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A lot of gym bunnies are using BCAA'S and EAA’s - it’s all over the gram. But what actually are they?! I chat to nutrition supplement expert Greg Haglund (Founder/Director of Switch Nutrition) to get the low-down.

What are BCAA’s? 

BCAA’s stands for Branched Chain Amino Acid. These are 3 of the 9 Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s). Their branched nature allows for rapid absorption so this has lead marketing companies to promote then as the aminos of choice. Supplements usually come in a powdered form to add to water, juice or smoothies.

The difference between BCAA’s and EAA’s 

As mentioned above BCAA’s are 3 of the 9 EAA’s. When something is essential it means you must get from your food or a supplement. Your body can’t make them. This is why meta-analysis (the study of all studies) shows having all 9 EAA’s is close to 200% better than having only 3 BCAA’s. In addition to this, you need to be particular about the ratio of the EAA’s. If you get the wrong ratio you can prevent complete absorption because the transport system is overburdened.

Take home message: Try and find an EAA with a Perfect Human Ratio (PHR) or Master Amino Acid Profile (MAP) like this one.

BCAA Benefits 

  • Reduced muscle breakdown
  • Improved mental focus
  • Stimulated muscle protein synthesis (recovery)

However, to fully benefit from the increased mTOR (protein synthesis) you need all EAA’s present.

BCAA’s side effects and dosage 

BCAA’s and EAA’s are the simplest form of protein so the dosage depends on lean body weight and physical activity. As a general rule of thumb, 5 – 10g of BCAA's around training should be enough. Less is needed if you take EAA’s because they are more effective!

Take home message: Supplement with EAA’s over BCAA’s where possible to maximise the benefits, and find a product free of added sugars or artificial colours and sweeteners.

Sally O'Neil - Editor in Chief

Sal is on a mission to prove that healthy and nutritious doesn’t have to be boring – and that even while staying in shape you can have your cake and eat it too. After losing 14kg from adopting a healthier lifestyle, she shares her journey with others on The Fit Foodie Blog. She also works as a commercial food photographer and stylist, is studying a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, and is the author of two cookbooks: Love Move Eat (Bauer Media, 2017) and Meal Prep Plan (Murdoch, 2019).

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