BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) vs EAAs (Essential Amino Acids)

by Dr. David Minkoff June 18, 2019 6 min read

Athletic female working on battle rope exercise on the beach.

BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) are all the craze these days. Pushed by supplements companies and hyped by paid sponsors, what are these supplements, what do they actually do, and are they worth it?

Some of the claims include:

Increased muscle, preventing muscle loss, rapid energy, endurance, and much more. 

They are pushed by large supplement companies and even touted by sponsored sports figures as something bordering on the nectar of the gods.

But what are BCAAs, what do they do inside the body, and what results can you ACTUALLY expect from them?

In this article I’ll cover: 

  • What BCAAs are, what EAAs are, what the difference is and what they each can and cannot do, 
  • What happens to protein when it enters the body and where it actually goes (it’s not what you think), 
  • How effective each of the different protein sources are at creating new muscle (they are each different form each other), 
  • And what actually helps with: 
    • Longer workouts,
    • Maintained and even improved muscle mass after fasted workouts,
    • Faster recovery and healing of injuries,
    • Lessened sugar highs and lows,
    • Decreased mood swings during fasted workouts.

First, this isn’t an effort to bash on BCAAs. They aren’t bad in and of themselves and, in fact, are absolutely necessary to the overall health of the body and creation of protein for muscle, ligaments, bone and much more.

It’s more a matter of mis-representation. Because the claims made about BCAAs actually belong to a larger group of amino acids: the essential amino acids, of which the BCAAs are only a part.


Protein and Amino Acids in the Body

Many people think that when you consume protein, such as meat or whey powder, that these go into your stomach and are broken down into individual protein or collagen molecules and then sent to where they are needed.

But in reality it goes deeper than that. When you consume protein, of any kind, it isn’t broken down into protein molecules. Instead, it goes into your stomach and intestines and is broken down into the amino acids.

And what are amino acids? They’re the building blocks of protein. They’re what your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, skin, hair, nails, internal organs and even your endocrine system is made of.

It’s the same for collagen, which is also made of protein. Many people think that when they take collagen powder it’s broken down and then sent to where collagen is needed in the body. Nope. It’s broken down into amino acids, just like meat, and sent where they’re needed.


So What's the Difference Between BCAAs and EAAs?

So protein is made of amino acids. But there are two types of amino acids. Non-essential and essential.

The non-essential amino acids are amino acids that your body can produce on its own. It doesn’t need them from an outside source.

But the essential amino acids are called essential because the body cannot produce them on its own. It has to get them from the food we eat.

So here’s the kicker: we need all of the essential amino acids, in an exact combination, to create new protein. If we don't have all of them, and in that combination — we can’t make protein. It’s that simple.

So… if the the BCAAs are only 3 of the essential amino acids, and you need all 8 of them to create protein… then can BCAAs create protein on their own?

That’s right. Go to the head of the class. They can’t. It’s physically impossible.


But... How Do I Get Energy From BCAAs?

Very good question, and that gets into protein utilization and what happens to individual essential amino acids that aren't paired with others to become protein.

See, if you take in some of the EAAs, such as BCAAs, but the other essential amino acids are not present or in the right combination necessary to make protein, the body still has to do something with them.

And it does. It turns them into sugar! Or fat.

That’s right. That’s where the energy comes from. The amino acids are broken down and turned into carbohydrates. So… you thought you were getting protein and really… you were getting carbs.

Now, if you’re fine with that, great, keep taking them. But you’ll get just as much benefit from eating a banana.

Just remember: too much nitrogen waste from amino acids (which is what it all ends up as) is very hard on the kidneys and can reach toxic levels if too much are taken.

So DO NOT over do it.

… or just have a banana.


How Does This Relate to Other Protein Sources?

Another good question! We’re now in the field of protein utilization. What’s that? Well, not all proteins are created equal. They actually have different amounts of essential amino acids in them.

Did you ever notice how egg protein is more expensive than whey protein, but also more effective? Well, there’s a reason and it has to do with the amounts of essential amino acids present in one vs how much are in the other.

To create a protein molecule you don’t just need all of the essential amino acids — you also need them in the right ratios: 1 of this one, 2 of that, 4 of this and 3 of those, etc.

Look at it like a bicycle. To make a bicycle you need 1 frame, 2 wheels, 1 handle bar, and 4 brake pads (That’s enough for our analogy).

Now, what happens if you have 1 frame, 4 wheels, 9 handle bars and 7 brake pads?

Well, you have more parts. But you’ve still only got one frame. So you can only make one bicycle.

What do you do with the other parts? You put them aside and wait for new parts so you can make more bikes, right? That’s logical.

But it’s not quite the same when it comes to the human body. When you have extra essential amino acids your body doesn’t store them. It turns them into sugars as covered above. Or fat. And eventually eliminates them through the kidneys. 

So let’s look at various protein sources and see how they hold up on this.


Protein Utilization Levels:

BCAAs and Collagen (yes, collagen!) come in at the very bottom:
BCAAs only have 3 EAAs and so cannot make protein on their own. And Collagen is missing tryptophan and so can’t make protein by itself either.
They may provide other benefits, but creating protein isn’t one of them. So we’ll give them a 1% utilization in case they’re taken with other protein sources that have some of the missing EAAs they need.

Whey and soy come in at about 16%:
That’s right. There are only enough EAAs in the proper ratios for about 16% of whey or soy protein to be utilized. That means 84% turns into sugar and then nitrogen waste.
So if you took 50 grams of whey protein… your body is only able to use 8 grams of it.
On top of that, whey is in a form that is actually very hard for the human body to digest and can lead to bloating, gas and digestive troubles down the road.

Meats, fish and poultry are 32% utilized:
Much better, but not quite there. That still means 68% of the protein you thought you were getting is being turned into sugar or eliminated.
As meats are tougher they are also a strain on your digestive system and trying to get more protein from these sources leads to digestive strain and possible toxic overload.

Eggs are the best dietary proteins at 48%:
This is why people say they get the most results from eggs and egg powders.
But there’s a catch. The EAAs that allow for a 48% utilization are present in the whole egg, not just the whites. Take out the yoke and the utilization level drops below that of meats. 

And the very top is breast milk at 49%:
This makes sense given that an infant needs large quantities of protein in order to grow up strong and healthy.


But There is One That is Even Higher

It’s called PerfectAmino and comes in both tablet and powder form. And it’s 99% utilized to create new protein.

PerfectAmino is pure essential amino acids, in the exact ratios that allow for complete utilization and virtually zero waste. No fillers, no binders, no synthetics. Non-GMO and fully vegan.

On top of that, they’re in a form that bypasses the normal digestive processes so there is no strain on your digestive tract and they’re absorbed into the blood stream within 20-30 minutes.

This means, if taken before a workout, they’re present in the blood stream to repair the micro-tears in your muscles as they occur.

And, as they’re only essential amino acids and nothing else, they only contain 4 calories per serving. So they don’t mess with your macros. 

PerfectAmino Tablets and Powder by BodyHealth

What does this give you?

  • Longer workouts.
  • Maintained and even improved muscle mass after fasted workouts.
  • A true clean bulk.
  • Faster recovery and healing of injuries.
  • Stronger, healthier skin.
  • A more balanced endocrine system and much more.

PerfectAmino truly is the perfect protein. If you're serious about increasing results in the gym, building your energy levels and stamina and toning your body while also increasing muscle, PerfectAmino is what you're looking for. 

You can find out more about PerfectAmino HERE.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.