There’s been a battle raging in the supplement world unbeknownst to the vast majority of consumers. The fight isn’t about which pre workout is best, or which brand has the coolest marketing, or even what protein powder is the most palate pleasing. This debate is one that has been slowly simmering and it’s about to hit a full on boil!
The battle we’re referring to is the one between members of the same family — amino acids. One one side, you have the Branched-Chain Amino Acid (BCAAs), long thought to be the key to increased strength, size, and power, and on the other side, you have the bigger, yet relatively unknown, brother Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s).
Each has claimed to be a powerful weapon in the quest to build muscle, but only one can truly deliver on its promises. Which one is superior? Let’s find out!
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) were given their name due to their unique branch-like structure. The BCAAs consist of three amino acids — leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are a subcategory of the larger Essential Amino Acids (EAAs).
There are a total of nine EAA’s, which consist of:
• Isoleucine — BCAA
• Leucine — BCAA
• Valine — BCAA
The reasons that EAA’s are classified as “essential” is that the human body cannot produce them endogenously, meaning they must be obtained through the diet. In addition to the essential amino acids, there are also several other conditionally essential amino acids (arginine, cysteine, glutamine, etc) as well as nonessential amino acids, which can be generated by the body from other amino acids, carbohydrates, and fats.
Conditionally essential amino acids refer the the amino acids that the body can produce sufficient amounts of under normal conditions. However, during times of extreme stress (illness, injury, intense exercise), the body cannot keep up with demand and therefore the amino acids must be obtained through food or supplement.BCAA Hype
BCAA supplements first gained popularity off a few early studies that showed they helped retain lean mass and lose body fat. What’s conveniently left out of this discussion is that this study was done in subjects in a severe caloric deficit who were also not consuming enough protein. In fact, the test group in this trial only consumed around 80g of protein per day, which is nowhere near enough to preserve muscle tissue, especially if you’re 150lbs like the test group subjects were. Subjects in this study consumed 52g of BCAA per day than the test group and held on to more muscle than the control group who did not supplement at all.
In other words, all this study did was note that consuming a tremendous amount of BCAAs might reduce the amount of muscle loss while dieting, but in now way is it helping you gain mass.
Other research has shown that BCAAs can help reduce muscle damage and promote recovery following training, but yet again, these studies do not control for diet or the subjects are not consuming adequate amounts of protein, hardly the demographic that BCAA supplements are marketed towards — lifters who track their nutrition.
This begs the question as to how or why BCAA supplements became popular to begin with. A large portion of BCAA’s perceived benefit is attributed to leucine, the “king” of amino acids.
Leucine is the real star in everything as it activates mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), which is the enzyme responsible for cell growth. Isoleucine enhances glucose uptake and utilization by muscles, but is a much weaker stimulator of mTOR compared to leucine. As for valine, it has its benefits (it promotes glycogen synthesis), but the real star of the BCAAs (and reason for their popularity) is leucine.
Many companies have twisted the fact that the BCAAs can activate mTOR into the belief that they are all that’s needed to create muscle growth. Nothing could be further from the truth. BCAA supplementation can increase nitrogen levels in your muscles, which enables you to train for longer periods without losing muscle, and they can even help sustain glycogen stores, but neither of these is directly building muscle.
The truth is that in order to build muscle, your body must have all nine essential amino acids (EAA’s) NOT just the three BCAAs. If you’re only consuming the three BCAAs all day long, you’re limiting the rate of protein synthesis since you’re not getting in the other EAA’s required to actually construct protein. The BCAAs and EAAs compete for the same receptors in the body, so if you’re constantly slamming BCAAs, you’re “bottlenecking” the uptake of the other needed EAAs and ultimately stunting muscle repair and growth.BCAA vs EAA Research
As we mentioned earlier, the vast majority of BCAA research is either in rats or subjects not consuming adequate levels of protein.
Why does this matter?
Basically, if you’re consuming adequate levels of protein during the day, you’re satisfying your BCAA requirement through your diet. Supplementing over that will not bring added muscle growth. Furthermore, research has shown that when subjects’ protein intake is accounted for, supplementing with additional leucine (3g worth) does NOT provide any additional benefit in muscle size or strength compared to placebo.a recent study that accounted for subjects’ protein intake investigated the effect of BCAA (3g leucine consumed post-exercise). Note that in this particular study, subjects consumed 1.6-1.7 g/kg/day of protein. By all accounts, a high protein diet, compared to the average joe.
Another interesting piece of research compared EAA to BCAA and observed that consuming an EAA supplement post-workout promoted a significantly stronger anabolic response than BCAA.
These findings were confirmed in yet another study comparing the muscle protein synthesis response of BCAA vs whey protein (which contains all of the EAA’s). The study concluded
“Taken together, these results demonstrate that BCAAs exhibit the capacity to stimulate myofibrillar-MPS, however a full complement of EAA could be necessary to stimulate a maximal response of myofibrillar-MPS following resistance exercise…
Our data support the notion that BCAA ingestion alone does not maximally stimulate myofibrillar-MPS following exercise despite stimulation of translation initiation pathways. The lack of sufficient EAA appears to limit the response of myofibrillar-MPS following exercise. Thus, whereas our data clearly show that BCAA ingestion activates cell-signaling pathways that result in increased myofibrillar-MPS, ingestion of BCAAs alone may not be the optimal nutritional regimen to stimulate a maximal MPS response to resistance exercise training.”
And the latest “nail in the coffin” for BCAAs comes from a 2017 review that concluded:
“An extensive search of the literature has revealed no studies in human subjects in which the response of muscle protein synthesis to orally-ingested BCAAs alone was quantified, and only two studies in which the effect of intravenously infused BCAAs alone was assessed. Both of these intravenous infusion studies found that BCAAs decreased muscle protein synthesis as well as protein breakdown, meaning a decrease in muscle protein turnover. The catabolic state in which the rate of muscle protein breakdown exceeded the rate of muscle protein synthesis persisted during BCAA infusion. We conclude that the claim that consumption of dietary BCAAs stimulates muscle protein synthesis or produces an anabolic response in human subjects is unwarranted.”EAA’s for the Win
The writing on the wall. The era of BCAA domination is over, and EAA’s are rising to the top. Research confirms this, as well.
Remember, BCAA supplements only contain 3 of the required 9 essential amino acids. They can help prevent muscle breakdown and improve endurance, but they are not going to maximize muscle growth. For that you need an all-inclusive EAA supplement that provides all of the essential amino acids, including the three BCAAs. And when you’re looking for the perfect EAA supplement for your training and muscle-building needs, there’s only one choice.
EAA Max — THE EAA Supplement!
Primeval Labs EAA Max is the ultimate essential amino acid supplement, bar none. Each serving provides the full spectrum of EAA’s, including a whopping 5g dose of 2:1:1 BCAAs. Also included is a trio of electrolytes to support hydration as well as D-Ribose and highly branched cyclic dextrin to enhance nutrient delivery and muscular endurance. EAA Max also tastes phenomenal, something only dreamed of by other EAA supplements on the market.
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