BCAAs VS EAAs - Scam or Secret Weapon for Vegans?

Aktualisiert: Mai 12

BCAAs (Branched - Chain Amino Acids) and EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) are 2 highly acclaimed supplements that have been recommended in the sports and nutritional supplement industry for years. However, especially BCAAs have come under extreme criticism in the last 2 years and are titled with nouns like "money-making" or "scam". With good reason?




What are BCAAs and EAAs?



There are a total of 20 proteinogenic (protein-building) amino acids, which are more or less essential for our muscle building, regeneration and health. A distinction is made between essential, semi-essential and non-essential amino acids (1). BCAAs are three of these amino acids, whereby they belong to the group of essential amino acids to be exact. These are called leucine, isoleucine and valine. Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) Essential Amino Acids are amino acids that we have to supply our body with through our food, as it cannot produce them itself. Only when our body receives protein that has a complete amino acid profile, can protein biosynthesis take place, which is responsible for cell healing or cell formation. A protein is considered complete when the EAAs of a protein source are in a correct/high ratio to the other amino acids. If the goal is to build muscle, promote regeneration or other athletic goals, the selection of a protein source should be considered carefully.

What are the benefits of BCAAs and EAAs and why are they important?


Essential amino acids are the condition to complete an amino acid profile and reflect the quality of a protein. Essential means that the human body cannot synthesize these amino acids itself and they have to be added through food or dietary supplements. Protein sources that do not contain all EAAs cannot be completely used by the body to build cell mass (e.g. muscle, skin, hair) (1). EAAs can help you protect muscle in a calorie-reduced diet and build new muscle when you have excess calories. As described above, BCAAs are essential branched-chain amino acids that we must supply our body with through food or in the form of supplements, as our body cannot produce these amino acids. During heavy physical or athletic stress, so-called "micro traumas" occur in our muscles due to oxidative stress. During the regeneration phase these cells are rebuilt, making them stronger and more efficient (11). In protein biosynthesis, leucine is supposed to serve as the so-called "key amino acid" for the protein biosynthesis of muscle building and isoleucine is responsible for transporting glucose into the cell. The exact role of valine still needs to be further researched (2). Without BCAAs, protein biosynthesis would not be possible! Studies have shown that protein biosynthesis was stimulated by a maximum of 22% more in the test group of healthy athletes who consumed BCAAs during an experiment than in the placebo group. However, compared to the test group that consumed EAAs, protein biosynthesis was activated 50% less in the BCAA test group (10)! It is also important to pay attention to the ratio of leucine to the other two BCAAs in the EAAs.



BCAA and EAA ratio and alternatives

BCAAs are mostly advertised in the ratio 2:1:2, 4:1:1 or 8:1:1, where the first number stands for the amount of the amino acid leucine in relation to the other two BCAAs isoleucine and valine. Studies show that leucine is considered a key amino acid in protein biosynthesis and should be at least twice (or more) the amount of the other two BCAA's (5). However, studies have shown that supplementing leucine alone without other amino acids does not promote protein synthesis in muscles (6). It has even been suggested that supplementing leucine alone has been shown to decrease plasma concentrations of isoleucine and valine in the blood, which may indicate that the correct ratio of leucine to the other two BCAA's is crucial for catalysing protein synthesis to achieve an anabolic effect(9). It can therefore be concluded that a 2:1:1 or 4:1:1 ratio of leucine to the other two BCAAs may be a good measure of the correct distribution.


What are the benefits of BCAAs and EAAs and why are they important?


As described above, BCAAs are essential branched-chain amino acids that we need to provide to our body through food or in the form of supplements because our body cannot produce these amino acids. During heavy physical or athletic stress, so-called "micro traumas" occur in our muscles due to oxidative stress. During the regeneration phase these cells are rebuilt, making them stronger and more efficient (11). In protein biosynthesis, leucine is supposed to serve as the so-called "key amino acid" for the protein biosynthesis of muscle building and isoleucine is responsible for transporting glucose into the cell. The exact role of valine still needs to be further researched (2). Without BCAAs, protein biosynthesis would not be possible! Essential amino acids are the condition to complete an amino acid profile and reflect the quality of a protein. Essential means that the human body cannot synthesize these amino acids itself and they have to be added through food or dietary supplements. Protein sources that do not contain all EAAs cannot be completely used by the body to build cell mass (e.g. muscle, skin, hair) (1). EAAs can help you protect muscle in a calorie-reduced diet and build new muscle when you have excess calories. Studies have shown that protein biosynthesis was stimulated by a maximum of 22% more in the test group of healthy athletes who consumed BCAAs during an experiment than in the placebo group. However, compared to the test group that consumed EAAs, protein biosynthesis was activated 50% less in the BCAA test group (10)! It is also important to pay attention to the ratio of leucine to the other two BCAAs in the EAAs. For the Impact EAAs of MyProtein the BCAAs are given in a ratio of 4:1:1 and the product is vegan and gluten free! This gives every athlete, no matter what kind of diet he/she follows, the possibility to generate a perfect muscle protection and muscle building.

Is the supplementation of BCAAs then still useful?


At the point how useful the supplementation of BCAAs are the spirits are divided, because there are many studies that speak for a positive effect of BCAAs in the context of regeneration and muscle building and fat loss. On the other hand, the current study situation is more in the direction that supplementation of BCAAs alone does not make much sense. In animal protein sources, such as chicken, beef, egg, whey protein, BCAAs are in a good ratio to the other 17 proteinogenic amino acids, but especially to EAAs, which gives our body access to a complete pool of amino acids. Vegetable protein sources such as soya or hemp protein also have a complete amino acid profile (1). BCAAs alone can activate protein biosynthesis, but cannot maintain it for long enough as long as not all essential amino acids are in the amino acid pool. The limiting factor for protein biosynthesis is always the amount of EAAs present in the amino acid pool (9). However, studies in which athletes have been on a calorie-reduced diet have shown that supplementation of BCAAs alone has not shown a significant benefit in terms of muscle maintenance and recovery (4)(5). BCAAs may be useful when used in combination with other amino acids/protein sources to provide a complete amino acid profile.

Why can athletes and especially vegans benefit from EAAs ?

As most of my blog readers know, plant proteins often have a lower biological value or an incomplete amino acid profile at first glance because plant proteins sometimes do not contain all EAAs (1): However, this is not a problem, as the right combination of certain foods can achieve a high biological value and a complete amino acid profile. If you still feel unclear on this topic, I recommend you read the article on Nutrition Basics: https://www.wix.com/dashboard/db88bcd4-56a7-4e3d-b5da-87ee32381fc2/blog/5ea1eb4bea57f50017ec0b16/edit https://www.mynutritionblog.org/post/nutrition-basics-2-0-how-much-protein---your-free-nutrition-plan For example, rice has a BW of 81-31 and most legumes have a BW of 55-65. Combined with some nuts, like in my vegan chickpea curry https://www.mynutritionblog.org/post/caramelized-chickpeas-curry-vegan, you increase the biological value to over 100 and shine with a complete amino acid profile. Instead of building a complete dish that contains all the EAAs, you can also, for example, eat a vegetable protein meal before or after your workout with BCAAs or EAAs. However, it is recommended to drink EAAs because they cost the same as BCAAs and it makes no sense to drink only BCAAs when you can have all EAAs. When you buy EAAs, make sure you buy the herbal version, because there are both animal-based and plant-based EAAs.

How to take

Consume 10 - 15 grams of EAAs with a protein meal 1-2 hours before or after training to optimally activate and above all maintain protein synthesis. Another option would be to take 25g of EAAs by itself or combine EAAs with a protein shake, e.g. pea, rice or soy protein, 5 grams of creatine https://www.mynutritionblog.org/post/creatine-why-you-can-expect-miracles-how-to-use and 150-250mg of caffeine to get a solid pre workout shake with a scientifically proved value.

Take Home Message

When it comes to the topic of BCAAs and EAAs, opinions often differ, because especially in the world of sports and fitness the correct application of these two supplements is disregarded. BCAAs are extremely important for protein synthesis, but the completeness of all EAAs is always the decisive and limiting factor for muscle building and regeneration. Conversely, this means that it might make more sense to supplement all EAAs to your diet, as they do not differ in taste and price from BCAAs. Especially in combination with vegetable protein sources, vegan EAA supplements can become a secret weapon for meat-free athletes and active people who want to improve their regeneration and muscle protection/muscle building.












References

(1) ELMADFA, Ibrahim (2009): Ernährungslehre. 2. Auflage. Stuttgart: Eugen Ulmer

(2) Patel K (2019): Summary of Brached Chain Amino Acids: https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/

(3) Patel K (2019): Essential Amino Acids: https://examine.com/topics/essential-amino-acids/

(4) Dieter P & Schoenfeld B & Aragon A (2016): The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4865017/

(5) Spillane M et al. (2012): The effects of 8 weeks of heavy resistance training and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and muscle performance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24620007

(6) Ispoglou T et al. (2011): Daily L-leucine supplementation in novice trainees during a 12-week weight training program: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21487148

(7) Aguiar AF et al. (2017): Free leucine supplementation during an 8-week resistance training program does not increase muscle mass and strength in untrained young adult subjects: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28444456/

(8) Shimomura, Y., et al. (2004): Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15173434.

(9) Robert R. Wolfe (2017): Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9

(10) Sarah R. Jackman et al. (2017): Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00390/full

(11) Kadi F et al. (2004): The effects of heavy resistance training and detraining on satellite cells in human skeletal muscles: https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1113/jphysiol.2004.065904

mynutritionblog

©2020 content created by Konstantin Morozan.