or 9?

There is still some information circulating on the internet about 8 essential amino acids. However, the scientific consensus is that we cannot synthesize enough histidine to meet our most basic needs to survive.


With histidine added to 8 essential amino acids, there are now 9. Research all the way back to 1975 demonstrated this. In the experiment, subjects were placed on a histidine deficient diet. This led to reduced albumin, hematocrit and a negative nitrogen balance. Subjects also felt generally unwell and developed skin pathology in most cases.


As Essential Amino Acids are required for countless body processes, they are extremely important to health and wellbeing.


Doesn’t an EAA cover your BCAA needs?

BCAAs have been a popular supplement for decades, promoted by some of the world’s most popular athletes. They have generated massive sports supplement revenue around the world.


However, the question of which is better between BCAAs or EAAs is a bit of an oxymoron, given that an EAA supplement contains the BCAAs as well.  


The questions still remains, however, “are the other six EAAs that aren’t in a BCAA product of any additional benefit, and are the dosages of BCAAs high enough in an EAA product?”


It’s worth mentioning that most BCAA products contain around 5 grams of leucine, Isoleucine and Valine in a 2:1:1 ratio. This equates to 2.5 grams of Leucine, 1.25 grams of Isoleucine and 1.25 grams of Valine.


And this seems to be the best ratio to use if you do use a BCAA product. This is due to the fact that leucine supplementation stimulates oxidation enzymes that lower isoleucine and valine levels.


This means if we only supplement with leucine, or use a high leucine ratio BCAA, such as 10:1:1, an imbalance can be created which can negatively affect protein synthesis.


In addition, most of the favourable BCAA research has been undertaken with a 2:1:1 BCAA ratio.


Most EAA supplement contains around 2.5 grams to 3.5 grams of BCAAs per serve, and not necessarily in a 2:1:1 ratio. However, most EAA research does not utilize an exact 2:1:1 BCAA ratio, and still obtains very favourable outcomes.


Despite this, most EAA supplements offer smaller dosages than is most favourable, likely given to the cost of the product. Based on this, increasing your dosage of EAAs until you hit the 5 grams of BCAA mark can be a useful option.


Alternatively, take a half serve of BCAAs with your EAA product to get the best of both worlds.


Why do you need Essential Amino Acids?

Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and play important roles in the body’s daily functions. Amino Acids are split into two different groups, which are Essential Amino Acids and Non-Essential Amino Acids.


Non-Essential Amino Acids can be produced by your body to be used (these can also be supplemented), as long as there are enough EAAs to work with. Your body can’t produce the Essential Amino Acids, so you have to get your daily intake from the foods and supplements.


For example, the essential amino acid phenylalanine is needed for muscle protein synthesis, hormones and brain-chemicals called neurotransmitters. Another EAA is lysine, which we need to form carnitine, muscle and other soft tissues like tendons and ligaments, and to keep viruses under control.  


If only 1 Essential Amino Acid level is lower than the others, it will be detrimental to the utilisation of the other EAAs. Protein synthesis will be slowed (as well as other processes), which means you may not be fully maximising your workouts and recovery.


It is recommended that all 9 EAAs be taken together, including tryptophan, despite the fact the tryptophan is not required for protein synthesis.


Tryptophan is crucial for regulating mood, sleep and digestion, among other crucial functions. And we need quality sleep and good digestion in order to repair and recover from exercise. A good mood is always supportive of a healthy training ethic.




What Foods are Essential Amino Acids Found in?

Foods that generally have the highest amount of Essential Amino Acids are—you guessed it—high protein foods. If you’re looking to get more Amino Acids in your diet and at the same time increase your Essential Amino Intake through food you should be eating protein rich foods. These include eggs, beef, chicken, lamb, pork, turkey, fish, nuts and beans.


If you are following a vegan eating plan, the best sources are legumes, some nuts, and whole grains. Chickpeas, Soy Milk and Yoghurt, Tofu and Tempeh are all excellent sources of Essential Amino Acids.


It's important to note, however, that not all protein sources are equal, as far as the EAA content and ratios are concerned. For example, Gliadin, which is the protein found within gluten in wheat, is high in EAAs, except for lysine. In fact, cattle farmers know this fact well, and fortify their grains with lysine to improve the health and growth of their cows.


This is an example of 1 EAA limiting the effectiveness of all the other EAAs. So a meat substitute based on wheat gluten, delivers a substantial amount of protein, though in a less than ideal EAA ratio compared to a whole egg or fish. A tablet or two of lysine will improve the biological value of a wheat protein rich meal.


As you can see there are many different foods that can be used to boost your protein intake and take care of your body’s Essential Amino Acid needs at the same time.


If you are vegetarian, vegan or similar, you will have to look a bit harder for protein rich foods or resort to having a protein or EAA supplement to help fill in the gaps. Of course for the meat eaters you can top up your daily protein intake with a protein powder too.


What Essential Amino Acid Supplements are Available?

There are a wide variety of quality protein supplements that you can use to increase your EAA intake. However, pure EAA supplements are a great idea, as they do not require any digestion and they generate a superior protein synthesis response, even better than animal-based protein food.


Here are some of the EAA brands available at Sporty's Health. Be sure to check out the differences between them to see which one suits your needs, as they do differ quite a bit.  



Switch Nutrition Amino Switch


This is a fantastic product, containing all EAAs, including tryptophan. This is a well balanced essential amino acid formula, and definitely a market leader. It comes in 5 far-too-delicious flavours that can turn water into a magical experience for the palate.




Switch Nutrition Amino Switch is based on some incredible research from the late 90s by Dr Luca-Moretti, who found that the essential amino acid formula that he was using, which he called the Master Amino Acid Pattern, offered 99% bioavailability.




This means the tissues of the body, including muscle, utilise almost every single milligram of this formula. As far as evidence-based formulations go, THIS IS IT!



Balance Amino Complexbalance-amino-complex.jpg

Balance offer some excellent natural sports nutrition and wellness products. They really put the focus on NATURAL, using no chemical sweeteners or flavours in their formulations. Balance Amino Complex has some great nutrition to offer, however, it does not contain tryptophan, containing only 8 of the 9 essential amino acids.


To their credit, Balance have added natural nitrates from beetroot, which assist with nitric oxide synthesis, and a respectable dosage of glutamine. This product can be used pre or intra, or between meals. And just like protein, it may be used to accompany a low protein meal.


Optimum Nutrition Essential Amino Energy


If you like flavour and energy, then this is a cracker of a product. With flavours like Peach Lemonade, Blueberry Mojito and a Grape flavour that is reminiscent of Hubba Bubba chewing gum, Optimum Nutrition Essential Amino Energy is so enticing that it hard to keep the scoops per serve to a respectable quantity.




It is important to mention, however, that this product contains 8 of the 9 EAAs, missing out on tryptophan, though does contain naturally occurring caffeine from green tea and green coffee. It delivers an unsurpassed energy boost, which can only be credit to the stimulants being naturally derived. This one is certainly worth trying.


Gen-Tec Essential Amino AcidsGen-Tec-Essential-Amino-Acids-500g-01.jpg

Gen-Tec’s Essential Amino Acids covers all of the bases with regards to Essential Amino Acids, Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) and also Conditionally-Essential Amino Acids, containing a healthy amount of tryptophan. Conditionally Essential Amino Acids are considered to be needed by people who are doing intense physical exercise.


A major difference between the Gen-Tec offering and the others above is there is no flavouring, fillers or binders in the formula. It’s 100% pure amino acids. This is great because you can mix it with a flavoured pre or intra workout, or even take it neat. There aren’t any carbohydrates, sodium, sugars and high calories to worry about.


Musashi Essential Aminos

The Musashi Essential Amino Acid formula contains 8 of the 9 Essential Amino Acids, missing tryptophan, and contains L-Arginine as well. Musashi Essential Aminos only has one flavour option, which is Raspberry. This product, like all EAA formulas can be used any time, day or night, though many use it before and during exercise.


Are Essential Amino Acids Vegan?

Many essential amino acids are produced via bacterial fermentation, the world leader being a company called Ajinomoto founded in Japan. These amino acids are vegan friendly, and also generally considered the best quality on the worldwide market. However, some companies still use animal-sourced amino acids. Switch Nutrition Amino Switch is 100% vegan-friendly.