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Why Essential Amino Acids are Critical for Training Recovery

Posted on July 20 2017



With the market being flooded with branched chained amino acid products, essential amino acids seem to be left in the dark. The sad truth is EAAs are more beneficial for skeletal muscle hypertrophy than BCAAs. We need to remember that amino acid profiles correlate directly to how well we can stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS.) You need every essential amino acid in order to maximally stimulate MPS. The only thing limiting how well that stimulation can occur is the rate limiting amino acid, or the amino acid that the source is the lowest in. This means that even though leucine itself can trigger MPS, it won't be maximally triggered. Bring in BCAAs that only have 3 amino acids. Of course, it will trigger MPS but you’re not giving your body ALL the raw material it needs in order to maximally stimulate MPS. Bring in EAAs and the problem is solved because your giving your body every amino acid required to trigger the growing process. To illustrate some key points of this even further, Churchward-Venne et al conducted research on “supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men” (1.) The key points made were:


  • Essential amino acids (EAAs) stimulate increased rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS).


  • Leucine is a key regulator of MPS in rodents; however, its importance relative to the other EAAs is not clear.


  • About 20 g of protein maximally stimulates MPS after resistance exercise in young men, but we do not know if smaller doses can be made better by adding certain amino acids.


  • We report that a suboptimal dose of whey protein (6.25 g) supplemented with either leucine or a mixture of EAAs without leucine stimulates MPS similar to 25 g of whey protein under resting conditions; however, only 25 g of whey sustains exercise-induced rates of MPS.


  • Adding leucine or a mixture of EAAs without leucine to a suboptimal dose of whey is as effective as 25 g whey at stimulating fed rates of MPS; however, 25 g of whey is better suited to increase resistance exercise-induced muscle anabolism.


I believe we’re all on the same page now in terms of understanding just how important EAAs are as a whole. But now we need to look into specifically how critical the timing aspect can be for growth and training recovery. Tipton et al looked specifically at the timing of amino acids with carbohydrates and found how it alters the anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. The present study was designed to determine whether consumption of an oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement (EAC) before exercise results in a greater anabolic response than supplementation after resistance exercise. Six healthy human subjects participated in two trials in random order, PRE (EAC consumed immediately before exercise), and POST (EAC consumed immediately after exercise). A primed, continuous infusion of L-[ring-(2)H(5)]phenylalanine, femoral arteriovenous catheterization, and muscle biopsies from the vastus lateralis were used to determine phenylalanine concentrations, enrichments, and net uptake across the leg. Blood and muscle phenylalanine concentrations were increased by approximately 130% after drink consumption in both trials. Amino acid delivery to the leg was increased during exercise and remained elevated for the 2 h after exercise in both trials. Delivery of amino acids (amino acid concentration times blood flow) was significantly greater in PRE, than in POST during the exercise bout and in the 1st h after exercise (P < 0.05). Total net phenylalanine uptake across the leg was greater (P = 0.0002) during PRE (209 +/- 42 mg) than during POST (81 +/- 19). Phenylalanine disappearance rate, an indicator of muscle protein synthesis from blood amino acids, increased after EAC consumption in both trials. These results indicate that the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an EAC solution immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise, primarily because of an increase in muscle protein synthesis as a result of increased delivery of amino acids to the leg (2.)


This article should prove that essential amino acids are important for recovery, are the true “important” amino acids, and are primarily responsible for the amino acid-induced stimulation of muscle protein anabolism (3.) Even furthermore, we know that timing of EAAs is critical as well. Assuming you are eating the typical bodybuilding diet of eating every few hours with a meal consisting of a high-quality protein source of a minimum of 25 grams of protein along with either high quality carbohydrate or essential fatty acid sources, your main concern should be timing of EAA supplementation peri-workout as that is the time when your body can truly utilize them most efficiently and effectively. There is some literature to support an EAA supplement sipped between meals to increase aminoacidemia (to prolong the synthetic response) but I feel this is very person to person dependent and may or may not be as beneficial when looking at taking EAAs peri-workout.


Alex Kikel

MS, PES, CPT, Speed and Explosion Specialist Level II

Owner of www.theprepcoach.com

Buy Our Essential Amino Acid Supplement Here 


Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. Churchward-Venne, T. A., Burd, N. A., Mitchell, C. J., West, D. W. D., Philp, A., Marcotte, G. R., … Phillips, S. M. (2012). The Journal of Physiology, 590 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424729/)

Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. K. D. Tipton, B. B. Rasmussen, S. L. Miller, S. E. Wolf, S. K. Owens-Stovall, B. E. Petrini, R. R. Wolfe. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11440894)

Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults. Elena Volpi, Hisamine Kobayashi, Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Bettina Mittendorfer, Robert R Wolfe. Am J Clin Nutr. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12885705)