Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) Explained

There are 20 amino acids in total, we know them as the building blocks of protein, since together, they make up every single living thing, from a blade of grass to the muscle in your biceps. Nine of those amino acids are known as the essential amino acids (EAAs). We’re going to explain what makes them essential, and why they’re important for your strength training, but first, here they are, in case you see them pop up on your travels:

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

There are three on that list — leucine, isoleucine and valine — which you might have heard of before. Those three make up the bulk of muscle protein, which makes them the stars when it comes to preventing muscle fatigue, aiding recovery and building lean mass.

Why are EAAs called ‘essential’?

They’re called essential because they are: you need them to build healthy muscles. They’re also called essential because your body can’t make them on its own (as it can the other 11 amino acids.) That means you have to get the EAAs through food, or through supplementation.

Foods containing EAAs:

  • Red and white meat
  • Dairy
  • Nuts and seeds/nut butters
  • Leafy greens
  • Eggs
  • Beans and pulses (soybeans)


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Why take EAAs?

When you work out, catabolism (muscle breakdown) increases while protein synthesis (muscle building) stays the same. You’ll replenish afterwards with shakes and food, but often it’s not enough, or not fast enough, to reverse the breakdown. Taking EAAs during your workout can help to combat muscle breakdown and help you build more lean muscle and recover quicker.

In summary:

  • EAAs are essential amino acids
  • Essential amino acids can’t be made in the body, they have to be supplemented
  • EAAs help prevent muscle breakdown and increase lean muscle production
  • You can take EAAs before, during or after your workout.

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Jonathan Naish

Jonathan Naish

Writer and expert