Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They help repair damaged tissue and transport nutrients to your muscles. Amino acids also play a large role in other bodily function like metabolism. There are 20 different amino acids. These 20 amino acids are broken into two categories: non-essential amino acids and essential amino acids (EAA’s). It is important to understand the difference between the two before we dive into the difference between branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) and essential amino acids.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
Non-essential amino acids are amino acids that our human bodies can produce. These are: alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine. Most humans are not deficient in these areas. That is because your body produces them. You can also find non-essential amino acids in the food we eat. Rarely do you need to supplement with non-essential amino acids but more and more people in the fitness community are. Unless you have a deficiency you should be able to get by without supplementing with outside sources.
Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s)
Essential amino acids are the exact opposite of non-essential amino acids. These are amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the human body (meaning our bodies cannot produce these so we have to obtain them from outside sources). These are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
It is important that our bodies receive the proper amounts of EAA’s each day to prevent muscle breakdown. Our bodies do not store EAA’s for future use (as we do with fats, starches, etc). Failure to consumer proper amounts of EAA’s daily can have a negative impact on your gains.
Essential amino acids serve many functions in the human body when it comes to muscle growth. EAA’s are required to build new muscle tissue (growth). EAA’s also help repair cells during the recovery process. Failure to obtain enough EAA’s in your diet can result in muscle breakdown.
The sports nutrition and fitness industry has opened the doors on EAA’s supplements. They seen a need for these supplements, specifically with the heavy lifting community. Those of us who like to lift heavy to gain size need adequate amounts of EAA’s. Most of us don’t supplement with EAA’s. We rely on our food intake to do the job.
If your goal is to increase size, then it is important that you make sure you get enough EAA’s in your diet. You can get EAA’s from food sources like chicken, turkey, venison, elk, eggs, spinach and protein powders. If you believe your diet is healthy and you’re consuming enough of these food sources (proteins), then you should not have to supplement with EAA’s. However, if you need more EAA’s in your diets then try one of these three EAA’s products out prior to your workouts:
Universal Nutrition Juiced Aminos
Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
Prime Nutrition EAAs
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s)
Branched chain amino acids are different from non-essential amino acids. Why? Because BCAA’s are EAA’s. Confused? Don’t be. BCAA’s are three of the ten EAA’s. The three BCAA’s are leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are known as branched chain amino acids because of their structure: they are branched chain.
Branched chain amino acids play a vital part in muscle recovery and protein synthesis. BCAA’s are required for maintaining muscle tissue. Proper intake of BCAA’s can also help prevent muscle soreness, prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, preserve your muscle glycogen levels and prevents muscle protein breakdown during exercise. BCAA’s can also increase the nitrogen levels in your muscles which minimizes the loss of muscle tissue. Failure to obtain enough BCAA’s in your diet can result in muscle breakdown and loss of gains.
Branched chain amino acids are abundant in the sports nutrition and fitness industry. Typically, you will get a higher concentration of BCAA’s when you buy a BCAA product versus the BCAA’s you will get in an EAA product. EAA’s contain BCAA’s but not as high of a concentration. A widely accepted ratio of BCCA’s is a 2:1:1 ratio. More and more supplement companies are experiencing with varying ratios of BCAA due to the positive effects of leucine.
Leucine is the primary BCAA responsible for muscle building. Think of your car. You need keys to get your car to start. Now think of leucine as the keys and the engine as protein synthesis. Leucine is the activator of protein synthesis. Most studies suggest you should take 5g of BCAA’s at the 2:1:1 ratio post-workout.
Branched chain amino acids should be used by anyone that is serious in the fitness industry. Yes, you can get BCAA’s from protein shakes and food sources like meats but most of us need to consume the BCAA’s right around workout time. It is not always the easiest to cook a steak up post-workout as we are always on the go. We suggest that you use one of these three BCAA’s products intra and/or post-workout to increase gains:
NutraBio Intra Blast
Metabolic Nutrition TRI-PEP
Pitbull Labs BCAA
Branched chain amino acids are essential amino acids. Meaning they cannot be produced by the human body. Higher amounts of BCAA’s are required during workouts and after workouts to speed up muscle recovery, reduce fatigue and reduce muscle soreness, thus increasing your muscle growth.
Essential amino acids do contain BCAA’s but in lower quantities. These should be consumed pre-workout. You can see our amino acid reviews guide here for our top product picks. EAA’s aid in the growth of new muscle tissue. EAA’s are found in food and typically we consume adequate amounts on the daily basis, unless we are intense, heavy lifters.
Finally, it is important that everyone’s body and everyone’s diets are different. If you think you might need to supplement with EAA’s or BCAA’s I encourage you to try them. They are not harmful. The majority of the products on the market today are good tasting and can be used throughout the day. It is all trial and error with any supplement. Put EAA’s and BCAA’s to the test and see if you notice any positive differences in your muscles.