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EAAs Vs BCAAs: How To Choose The Best Amino Acid Supplement

eaas-vs-bcaas

eaas-vs-bcaas

Amino acids have been one of the premier performance supplements for nearly 40 years. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are particularly popular among athletes, who swear by their effects on muscle gain, recovery, and athletic performance.

However, new research has revealed that BCAAs aren’t nearly as beneficial as people think they are. In fact, they could actually be slowing the rate of muscle gain and may even have deleterious effects on overall health.

While the wrong kind of amino acid supplement can be detrimental to your well-being, the right kind can support your health and accelerate your fitness goals. Cue essential amino acids (EAAs). EAAs carry all of the benefits of BCAAs without any of the drawbacks, and the scientific literature backs them up as one of the best supplements you can take to optimize your athletic performance, recovery, and overall health.

But don’t just take our word for it – you’re about to learn what the science has to say about how EAAs can optimize your well-being.


What Are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and serve as the catalyst for nearly every chemical process in the body. Most people associate amino acids purely with protein synthesis and muscle gain, but they’re also necessary for nearly every other physiological function, including enzyme production, hormone regulation, cognitive ability, neurotransmitter balance, and metabolism. There are 20 amino acids in total, and all of them are required to make these vital processes happen.


What Are the Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)?

Of the 20 amino acids, nine are classified as essential. Essential amino acids are the ones that the body can’t produce itself; they must be acquired through diet, specifically from protein-rich foods like meat, fish, and eggs, and of course, amino acid supplements. EAAs support the body in several critical ways:

  • Lysine plays a role in growth hormone secretion, which supports muscle repair and recovery. It’s also a critical component of structural proteins like collagen and elastin, which are important for building strong connective tissue.
  • Methionine helps the body process and eliminate fat, promotes cardiovascular health, and supports liver function to help the body eliminate toxins.
  • Phenylalanine has a pain-killing and antidepressant effect and is necessary for the synthesis of norepinephrine and dopamine. It also stimulates the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are critical for nervous system function.
  • Threonine supports fat metabolism and immune function. Like lysine, it’s also a crucial component of structural proteins and connective tissue.
  • Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, which regulates sleep, appetite, and mood. It also has pain-suppressing qualities and can increase pain tolerance during hard workouts or competitions.
  • Leucine is critical for protein synthesis, blood sugar regulation, and growth hormone production.
  • Isoleucine helps prevent muscle from breaking down during exercise, which could lead to faster recovery. It’s also important for immune function, hemoglobin production, and energy regulation.
  • Valine helps stimulate muscle regeneration and is involved in energy production.
  • Histidine is a precursor to histamine, which can help you fight off the cell-damaging free radicals you produce during exercise. It’s also a precursor to carnosine, which helps turn lactic acid back into useable fuel and reduce soreness. Histidine’s status as “essential” is debatable since it can be easily produced in the presence of the other essential amino acids.

What Are the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)?

Three of the essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – are known as the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), named for their branched chemical structure.

The BCAAs are unique because they are metabolized in the muscle instead of the liver. This means that they’re available in the bloodstream soon after ingestion and can be used for quick energy during exercise. BCAA supplements are popular among athletes because they’ve been linked with increased muscle mass, decreased fatigue, and improved glycogen storage.

However, the supposed benefits of BCAAs are often embellished, misunderstood, and some even flat out wrong.


The Problem with BCAAs

A recent meta-analysis of research conducted between 1985 and 2017 revealed zero human studies in which BCAAs alone were responsible for more efficient protein synthesis or improved athletic performance.

In fact, the meta-analysis detailed two studies which found that BCAAs decreased muscle protein synthesis and actually accelerated the catabolic rate of lean tissue. This means that muscle was being broken down faster than it could be repaired.

The catabolic state was so aggressive in the presence of BCAAs because the body was rapidly trying to derive the other essential amino acids to complete protein synthesis. Without a complete profile of essential amino acids, the body was left with no choice but to break down muscle to derive the six that were missing.

In other words, BCAAs do not work in isolation; all of the essential amino acids are required to complete protein synthesis.

The study concluded that the idea that BCAA supplements stimulate muscle growth or produce an anabolic response is entirely unwarranted. And that’s just the beginning. In addition to being ineffective for building muscle or faster recovery, BCAAs can also have deleterious effects on overall health:


Why EAAs Are Superior to BCAAs

Despite all of this, BCAAs are still essential for human health and actually serve as a good source of fuel for workouts.

They simply don’t build muscle in isolation.

You need adequate levels of all of the essential amino acids to optimize health and complete protein synthesis. Think of it this way: BCAAs begin the process of protein synthesis, and the other six EAAs complete the process.

This is why it’s best to choose supplements that contain all of the essential amino acids if you truly want to maximize performance, recovery, and well-being.


Health Benefits of Essential Amino Acids

What else are EAAs good for, other than packing on the muscle and gettin’ swole? Well, as it turns out, a lot of things:

  • Muscle Maintenance: EAAs have significant muscle-preserving effects, especially when training in a fasted state. These include decreased indicators of muscle damage and the maintenance of a healthy inflammatory response.
  • Exercise Recovery: Supplementing with EAAs post-workout increases muscle protein synthesis and net muscle protein balance. This may stimulate faster recovery and reduce fatigue after training.
  • Appetite Regulation: Having a sufficient balance of amino acids may help normalize appetite because EAAs activate the brain cells that regulate hunger and satiety.
  • Cognitive Function: Appropriate levels of tryptophan are necessary to produce serotonin and optimize cognitive performance.
  • Improved Sleep: Amino acid supplementation has been shown to improve sleep and mood and reduce symptoms of depression.
  • Metabolic Health: Proper ratios of amino acids could increase red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and serum albumin. They can also lower fasting blood glucose, support better red blood cell formation, and improve glycogen replenishment
  • Fasting and Ketosis: Ingestion of high amounts of leucine triggers an insulin spike, which may “break a fast” and interfere with ketosis. However, this only happens when leucine levels aren’t balanced by the other EAAs, which help buffer the glycemic response. The insignificant insulin response from a supplement with the proper ratios of EAAs won’t interfere with fasting or ketosis, and might even make them easier!

Conclusion

The verdict is in: EAAs beat out BCAAs as the best amino acid supplement, and their benefits go far beyond building muscle. EAAs are a true nutritional powerhouse that can help you optimize your training, recovery, sleep, mood, and so much more.

However, finding a quality EAA supplement can prove to be challenging. Kion Aminos is one of the cleanest, most effective amino acids formulations available, with a whopping 99% utilization rate and the ability to be absorbed and metabolized by the body in just 20 minutes. Check out Kion Aminos here.

What other questions do you have about EAAs? What’s the most interesting benefit you’ve experienced from them? Leave your comments, questions, and feedback below!

72 thoughts on “EAAs Vs BCAAs: How To Choose The Best Amino Acid Supplement

  1. KetoAmino acids have effect on blood sugar levels.Does amino acids can be taken along with Whey protien.Do KetoAmino acids have any side effects in long usage

  2. Hi Ben,
    I am not a ‘workout’ person right now, but my sons are and I do have an active job as a nurse. We use Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy right now ( but we hate the taste). I found your site because I have listened to your podcast.
    Amino Energy has lots of other amino acids mixed into their product that you talk about the benefits of in your podcast, like L-arginie, L-glutamine, L-tyrosine, taurine. Can you tell me why your product left them out or why I don’t need them?

    1. Hey Amy, great question! Our Kion Aminos are only made up of the essential amino acids, 8 in total. We don’t include other amino acids that are non-essential or conditionally-essential because your body can manufacture them all in the presence of the EAAs. Many of the amino acids you listed here are non-essential or conditionally-essential, which is why they are not in our formula. Not sure which of the Optimum Nutrition Aminos you are taking, but if they are BCAAs, you’d be better off switching to an EAA formula because of all the reasons listed in this post 🙂 So we do recommend trying EAAs for boosting energy and mental acuity, two things you definitely need as a nurse! Many people like the mixed berry flavor of our Kion Aminos (although, to be honest, amino acids are very strong and unless using crazy amounts of sugar it’s hard to completely mask the taste). Give those a shot and let us know how they compare!

  3. I’m curious about EAA’s and how it can help me.
    I have a 50 mile trail run coming up in November.
    How will your product interact with the fueling products (lots of calories) i’ll need to ingest? Would I take your product for days or weeks before leading up to race day? Should I take it night before and after race? Thanks. Michael

    1. Hey Michael, thanks for your question! First of all, we highly recommend checking out the Aminos Guide referenced in this article. It will give you a lot of great information on how to use EAA supplements to boost your performance! To answer your questions:
      1) Kion Aminos will not be affected by a diet high in calories. For maximum absorption, however, we recommend taking EAAs 30 minutes away from food. If that’s not possible, it’s OK – it just may take a bit longer to feel the benefits of the aminos as you’re slowing the absorption.
      2) Aminos are meant to enhance your performance and recovery. In that way, it would be best to take them during your training period AND during your race, so that you’re giving your body adequate fuel during training. We recommend one serving before a workout, one serving after if you need extra recovery support, and one serving during each hour of a race.
      3) Yes, you can definitely take it the night before and after your race. But… While some people really benefit from taking the Aminos before bed, we recommend trying it a few times before the night of your race, in case they give you more energy than you’re wanting at night!

      Hope that helps. Best of luck with your race!

  4. Just started researching EAA’s. Is it beneficial to take EAA’s on rest/recovery days, or are they better taken only on training days? Also, will they assist in preventing muscle loss during cardio?

    1. Hi Becky, we’re glad you’re looking into EAAs! The answer to your first question is: It depends on what your goals are! If you’re looking to enhance recovery, EAAs can definitely support muscle recovery when taken on rest days. Because our EAAs are basically just highly digestible amino acids, some individuals find benefit taking them even when they are not working out for things such as better cognitive performance, more energy, or even enhanced sleep. However, if you’re looking to *only* enhance performance, muscle protein synthesis, and fuel your training, you can just take them 20-30 minutes prior to your workouts (or 1 hour into longer workouts).

      For your second question, the answer is likely yes. Many studies have consistently shown that consuming amino acids near or during a training session can increase muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and suppress muscle protein breakdown. Theoretically, we could assume this would apply during a cardio workout as well. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033492/

      Let us know if you achieve the results you’re looking for with EAAs!

  5. Should I take EAAs before or after workout or both before & after. Trying to gain weight and maintain muscle mass right now I’m 6’0 155 n fluctuate to about 160lbs.

  6. I am interested in taking something to help with connective tissues. ( I am a vegetarian). Should I take collagen or amino acids or both? Is taking all 8 amino acids better for this since collagen had only 3 or are there other things in collagen that I need?

    1. Hi Cindy. Thanks for your question! Collagen itself is incredibly supportive for connective tissues and joint health, and it does have individual properties that isolated amino acids do not. So you could indeed benefit more from taking both, for that specific reason. However, we aren’t aware of any vegetarian collagen sources, as most collagen is derived from cows or pigs (unless you eat fish, you could do marine collagen). You might find this article helpful: https://www.marksdailyapple.com/vegetarian-collagen/

    1. Hey Josh, good question. We wouldn’t recommend taking both. With EAAs, you’re already getting the BCAAs, so taking both would be redundant. And expensive 🙂 You would get all you needed with just EAAs.

  7. I am 64 weigh 160 lbs and run 3 miles a day 6 times a week. I use a protein powder daily from silver fern which has helped my ldl cholesterol to drop significantly.
    my cholesterol numbers are great and now I am trying to maintain my weight and healthy life style.
    I try to eat as healthy as possible and changed to a plant based diet 2 years ago.

    my question is do I need more eaa in my diet. I average around 70 g of protein per day

    1. Hi Tony, thanks for your question! Protein demands definitely vary for individuals, based on their age, activity levels, weight, genetics, microbiome status, etc. While we can’t say for sure if you need more protein, typically a good range is 0.8-1.2 g/kg body weight, so it sounds like you’re right on track. Stick to the lower end if you’re trying to maintain muscle mass, and increase to the higher end if you’re trying to put on mass. Either way, EAAs can definitely support your goals to maintain your weight and improve your athletic performance and recovery times, and they are more bioavailable than dietary protein.

      Hope that helps! If you have any more specific dietary questions, consider working with one of our Certified Kion Coaches! www.getkion.com/kion-coach

  8. I am a massage therapist. I have been for 10 years. I’ve recently started strength training to prolong my career. My muscles ache every day all day. The mistake I have made is not using recovery supplements. I will be purchasing the Kion amino‘s. How do you recommend I use them for recovery? My workout schedule and massage schedule vary every day. I’m thinking I should take them after my workout for recovery but I’m wondering if it would be better to take them at bedtime after I finish using my muscles for the entire day. Or should I do both? Thank you in advance.

    1. Hey Angela, we’re happy to hear you’re looking into using Kion Aminos! Taking them prior to a workout can support fueling and energy during your session, while taking them after supports recovery. So if you’re looking for improved recovery times, taking them after your workout might be your best bet. There’s no harm in taking them at both times, though! You might also want to look into Kion Flex to improve recovery and reduce soreness. Best of luck!

    1. Yes, and it’s usually an issue of timing. EAAs can cause digestive distress if they’re taken less than two hours after eating a meal. They can also cause digestive distress if you take too many of them – that’s why we recommend taking five grams at a time and not taking too many servings in a 24-hour period.

  9. Just wondering about the ratios as ive been reading about eaa in robert wolfe articles and it seems the raitios make a difference are they the same patented ratios

  10. In the interest of transparency, what are the mg levels of each EAA? In other words, what is the golden ratio that you are utilizing? I have used this product and felt like it was very effective, but i’d still like to know exactly what I am putting inside of my body

      1. Where does it show the exact numbers? I do not see it anywhere. instead of linking us, just tell us the ratio. Unless I am missing it.

        1. Hey Jake, thanks for your question! Can you clarify what numbers you’re seeking? We’ll be happy to help. Thanks!

  11. I may not be your average reader here, but I do listen to Ben’s advice among some others. I am 68, female, walk, NOxide dump from Zach Bush, stretch, strength. I have been using BP Collagen powder in the butter coffee and then a few hrs. later a smoothie with berries, whey powder, Mercola’s Keto powder, MCT, etc. I just listened to Ben’s outstanding Carnivore podcast and think I should drop the coffee, collagen and get Kion as my sleep has sure been suffering. Rest of my day includes mostly green vegies, wild salmon or sardines, eggs, maybe some wild rice. Is there a place in this diet to continue the collagen powder and/or whey for my protein, skin, and bone health needs? Need to step up my fish oil as the krill and astaxanthin probably are not providing enough of the EPA/DHA . Anyway, after listening to the podcast I feel pretty discouraged on what to eat on the veg side. I will not be doing the ‘nose to tail’ meat. Do you have a resource that would educate me on an optimum diet w/o the organ meats?

    1. Regarding the continued use of collagen powder and whey for your muscle, skin, and bone health, there is absolutely a place for those supplements! Collagen, in particular, is a great supplement for your connective tissue.

      Regarding getting an optimal “nose to tail” diet without organ meats: you can try various types of broth for the collagen benefits, and you can try organ meats in the more palatable form of capsules. For other tips on nose to tail eating, feel free to ask our Facebook group.

  12. Curious if there is any benefit or hindrance to stacking EAA’s with a caffeinated pre workout supplement? I realize EAA’s offer a “natural” energy boost. I need a bit more than that with a 5am crossfit wod. Thanks!

    1. It depends on the supplement you’re using. If it’s pure caffeine, then there shouldn’t be any issues. However, if there are other ingredients, specifically added carbohydrates/sugars and fat, then they could impede the absorption of EAAs.

      We’re fond of stacking Kion Coffee and Kion Aminos post-workout for a solid pre-workout!

  13. I understand for best utilisation we need to take them away from protein and fats Can you take the EAA’s with glycogen ( such as Ucan) and electrolytes, such as during a long course triathlon?

    1. Yes, if you are in need of an additional fuel source, clean carbs would be better source from an absorption standpoint than proteins/fats

    1. The amino acids are derived from plant based sources. The individual amino acids are extracted from the broth using a process involving centrifugal force which separates them by their weights. They are pure, pharmaceutical grade, crystalline amino acids. There are no plant residues or sugars, yeast, gluten, soy, corn, wheat, rice, preservatives, excipients or animal products. They are vegan, and produced in a cGMP Laboratory in the USA.

  14. I do CrossFit, which is a high intensity workout. I need to build muscle. Additional energy and recovery are both important. Would you recommend taking Kion pre-workout and post-workout ? If yes, How many for pre-workout and post-workout?

    1. You could absolutely benefit from Kion Aminos pre and post-workout. One serving (5 tablets or 1 scoop of powder) at each of those times will do the trick.

      1. My 15 and 17 year old sons want me to order a protein powder for muscle building. The 15 year old plays football, and the 17 year old plays basketball. I ordered kion aminos for them, but they want me to get them a whey protein powder. Can the kion aminos replace those other protein powders for muscle building and recovery, or should they be taking the aminos in conjunction with something else?

        1. Kion Aminos can absolutely replace protein powder for muscle building and recovery purposes. It’s important to note that Aminos won’t necessarily build muscle in isolation – there are a few other factors that need to be in check as well. The basics for muscle building are consistently doing some form of progressive resistance training and eating at a caloric surplus. Once you’re doing those, Aminos will absolutely help!

  15. Why are the relative quantities of AA’s in your product proprietary? Do you know the secret ratio? Love your podcast, but this makes me wary. With supplements, I usually just assume “proprietary” means “produced in the cheapest way possible.”

    1. In the interest of complete transparency and as a part of our mission to provide the highest quality products, we are working to phase out all proprietary blends and labeling. All of our products will list their exact ingredients and quantities over the next year.

  16. Is it better to take a supplement that constains just the EAAs? or a supplement that contains all 18 amino acids including all 8 EAAs? Thanks!

    1. The non-essential amino acids are easily produced by the body, so a supplement that contains just the EAAs will do the trick.

    1. Yes, but activation of the mTor pathway is necessary to build muscle. While there is a link to mTor activation and decreased longevity, the effects can be largely mitigated by simple steps like fasting or even just protein fasting for a stretch.

  17. Is there any guarantee that the expensive EAAs will work for muscle building rather than for energy need (burn like glucose during the workout)?

    1. A small percentage of the EAAs (specifically the three branched chain amino acids) will be used for fuel during your workout. However, the complete EAA profile will contribute to muscle maintenance and repair. Consider taking EAAs after your workout to aid in the recovery process if muscle-building is your primary goal.

    1. It depends on your goal for fasting. EAAs can make fasting easier and more sustainable by suppressing hunger and cravings, improving energy levels, helping you maintain muscle mass, and supporting training in a fasted state. If your primary goal for fasting is to lose weight and improve body composition, EAAs will not negatively impact your fast and will likely improve your results.

      Amino acids have been shown to inhibit autophagy, so you might want to skip them if maximizing autophagy is your goal.

  18. How does EAA differ in absorption than say whey protein isolate? My understanding is that the whey consists of EAA’s as well.

    1. Whey does indeed contain the essential amino acids. However, whey protein isolate has a utilization rate of about 18%, whereas isolated EAAs have a utilization rate of 99%. So, there’s essentially zero waste and very minimal calories in EAAs when compared to whey.

  19. Great article- I might have missed this – “Of the 20 amino acids, nine are classified as essential. Essential amino acids are the ones that the body can’t produce itself”. The product only had 8 not 9. Is there a reason why all 9 are not included? Also, thought in a podcast with Ann Gittleman and you, she mentioned that 9 needed to be in there as well.

    1. You’re correct – Kion EAAs contain 8 of the 9 EAAs. Our formulation excludes Histidine because blood Histidine levels will rise naturally when you consume the other EAAs.

    1. The best time to take EAAs depends on your goals. Here are several options for timing:

      1. Take them 20-30 minutes before a workout as a pre-workout boost or to support fasted exercise
      2. Take them during your workout if you need an extra push through a high-intensity session or every 1-2 hours during long sessions
      3. Take them within 1 hour after a workout to improve your recovery
      4. Take them first thing in the morning to support fasting and improved energy levels
      5. Take them 30-60 minutes before bed to support deep sleep.

      It’s best to use EAAs on an empty stomach. Food, especially additional protein or fat, will interfere with the utilization rate of our formula. Having said that, our aminos are fully absorbed within 30 minutes, so any food consumed outside of that timeframe will not interfere with utilization.

    1. You can take EAAs at any time around your workout, depending on your personal goals:

      1. Take them 20-30 minutes before a workout as a pre-workout boost or to support fasted exercise
      2. Take them during your workout if you need an extra push through a high-intensity session or every 1-2 hours during long sessions
      3. Take them within 1 hour after you workout to improve your recovery

  20. What is you recommendation for a 67 year old male who works out either strength and or cardio daily for about an hour? Mounting biking, road and deadlifts, squats, bench etc in the gym with sandbags thrown in 2 days per week. How much aminos daily

    1. We recommend starting with one serving a day, either pre-workout for an energy boost or post-workout to aid in recovery. You can add in an additional serving if you feel like you need an additional recovery or performance aid.

  21. An important thing to add would be the ideal time to take them. I have a few bottles of the Kion aminos is it better to take before or after training ?

    Thanks Ben !

    1. The ideal time to take EAAs depends on your personal needs. You can take them as a pre-workout boost performance or support fasted training, and you can take them post-workout to improve recovery.

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