There is a strange ongoing debate between those that believe BCAA is the most effective supplement for maintaining and building lean muscle mass and those that believe it is the EAA. The reason we write “strange” is that they are arguing to create confusion to sell more products while not mentioning that the 3 BCAAs (Leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are part of the 9 EAAs anyway…
The 9 Essentials being:
Essential amino acids cannot be converted down from other forms of amino acids. In a dramatic reality, if we do not get it, we die. It is “essential for life” “Essential” means we can not make it inside our bodies we have to get it from our diet.
We need to make sure we cover our requirements of EAA so, that is the argument for supplementing EAA especially for those that avoid animal protein and use plant-based proteins.
Is it a sales approach?
Why confuse the demographic interested in supplementing their diet with amino acids if the two are inadvertently the same? Because it is thought that supplementing only with BCAA’s provides more of the amino acids Isoleucine, valine and leucine in a higher ratio to better impact the ability for protein synthesis?
Well, there is a bit more to it than that… Plants are the predominant harvesters of solar energy and they constitute a primary resource of carbon, vitamins, minerals, protein, essential fatty acids, and utilizable energy for human food production. It is not surprising, therefore, that plant foods have always supplied the global household with the bulk of its food energy intake and most of its protein needs. However, studies comparing animal protein to plant protein for muscle gain and preservation of lean muscle mass consistently show plant-based proteins to be inferior and the main difference highlighted in the lower level of BCAA in particular Leucine.
Study on BCAA’s and EAA’s
One study investigated what would happen to your amino acid profile if you switched from an omnivore diet to herbivore diet. They discovered the vegan diet intervention caused a sudden decrease (within 48 hours) of total BCAAs (driven by leucine and valine), and decreased total essential amino acids (EAAs) (driven by leucine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, and lysine), and an increase in arginine and glycine. [i]
So, the general consensus is that plant-based protein is inferior to whey in studies due to lower levels of leucine and BCAA. Supplementing the protein in your diet with extra BCAA and leucine but ensuring you have covered the EAA requirements is the answer.
When to supplement the two?
When to supplement EAA and BCAA is the next aspect of the debate. EAA will be utilized in all systems of the body for multiple bodily functions as will the BCAA part. However, BCAA taken around training can have some other benefits. So, with the EAA it doesn’t really matter when you supplement. But for BCAA there are some patterns;
- BCAA pre-workout (before) and intra– workout (during) has a muscle sparing effect. Prevents muscle loss as they are consumed as a source of fuel instead of muscle catabolism fueling your exercise.
- Post-workout (after) they can be used to aid muscle recovery and growth.
Increasing the % of BCAA from 15 to 30% as found in foods to 50% in supplement form we can cover the EAA requirements while supporting the increased requirement for the BCAA for those training or eating plant-based protein predominately or exclusively.
[i] Mol Nutr Food Res. 2018 Feb;62(3). doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201700703. Epub 2017 Dec 28. A 48-Hour Vegan Diet Challenge in Healthy Women and Men Induces a BRANCH-Chain Amino Acid Related, Health Associated, Metabolic Signature.
Draper CF1,2, Vassallo I3, Di Cara A3, Milone C4,5, Comminetti O1, Monnard I6, Godin JP6, Scherer M7, Su M8, Jia W8, Guiraud SP1, Praplan F9, Guignard L9, Ammon Zufferey C1, Shevlyakova M9, Emami N9, Moco S1, Beaumont M9, Kaput J1, Martin FP1.