What Is The Difference Between BCAA and EAA: And Do You Need An Amino Acid Supplement?

Amino acid supplements have become increasingly popular in the health industry, with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and essential amino acids (EAAs) taking the spotlight. But what exactly are BCAAs and EAAs, and how do they differ from each other? In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the world of amino acids, explore the benefits of BCAAs and EAAs, and help you determine which supplement is best suited for your dietary needs.

Most omnivores are unlikely to really need to consider them, but certain ristrictive diets, for example plant based diets, may have issues getting certain amino acids such as Lysine in particular. 

Understanding Amino Acids and Their Importance

Before we dive into the specifics of BCAAs and EAAs, let's first understand the importance of amino acids in our bodies. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and play a vital role in various physiological processes. They are responsible for tissue repair, hormone production, immune function, and more. [1]

There are 20 different amino acids, with nine of them classified as essential amino acids (EAAs). EAAs cannot be produced by the body, so they must be obtained through our diet. These nine EAAs include phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): The Basics

BCAAs are a subset of EAAs and consist of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are unique because of their branch-like molecular structure. BCAAs are primarily known for their role in promoting muscle growth and aiding in muscle recovery. [2]

Leucine: The Anabolic Trigger

Leucine, one of the BCAAs, is particularly important for muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. [3] It stimulates the mTOR pathway, which is responsible for initiating muscle protein synthesis. Leucine is found in various protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products.

Isoleucine: Energy and Recovery

Isoleucine, another BCAA, is involved in energy production and plays a role in glucose metabolism. [4] It also aids in muscle recovery and repair. Good dietary sources of isoleucine include meat, fish, eggs, and soy-based products.

Valine: Muscle Endurance and Repair

Valine, the third BCAA, is essential for muscle endurance and repair. It helps maintain proper nitrogen balance in the body and plays a role in muscle tissue repair after intense workouts. [5] Valine can be found in foods like meat, soy, fish, and dairy products.

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs): The Complete Package

Unlike BCAAs, EAAs encompass all nine essential amino acids, including the three BCAAs mentioned earlier. EAAs are crucial for various physiological processes, including protein synthesis, hormone production, and immune function. While BCAAs have gained popularity, EAAs are considered more complete and offer a wider range of benefits.

Essential Amino Acids

Of the 20 amino acids needed by the body, nine are considered essential. These include:

Histidine: Histidine is involved in immune function, digestion, sleep regulation, and sexual function. It helps produce a brain chemical called histamine.

Isoleucine: Isoleucine plays a role in muscle metabolism, immune function, hemoglobin production, and energy regulation.

Leucine: Leucine is vital for protein synthesis, growth hormone production, muscle tissue repair, wound healing, and blood sugar regulation.

Lysine: Lysine is involved in hormone and energy production, calcium absorption, and immune function.

Methionine: Methionine contributes to tissue growth, metabolism, detoxification, and the absorption of essential minerals such as zinc and selenium.

Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine is necessary for the production of brain chemicals like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, as well as other amino acids.

Threonine: Threonine plays a crucial role in collagen and elastin synthesis, which provide structure to the skin and connective tissues. It also aids in fat metabolism and immune function.

Tryptophan: Tryptophan helps maintain nitrogen balance and is a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite, and sleep appearing regularly in sleep supplements

Valine: Valine contributes to muscle growth, tissue regeneration, and energy production.

Nonessential Amino Acids

The body can synthesize the remaining 11 amino acids, making them nonessential. These include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. However, some nonessential amino acids are conditionally essential, meaning they become essential under certain circumstances, such as illness or stress. [6]

The Importance of EAAs for Muscle Growth

EAAs are essential for muscle protein synthesis, making them indispensable for muscle growth. They provide the necessary building blocks for new muscle tissue and aid in repairing damaged muscle fibers. By consuming EAAs, you ensure that your body has an adequate supply of all the essential amino acids needed for optimal muscle growth.

EAAs and Exercise Performance

EAAs have also been shown to enhance exercise performance. They provide a source of readily available energy during workouts and help reduce muscle fatigue. Additionally, EAAs can improve muscle recovery, allowing for more frequent and intense training sessions.

BCAAs Vs. EAAs: Which Supplement Should You Choose?

Now that we have a clear understanding of BCAAs and EAAs, let's compare the two and determine which supplement is best suited for your needs.

BCAAs: Ideal for Muscle Recovery and Fatigue Reduction

BCAAs are particularly beneficial for individuals looking to enhance muscle recovery and reduce post-workout fatigue. They provide a quick source of energy during workouts and help prevent muscle breakdown. If your primary goal is to support muscle recovery and reduce fatigue, BCAAs may be the ideal supplement for you.

EAAs: Comprehensive Muscle Support and Performance Enhancement

On the other hand, EAAs offer a more comprehensive approach to muscle support and performance enhancement. By providing all nine essential amino acids, EAAs ensure that your body has a complete supply of building blocks for muscle growth, repair, and recovery. If you're looking for a well-rounded supplement that covers all aspects of muscle support and exercise performance, EAAs are a great choice.

Dietary Sources of Amino Acids

To obtain essential amino acids, it is important to consume a balanced diet that includes sufficient protein-rich foods. Animal proteins, such as beef, poultry, and eggs, are considered complete proteins as they contain all nine essential amino acids in optimal proportions. These proteins are easily absorbed and utilized by the body.

Complete proteins can also be found in other sources such as fish, dairy products, soy, quinoa, and buckwheat. These foods provide a diverse range of essential amino acids necessary for the body's proper functioning.

For individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets, it is essential to combine incomplete proteins from sources like nuts, seeds, beans, and grains to ensure the intake of all nine essential amino acids. By incorporating a variety of these incomplete protein sources, vegetarians and vegans can meet their amino acid requirements. [7]

Amino Acid Supplements: Do You Need Them?

While it is possible to obtain all the essential amino acids through a balanced diet, some individuals may consider amino acid supplements for specific purposes. These supplements are often marketed to improve sleep, enhance mood, and boost athletic performance. As supplements they are generally more useful for vegan and vegetarian diets.

Timing and Dosage: When and How Much to Take

The timing and dosage of BCAAs and EAAs can significantly impact their effectiveness. It's important to consider these factors to maximize the benefits of your amino acid supplementation. [8]

Pre-Workout: Fueling Your Muscles

Taking BCAAs or EAAs before your workout can provide a source of readily available energy for your muscles. This can help delay fatigue and improve your overall performance during exercise. Aim to consume your chosen amino acid supplement approximately 30 minutes before your workout for optimal results.

Intra-Workout: Sustaining Energy and Reducing Fatigue

If your workouts are particularly lengthy or intense, consuming BCAAs or EAAs during your workout can help sustain your energy levels and reduce muscle fatigue. This is especially beneficial for endurance athletes or individuals engaging in prolonged exercise sessions.

Post-Workout: Muscle Recovery and Repair

Both BCAAs and EAAs are valuable in promoting muscle recovery and repair after intense exercise. Consuming these supplements immediately after your workout can aid in muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle soreness. It's recommended to take them within 30 minutes of completing your workout.

Dosage: Finding the Right Balance Of Amino Acids

The optimal dosage of BCAAs and EAAs may vary depending on factors such as body weight, fitness goals, and exercise intensity. As a general guideline, aim to consume approximately 5-10 grams of BCAAs or 10-20 grams of EAAs per serving. Adjust the dosage based on your individual needs and consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized recommendations. [9]

But How Much Exactly Do I Need Of Each EEA or BCAA?

If you want to be exact however, the breakdown of the minimum requirements for essential amino acids is as follows [1] :

  • Lysine: 38 milligrams
  • Methionine: 19 milligrams
  • Phenylalanine: 33 milligrams
  • Threonine: 20 milligrams
  • Histidine: 14 milligrams
  • Isoleucine: 19 milligrams
  • Leucine: 42 milligrams
  • Tryptophan: 5 milligrams
  • Valine: 24 milligrams

Conclusion: Do I Need BCAA's Or EEA's?

In conclusion, both BCAAs and EAAs offer unique benefits for muscle growth, recovery, and exercise performance. BCAAs excel in their ability to reduce fatigue and support muscle recovery, while EAAs provide a more comprehensive approach to muscle support and performance enhancement.

Ultimately, the choice between BCAAs and EAAs depends on your specific goals and preferences. If you prioritize muscle recovery and fatigue reduction, BCAAs may be the best option for you. However, if you're looking for a well-rounded supplement that covers all aspects of muscle support and exercise performance, EAAs are worth considering.

Remember to consider the timing and dosage of your amino acid supplementation to maximize its effectiveness. Whether you choose BCAAs or EAAs, incorporating these supplements into your fitness routine can help you achieve your goals and optimize your performance.

Realistically though, timing BCAA’s isn’t really practical for most people. And the best thing to do if you think you’re not getting enough due to dietary restrictions is to just get a simple EAA supplement and add it to a shake or something similar with a given meal.


1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557845/

2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568273/

3 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447149/

4 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30843485/

5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6718193/

6 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4935284/

7 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598028/

8 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33586928/

9 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234922/

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