BCAA vs. EAA: What’s the difference?

First, let’s clear this up - EAAs are Essential Amino Acids, aka amino acids that the body cannot create itself, so they have to be obtained from our diet. BCAAs are Branched Chain Amino Acids, and they are also essential. BCAAs are a subset of Essential Amino Acids with a very specific branched shape to their molecular structure, and they assist the body with particular functions relating to energy regulation and muscle growth. 

In short: All BCAAs are EAAs but not all EAAs are BCAAs. 

You’ll find that the protein powder market is saturated with BCAA supplements, as they are generally believed to be better for use during and after exercise. However, we do also need to ensure that we are ingesting all EAAs in ample quantities for our bodies to use throughout the day, and the presence of essential amino acids in our system helps BCAAs to function at an optimal level. Ensuring we get enough of all the amino acids our bodies can’t create is a matter of our overall wellness, not just boosting our ability to exercise, recover and develop muscle tone. 

Let’s talk Essential Amino Acids: 

Each of the essential amino acids, BCAAs included, play a really vital role in the body, so ensuring that we get enough of each in our daily routine is very important. BCAAs in particular are beneficial during and after exercise because of the way that they interact with the body. Our guide to amino acids breaks down how they assist the body’s natural functions in more detail, but here’s a summary of some of their main functions: 

  • Amino acids are a source of energy in the body
  • They form hormones, neurotransmitters and other enzymes
  • They create and form compounds which help protect your skin
  • They are essential for our immune function, blood flow and liver function

For those of us who are plant-based, athlete or not, it is very important to get enough of each of the nine essential aminos, including the three BCAAs. We can get all of the amino acids we need through our diet, but we might need to look into practices such as protein complementation just to make sure. Whilst we can usually get all the nutrition we need from a varied, plant-based diet, some of us might be expending more than we take through our exercise and general activity levels, and we might find ourselves getting fatigued during a session. 

If you’re looking for a boost of energy during a workout, Vivo Life have designed SUSTAIN, an intra-workout supplement which not only helps to replace electrolytes lost through sweat, but also provides you with a boost of amino acids to prevent fatigue. It doesn’t just contain BCAAs: all nine essential amino acids are included to help your BCAAs function to their best potential. 

What about BCAAs?

The BCAAs are valine, leucine and isoleucine. They make up around 40% of the total amino acids found in the body and are broken down directly into our muscles, which is what makes them so effective in muscle growth and repair.

Valine plays a vital role in muscle growth and repair. Leucine prevents the breakdown of muscle protein, helps to maintain lean muscle, and regulates our blood sugar levels, amongst other things. The final BCAA, isoleucine, is concentrated in our skeletal muscle tissue and muscle metabolism. It supports immune function, produces haemoglobin, and is responsible for energy regulation, which is very important during exercise. They are shown to be generally safe for supplementation, which we have previously discussed in this article.

BCAAs are often used in supplements to help the body manage increasing muscle growth whilst decreasing muscle soreness and muscle fatigue. For the best results from BCAAs, however, your body needs to have a good supply of all the essential amino acids. 

What can we take away? 

Firstly, ensuring that your protein powder contains BCAAs will always be beneficial to your workouts, and can help to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

All amino acids are important for energy, so a boost pre and post workout can be useful, although there is no clear evidence on whether there is any benefit in having them before or after exercise, and the effects timing has on absorption. 

As all essential amino acids, branched chain included, cannot be made in the body, ensuring that you are  well hydrated, exercising regularly and eating well with a wide variety of plant-based protein sources is likely to give you a solid basis for your health and fitness.