Amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein chains and are found at some level in the body of every living organism on earth.
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acid and describes a group of three of the twenty standard amino acids in humans: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
These three amino acids account for a significant fraction of muscle protein. Still, the jury is unsure whether BCAA’s or complete amino acid supplements are best for weight training and recovery.
- Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, while Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) is a type of amino acid that includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
- Amino acids are found in a variety of foods, while athletes often use BCAA supplements to improve exercise performance and reduce muscle damage.
- Amino acids are essential for a wide range of bodily functions, while BCAA may be particularly important for muscle protein synthesis and recovery after exercise.
Amino Acids vs BCAA
The difference between Amino Acids and BCAA is that Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein in the human body, divided into essential and non-essential amino acids. BCAA implies threes of the essential amino acids, i.e., leucine, isoleucine and valine, and they differ from other essential amino acids in terms of their structure.
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Although amino acids and BCAA’s are structured similarly as they contain amine and carboxyl functional groups, the difference between them is the multiple carbon atoms that attach in a chain to the side of the molecule.
|Parameter of Comparison||Amino Acids||BCAAs|
|Structure||Carboxylic acids with an amino group||Amino acid with three or more carbon atoms attached to one alpha-carbon|
|Number||500 in total. 20 standard and 9 essential for humans||3. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine.|
|Source||Synthesized in the body or from food sources||It must be from supplements or food.|
|Location||Metabolized in liver||Metabolized in muscles|
|Function||Many and varied functions||Muscle growth/recovery, glucose regulation, pain suppression|
What are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are essentially the building blocks for different proteins used for many other functions in living organisms and dietary supplements for humans and animals.
The easiest way to imagine how they work is to pretend that the amino acids are letters of the alphabet, and the proteins are all the words you can make with them.
In English, you can make many words with only twenty-six letters, just as with the twenty standard amino acids, our bodies can create upwards of ten thousand different proteins.
All amino acids will have groups of amine and carboxyl atoms in the chemical makeup, and there are approximately five hundred known amino acids today. To make up a protein required by our bodies, amino acids arrange themselves in a large string, and the order in which they are sequenced will determine the function of that protein.
Of the twenty standard amino acids, nine are known as essential, meaning that we must ingest them into our bodies, whereas the other eleven can be synthesized.
These numbers can vary a little by age, as nutrition requirements are lesser in older humans and higher in children, and animals all have different essential amino acids.
Amino acids are used in many bodily processes, such as vasodilation, hormone secretion, collagen production, brain activities, and vitamin production.
Outside of the human body, amino acids are used in the food industry to add flavour to different prepared meals and are also added to animal feed to make up for lack of nutrition.
What is BCAA?
There are only three BCAAs that are essential for humans: leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and their “branch chain” is what sets them apart from the other amino acids.
That means that an alpha carbon atom branches off the side of the molecule and has a minimum of three other carbon molecules attached and surrounding it.
The three BCAAs make up forty per cent of humans’ required dietary amino acid intake. It is well documented that they play a huge role in protein synthesis and turnover, as well as the metabolization of glucose.
For this reason, BCAAs have become the subject of much speculation and research by sports scientists to see if supplements can improve athletic performance/recovery.
The BCAAs activate enzymes that encourage muscle growth and repair damage done by exercising; however, many studies have shown that taking BCAA supplements is not as effective at building mass as whey protein.
They are also thought to help with workout recovery, given they lower the body’s level of creatine and lactate after physical exertion, which are chemicals involved in muscle damage.
They also encourage muscle growth (although less than all amino acid supplements) and recovery and have been shown to improve function and symptoms in people with liver disease.
Main Differences Between Amino Acids and BCAA
- Amino acids have a group of amine and carboxyl atoms in their chemical makeup, whereas BCAAs have a carbon atom chain that “branches” off to the side.
- Approximately five hundred amino acids are known to humanity, twenty of which are considered “standard”, nine are considered essential, and three are our BCAAs.
- Amino acids, in general, can be synthesized in the body, usually by our livers, whereas the BCAA’s are essential amino acids and must be ingested in food or supplements.
- The liver metabolizes most of the standard amino acids in humans; however, the muscles are the point of action for the BCAAs, which are therefore metabolized there.
- The BCAAs have a lot to do with muscle growth and recovery, whereas amino acids generally have a vast and varied range of functions in the human body.
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Piyush Yadav has spent the past 25 years working as a physicist in the local community. He is a physicist passionate about making science more accessible to our readers. He holds a BSc in Natural Sciences and Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Science. You can read more about him on his bio page.