What Are EAAs? Here’s What You Need To Know

What are EAAs: man using battle ropes

What Are EAAs? Here’s What You Need To Know

Essential amino acids (or EAAs) have become a watchword in the field of sports nutrition — and for good reason. We all need them for our bodies to function properly, but they’re especially important if you’re an athlete, bodybuilder, or otherwise extremely active in your daily life.

If you’re wondering, “what are EAAs?” we’ll clarify that in this article, along with why you need them. We’ll also look at where to get them, when to take them, and how to choose a high-quality EAA supplement if you decide to go that route — because you get what you pay for.

What Are Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)?

What are EAAs? They’re the building blocks of protein. Your body needs them for many functions, from building and maintaining bones, organs, and muscle to supporting immune function and energy production. They’re also critical for producing hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, hemoglobin, and more. 

The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

EAAs are “essential” amino acids because your body can’t produce them — unlike non-essential amino acids. That means you need to get them from your daily protein intake.

What Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)?

Branched-chain amino acids are a subcategory of essential amino acids. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These have a branched molecular structure (hence the name) and are particularly important if you’re involved in bodybuilding or athletics because they’re intrinsic to the anabolic process of building muscle mass. Leucine triggers the process of muscle protein synthesis, while isoleucine and valine help produce energy to keep you going during your workout.

Benefits of EAAs

What are EAAs: woman doing lat pulldowns

We’ve explored what EAAs are, and as we’ve mentioned, EAAs have many different functions. For our purposes here, though, these are some of the most important:

Muscle Growth and Recovery

When used in combination with resistance exercise, EAAs help build muscle tissue and strength. All the EAAs are necessary for this, but as we’ve mentioned, BCAAs are particularly critical.

When you work out intensely, you create small tears in your muscle tissue. During muscle recovery, your body gets to work on tissue repair, and in the process, your muscles grow bigger and stronger. EAAs — especially BCAAs — are intrinsically involved in that repair process and help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), something many athletes suffer from.

Weight Loss

If one of your goals is to reduce body fat as you sculpt your body, EAAs can help.

Normally you get most of your energy from carbohydrates, but if you’re reducing calories — and especially cutting back on carbs — to lose body fat, you need to take care. When you run out of the readily available glucose your body needs for energy, it starts to break down your muscle tissue to access the glycogen stored there. This is a catabolic process, and if it continues, you’ll end up losing that hard-won muscle.

However, if you top up on EAAs, your body will have the energy it needs — without too many extra calories — and you’ll burn fat, not muscle.

So what are EAAs? They’re essentially potential muscle and energy, just waiting to be unleashed.

Where To Get EAAs

Healthy salad on a plate

Essential amino acids come from your protein intake, whether in whole foods or dietary supplements. That said, you should always start with whole foods as they contain a wide range of nutrients. The best protein sources are complete animal proteins like beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy. Complete proteins contain all the EAAs you need in one bundle. 

If your diet is plant-based, there are a few vegan complete protein sources, like quinoa, soybeans, hemp, and chia. You can also combine incomplete proteins — like beans and rice or peanut butter and whole-grain bread — over the day to get adequate amounts of EAAs.

If you’re very active, though, daily ingestion of whole-food protein may not be enough.

Whereas the average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram each day, athletes may require up to 2 grams per kilogram or more.

In that case, you may need to consider essential amino acid supplements. These come in many different combinations. For example, you can get leucine, tryptophan, or lysine individually, or you can buy a supplement that includes all nine EAAs.

An alternative is branched-chain amino acid supplementation. These supplements only contain BCAAs. While they’re missing the full range of essential amino acids, BCAA supplements are even more quickly digested and absorbed by the body than other EAA supplements, giving you fast access to energy and muscle-building power.

Another way to get all the EAAs is from protein powder. Some of the most popular protein supplements are whey protein and pea protein. Respectively, these are made from whey, extracted from the process of making cheese, and yellow split peas.

Many athletes combine EAAs, BCAAs, or protein powder with other helpful ingredients like collagen, creatine, glutamine, or electrolytes for an even wider range of benefits, including increased strength, flexibility, energy, and hydration.

So are EAAs what you need? If you’re an athlete, the answer is likely to be yes.

When To Take EAAs

Coach cheering her student while working out

Now we know what EAAs are, let’s discuss when to take them.

There’s a wide range of opinions out there on when to take EAAs, with one camp opting for pre-workout and another for post-workout. However, the latest research shows that the window for taking EAAs is reasonably large. 

That said, your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein at one time. So, it’s best to take small amounts regularly throughout the day. For example, you could add it to your breakfast eggs, your mid-morning smoothie, and the stew you eat that night.

What to Look for When Buying EAA Supplements

When you’re buying amino acid supplements, quality matters. Look for a high-quality brand that gives you all the muscle-building benefits you’re looking for.

Depending on your weight, you need between 6 grams and 12 grams of EAAs per dose. So check the ingredients list to make sure you’re getting enough EAAs per serving. Avoid supplements stuffed with fillers like soy and those that contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners.  

Products that contain Ingredient Optimized protein powder tick all the right boxes. They’ve been proven to be more bioavailable than non-optimized supplements, promoting increased muscle mass, strength, and recovery.

Look out for our partner products on the shelves now:

Performix ioWHEY Protein

Kaged Muscle Plantein

Kaged Muscle Clean Meal

Myprotein The ioPEA

So What Are EAAs? Nutritional Powerhouses You Need

Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They provide your body with the nutrients needed to build and maintain muscle, bones, and organs, as well as some of the smaller elements like hormones and enzymes. They also help to provide energy and manage your body fat. 

You can get your EAAs from complete or incomplete protein sources. If you’re training intensively, top up with high-quality protein supplements that contain Ingredient Optimized protein. Take it regularly throughout the day and watch your muscle build and your energy levels soar.