EAAs vs BCAAs | What Are The Differences? Do You Need Them?

Both EAAs and BCAAs are specific groups of amino acids often taken as supplements by athletes and bodybuilders. This article runs through BCAAs vs EAAs, explaining their similarities and differences and how to know if you should consider them.

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What are the differences between EAAs and BCAAs?

EAAs vs BCAAs. Amino acids are the smaller components, or building blocks, of protein. It’s vital for us to consume amino acids to build and repair the proteins and muscles in our bodies. Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) are amino acids that our body can’t make on its own – and we have to get them from our diet.

There are nine essential amino acids: phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, leucine, and lysine1.

Three of these essential amino acids have a unique chemical structure with branching, and are known as branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs. They are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. 

All BCAAs are Essential Amino Acids, but not all EAAs are Branched Chain Amino Acids.

By consuming EAAs instead of just BCAAs you’ll get all of your amino acids without missing out on your BCAA needs.

Summary: The body  requires nine essential amino acids (EAAs) from our diet; three of these are BCAAs.

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Do you need EAAs? 

EAAs are found in many of the foods we consume each day because all proteins are made up of amino acids. Whether you eat meat, dairy, or vegan protein sources, they all contain unique proteins, and therefore unique groupings of amino acids.

Getting plenty of amino acids in your diet is good for overall health and body function.  It’s also useful for building and maintaining muscle mass, and enhancing muscle recovery or healing from injury.2 Even though our body can’t make EAAs, most people can likely get enough through a varied, balanced diet.


Who might consider taking additional EAAs?

Regular gym-goers

Exercise creates microtears in our muscles that require repair, so you may need to support muscle recovery for your next workout. Amino acids are the building blocks for our muscles to heal and recover, so supplementing with EAAs is a good way to go.

If you’re trying to build muscle mass

There are three essential factors to putting on muscle: adequate calories, proper exercise, and  amino acids (protein). You need extra sources of protein when you’re trying to build muscle rather than just maintain weight, so EAAs could definitely be helpful.

If you follow a restricted diet

You may not be getting all of the EAAs you need if your diet is low on complete proteins, which can be the case for some vegetarian/vegan diets. Quinoa and soy are complete proteins, but some plant-based proteins don’t contain all of the EAAs. 

Summary: Many high-protein foods contain all of the EAAs, but some protein sources do not. If you need to repair or build muscle, make sure you’re getting adequate EAAs.


When to take EAAs

Whether you are choosing BCAAs or EAAs, both should ideally be consumed during your workout to support your muscles as they are being stressed. Having EAAs and BCAAs available for recovery is what’s key. They may also prevent fatigue.3 Chowing down on chicken or tofu in the gym isn’t very practical, so a convenient option is to take an EAA supplement or BCAA supplement.


Take home message

So, now we’ve weighed up BCAAs vs EAAs things should be a little clearer. While BCAAs are great for supporting overall health and repairing your muscles, EAAs contain the three amino acids that make up the BCAAs,  plus the other  amino acids your body needs.

By providing the proper muscle-building ingredients, EAAs can help you recover, build muscle, or maintain muscle while losing  weight. If you’re concerned about getting enough EAAs or BCAAs in your diet, a supplement might help. EAAs, it’s easy as 1, 2, 3…

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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

  1. Lopez, M. J., & Mohiuddin, S. S. (2021). Biochemistry, Essential Amino Acids. StatPearls [Internet]. 
  2. Negro, M., Perna, S., Spadaccini, D., Castelli, L., Calanni, L., Barbero, M., … & D’Antona, G. (2019). Effects of 12 weeks of essential amino acids (EAA)-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplementation on muscle mass, muscle strength, muscle power and fatigue in healthy elderly subjects: a randomized controlled double-blind study. The journal of nutrition, health & aging23(5), 414-424. 
  3. Wagenmakers, A. J. (1998). Muscle amino acid metabolism at rest and during exercise: role in human physiology and metabolism. Exercise and sport sciences reviews26, 287-314. 

Claire Muszalski

Claire Muszalski

Registered Dietitian

Claire is a Registered Dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.

Talking and writing about food and fitness is at the heart of Claire’s ethos as she loves to use her experience to help others meet their health and wellness goals.

Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and loves the mental and physical boost she gets from regular runs and yoga classes. When she’s not keeping fit herself, she’s cheering on her hometown’s sports teams in Pittsburgh, or cooking for her family in the kitchen.

Find out more about Claire’s experience here.

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