Episode 52 – BCAAs & EAA Supplements

Key Topics Covered

What are BCAAs and EAAs? 

  • There are 20 amino acids 
  • 9 are considered essential – meaning we can’t create them in our own body 
    • Phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine. 
  • 3 of those EAAs are considered BCAAs
    • leucine, isoleucine, and valine 
  • BCAAs technically make up 35% of the amino acids in our muscles. 
  • BCAAs are often linked with muscle growth. Leucine in particular is the most strongly linked amino acid with muscle protein synthesis. 

What are the Proposed Benefits? 

  • Based on that logic, it makes sense to assume that BCAAs could help muscle growth since those amino acids are linked with muscle growth.  
  • And EEAs can also make sense since it is literally providing the body with the amino acids it cannot produce themselves. 
  • Other proposed benefits are: Improved muscle retention while dieting, reduced muscle soreness and reduced fatigue during exercise. 

Why Don’t we Recommend them Often? 

  • Cost to reward ratio. There are other ways to achieve these benefits.
  • There is no inherent advantage to them over getting a sufficient amount of protein that happens to contain those amino acids.
  • What I mean by cost-to-reward ratio is that theoretically, you could easily get 25g of protein from a scoop of protein powder that contains the number of amino acids in a serve of BCAAs or EAAs, and then some. That makes it cheaper and more convenient to use protein powder.
  • Food, especially meat contains a high amount of these amino acids.
  • Also, just because we cannot physically create an amino acid in our own body does not mean it cannot be a rate-limiting factor in muscle growth. Just providing an abundance of EAAs or BCAAs does not mean we could not benefit from the other non-essential amino acids.  
  • Backing that up with research – there is research showing that when you compare whey protein to BCAAs, with the BCAA content matched (meaning there would be more total protein in the whey protein), muscle protein synthesis is 50% higher in the whey protein intervention. 

A Note on Interpreting The Research on the Topic 

  • If you just looked at individual studies on BCAAs and EAAs without context, the research actually looks more promising than we are making it sound. 
  • The main explanation for this is that a lot of studies are done under sub-optimal conditions. In that participants are often eating the suboptimal amounts of protein for muscle growth/MPS and then given BCAAs in addition.  
  • Let’s say somebody’s ideal protein intake for muscle growth was 150g – if you gave them 80g per day AND 5-10g of BCAAs or EAAs, it would improve their results. But if you gave them 170g of protein and added 5-10g of BCAAs or EAAs on top of that, it likely would not improve results.  
  • So basically, if you are eating adequate high-quality protein, adding extra AAs to the mix is not going to do anything extra.  

A Nuanced look – When Would we Recommend Them? 

  • Plant-based individuals – maybe?? Could make an argument that they would be an easy way to get leucine. Leucine is lacking in many plant-based proteins, so supplementing with BCAA’s or Leucine alone can be beneficial.
  • People who literally just like the taste of it or genuinely like to drink them while training.  
  • We’d never say, “no don’t have it”. But more or less educate, saying that it’s not necessary but if you enjoy it, there’s no detriment to taking them.

Useful Links/Resources

Studies Mentioned:

Related Blog Posts: