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Amino Acids

What’s the Difference Between Amino Acids and BCAAs?

For trainers who are new to supplements, this can get real confusing, real fast. Thankfully, we are here to shed some light on the subject and help you differentiate between amino acids and branched-chain amino acids once and for all.

First off (and we’re sure you’ve heard this one before), let’s start by saying that amino acids are the building blocks of protein. In fact, just like a house is built from bricks, so is protein built from a different subset of amino acids. Therefore, in a way, amino acids are to protein what bricks are to a house. Note: these 20 amino acids are called ‘proteinogen amino acids’ because they come together to ultimately form proteins. However, there are 250 other amino acids which do not form protein, and are in fact used to form sugar instead. To avoid additional confusion, we’re only going to refer to the amino acids that form protein, i.e. the proteinogen ones.

All the amino acids are further broken down into three additional sub-categories:

  • Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
  • Non-Essential Amino Acids (NEAAs)
  • Conditionally-Essential Amino Acids (SEAAs)

The first subset – essential amino acids – is absolutely crucial because the body cannot make them on its own. These include isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

The second amino acid subset is considered non-essential because the body can make them on its own. These are alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamine, glutamic acid, glycine, serine, proline, and tyrosine.

Finally, conditionally-essential amino acids are considered as such because they have to be included in the diet under some very strict conditional circumstances. These are histidine and arginine.

Now, where do branched-chain amino acids fit in all of this? Well, BCAAs are considered essential amino acids, as they are part of the eight other EAAs. Branched-chain amino acids are L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine, therefore you can say that all branched-chain amino acids are essential amino acids, but not the other way around (all EAAs are not BCAAs).

Proteinogenic Amino Acids and Structure

Biochemically speaking, the proteinogenic amino acids can be separated through their structure. They can be found in two symmetrical types: the D-structure and the L-structure. The L-structure is the only one that naturally occurs in the body (hence the “L” letter before all BCAAs). This is why it’s absolutely crucial to be informed when picking up your preferred amino acid supplement that the ingredients inside are ‘L’, and not ‘D’ or ‘DL’ forms of amino acids.

Additionally, the most important amino acids for the body are the (proteinogen) L-amino acids. Plus, a sufficient supply of B-vitamins is very important to have an effective amino acid supplementation at all times. In fact, these B-vitamins (B-complex) should not be separated from their naturally occurring chemical state, as this would disrupt the affectability of both B-vitamins and BCAAs as well.  


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