What Are Essential Amino Acids? What Are Their Benefits?

essential amino acids

Essential Amino Acids, or EAAs for short, are a combination of nine different essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce on its own and need to be taken in from food/supplementation. They include leucine, isoleucine, valine, histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, they are crucial in the synthesis of muscle growth and prevention of muscle catabolism as well as mental health. Most types of meat, fish, eggs and certain plant sources like quinoa and chia seeds are all considered complete proteins, because they contain all nine essential amino acids your body needs.

EAAs are usually sold in pill or powder form, with a serving size of anywhere from 1 to 15 grams. Like most dietary supplements, powder form is generally cheaper because with pills the convenience factor influences the cost. While neither forms of pure EAAs contain calories it should be mentioned to always check the nutrition label because some brands add anything from sweetener to caffeine to amino acid supplements which can change the nature of the product greatly.

Who Should Supplement With EAAs?

You most likely haven’t seen all the EAAs by name before, but a few that you might have include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, that is because they are the three essential amino acids make up BCAAs, or Branch Chain Amino Acids. While they are a much more popular supplement, the focus in this article will be on all nine EAAs which are also sold in supplement form. Both supplements have the same effect to a degree, but the one thing EAAs have over BCAAs is that it covers more bases in that it includes a wider amino acid profile. All the benefits talked about in this article do apply to BCAAs as well.

essential amino acids

The fitness industry is much divided when it comes to its support for EAA supplementation. Some argue that since our diet is varied enough to include every EAA from strictly food sources, we do not need to supplement with extra amino acids. Others believe that supplemental EAAs can do wonders for preserving muscle in a fasted state and reduce exercise related fatigue a nominal amount. This is where your fitness goals and training style come into play. The group of athletes who most likely will get no extra benefit from supplemental EAAs are eating in a calorie surplus, never training fasted, and have a pre/post workout meal full of protein and carbs. They don’t have to worry about losing muscle mass and can grow fine without needing any supplemental EAAs. Conversely, if you ever train on an empty stomach, don’t have time for a post workout meal, or are currently trying to lose weight and get rid of excess fat, EAAs can most definitely help you!

What Do EAAs Do?

What EAAs can do for you while in a fasted state (whether you’re performing cardio or weight training) is prevent any muscle catabolism that might occur. With the added benefit of not having calories, having a shake mixed with EAAs will keep you in a fasted state and continue any fat oxidation benefits you might get from the lack of glucose being utilized for energy during your workout. Anyone trying to slim down for the summer might need to cut out that protein rich post workout shake, replacing it with a drink rich in EAAs has been shown to be just as effective as that scoop of whey protein for muscle recovery and synthesis, without any added calories!

essential amino acids

Supplementing with EAAs can be beneficial for anyone following an intermittent fasting routine as well, giving you peace of mind that you can go 16 hours without any food and not worry about burning any muscle. To put it simply, if you are eating in a calorie deficit diet to try to get leaner, your body is going to burn muscle along with body fat, and EAAs main purpose is to help preserve as much muscle as possible without adding any extra calories to your diet.

Take-Home Message

Whether you’re supplementing with BCAAs, or EAAs, both have a very legitimate use to help anyone wanting to preserve their muscle mass while in a calorie deficit diet. My recommendation is to take 5 grams of a pill or powder whenever you know you’re going to be without food for an extended period of time. Mix EAAs with other supplements to maximize the benefits of a shake to drink during your workout including creatine, glutamine, and beta-alanine.

No negative effects will come from supplemental amino acids if you make sure the company you buy the product from is reputable, lists the dosages of each included amino acid (to prevent under dosing) and has the user in mind at the end of the day, not how much money they can get from making products with low quality ingredients. I hope that you can use this article as inspiration to do your own research on quality supplements, helping you to really know what you’re putting into your body and if you fit the criteria to be able to benefit from it!

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Billy Galipeault

Billy Galipeault

Writer and expert

Billy is passionate about all things fitness and nutrition, with an emphasis on muscle and strength building. He's currently serving active duty in the air force, while building his body muscle by muscle in his free time.

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