Whey protein has similar effects on increasing muscle protein synthesis to EAAs when the EAA dosages are similar. The research does not support fast proteins being superior for muscle growth to slow proteins. While dieting, a higher dosage of EAA is needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.


  • Essential amino acid mix powders have similar effects on increasing muscle protein synthesis when the essential amino acids are similar.

  • There were no differences in protein synthesis between the groups at the end of the study (late phase adaptation). There was no difference in muscle growth or strength gains between the two groups, although the protein polyphenol group tended to have more muscle growth.

  • A homemade whey protein powder/shake or whey casein blend protein with tart cherry and pomegranate may be beneficial for reducing muscle soreness and improving recovery.


Whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate protein powder, and essential amino acids mix complex are commonly taken post-workout to gain muscle. Whey protein with milk or water after a workout is the original whey protein muscle builder. You can make your own whey protein/advanced whey protein powder with creatine and whey protein together is a common combination taken post-exercise to maximize gains in muscle.

For those that are fasting, many people will commonly ask if essential amino acids break a fast. The short answer is yes, but essential amino acids can maintain optimal protein synthesis during a fast. Before fasting, it is important to establish your fitness and health goals before going on a fast.

Another favorite recipe is whey protein with greek yogurt to build muscle. Is it better to consume a pure essential amino acid supplement, or is it better to consume a whey/casein blend protein for optimal gains in muscle mass? The amount of protein is less important than the amount of essential amino acids complex a supplement contains.

When an essential amino acid is missing from the diet, this results in a dampened protein synthesis response. An incomplete protein is missing at least one essential amino acid. If a diet is lacking an essential amino acid (i.e., incomplete proteins), such as foods such as beans, specific nuts, and tofu will not give you all of the amino acids your body needs.

This is why some amino acids are called essential amino acids. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. The 9 essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. The best essential amino acid supplements should contain contain all 9 amino acids.


Certain amino acids are called essential amino acids because they are needed for optimal health. When an essential amino acid is lacking from the diet, sub-optimal increases in protein synthesis occur. Plant based foods and plant based diets are lower in BCAAs and EAAs compared to meat based products on a gram-per-gram basis. The BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

The amount of essential amino acids in a protein is the critical determining factor for increasing protein synthesis. Not all proteins are the same. 20 grams of whey protein is superior to 20 grams of wheat protein because of its higher concentration of essential amino acids. When compared head to head (i.e., whey protein vs. essential amino acid mix), essential amino acids are absorbed faster than whey protein.(1)

This study also found that a combination of whey and essential amino acid mix resulted in a greater increase in protein synthesis after exercise than the whey protein supplement. However, the whey protein supplement only contained 12.6 grams of whey protein. A larger dose of whey protein (i.e., 40 grams) would likely have shown similar results to the whey plus EAA beverage.

The Benefits of EAAs

What if you standardized the amount of essential amino acid mix to a whey protein supplement? Are the best essential amino acids supplements better than standard whey protein? Would there be an anabolic advantage for EAAs over whey protein? Researchers compared 30 grams of EAAs to 30 grams of milk protein supplement.

The total EEAs of the milk protein was 13 grams, whereas the EAAs of the amino acid supplements were 13.4 grams. As expected, the free-form amino acid group had a faster rise in blood EAAs; however, the muscle protein synthesis rates were similar over six hours.(2)

A 2022 study compared 30 grams of milk protein to 30 grams of EAAs. The total dose of EAAs was 43.2 grams for milk protein and 44.7 grams for EAA drinks. As expected, the EAA group had a faster rise in protein synthesis, but by 2 hours, there was no difference in protein synthesis.(2) Keep in mind that no study has ever found that faster protein synthesis increases results in greater muscle growth.

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Acute studies utilizing egg and whey indicate a plateau in muscle protein synthesis from protein ingestion between 20-40 g or approximately 9-10 g of EAA. Studies have found no differences in muscle protein synthesis when subjects consumed 30 to 90 grams of beef protein.(3) Consuming an EAA beverage or whey protein shake when consuming adequate amounts of protein in your diet will result in no further increases in muscle growth.

During manufacturing, whey protein hydrolysates are predigested, resulting in smaller peptides and a faster rise in amino acids than whey protein. Although no study has conducted a head-to-head resistance training protocol that examined whey protein hydrolysate to whey protein, it’s doubtful that whey protein hydrolysates will provide an advantage over traditional whey protein for muscle growth.

Studies have shown similar increases in lean mass, comparing faster-digesting whey protein to slower-releasing casein protein. (4, 5) Two meta-analyses have found no differences in muscle growth between fast and slow proteins. (6, 7) Remember, whole eggs are a great source of protein and have been found to increase muscle growth, yet they are absorbed slowly.(8)


EAAs are more expensive than whey protein, but both can be equally effective depending on your preference. It may be advantageous to take EAAs while dieting to preserve lean mass since they contain lower calories than whey protein.

A study found that EAAs were beneficial when subjects were placed on a calorically restricted diet (~30% caloric restriction) for five days. The dietary protein was maintained at 1.6 g/kg, and subjects performed exercise and received either standard (8 grams of EAAs) or high dose (~23.5 grams) EAAs. The high dose of EAA resulted in an overall greater effect, but both dosages increased muscle protein synthesis.

The higher dose of EAAs resulted in a greater reduction in muscle tissue breakdown independent of insulin levels. This study suggests that consuming a higher dosage of EAAs >20 grams will be more beneficial when dieting. When you go back to maintenance calories, you can bring the dosage down to 10 grams, the recommended dosage. EAAs may be a valuable way to stimulate protein synthesis while on a calorically restricted diet.(9)

If EAAs are too expensive, whey protein will work equally as well. It has been found that during caloric restriction (~30% energy deficit), whey protein stimulated muscle protein synthesis in a dose-dependent manner, with 30 grams of whey protein (~15 g EAA) being more effective than 15 grams of whey protein(~7.5 g EAA).(10)


The overall body of research suggests that protein absorption speed does not matter for long-term gains in lean mass. Some studies have found studies favoring whey protein, and others favoring casein. Still, most studies have found that whey and casein are equally effective when total protein intake is the same.

For example, resistance-trained men consumed either a fast protein drink consisting of a combination of whey and casein drink post-exercise (i.e., 50% whey and 50% casein) or a slow protein drink (i.e., 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein).

All the subjects consumed between 1.5-2.0 g/kg of protein daily. At the end of the study, the fast protein drink resulted in a higher increase in leucine and BCAAs compared to the slow protein group. Despite the faster rise in leucine and plasma levels of BCAAs in the fast protein group, there were no differences in strength or changes in lean muscle mass between the groups.

This suggests regardless of whether it’s a fast or slow-acting protein, the increase in muscle mass is similar. It is probably not worth worrying about the protein speed as long as your total protein is sufficient throughout the day. (5)


For years, BCAA’s (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) were the supplement of choice to take post-exercise. BCAAs are three of the nine amino acids that are considered essential amino acids. Skeletal muscle is composed of about 35% BCAAs.(11) Most athletes understand that leucine is important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, which is part of the BCAA complex.

Most studies investigating the effects of taking BCAAs were in conjunction with other foods; however, a study in 2017 changed how researchers view BCAA’s effect on muscle protein synthesis. The researchers had subjects train fasted and then perform resistance exercises and immediately post-exercise consume 5.6 grams of BCAAs. Post-exercise muscle protein synthesis increased by 22% after BCAA consumption.


This may sound like a decent increase in protein synthesis until you compare it to a 20-gram dose of whey protein. The increase in muscle protein synthesis was 50% less than a 20-gram dose of whey protein containing a similar amount of BCAA! The researchers found that BCAAs can increase protein synthesis, but a full spectrum of essential amino acids is needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis fully.

In a series of studies by Louard et al., subjects were administered intravenous BCAA infusions to examine the effects on muscle protein synthesis and breakdown. Both infusion protocols increased plasma BCAA levels, whereas plasma levels of other EAAs decreased. Muscle protein synthesis was not increased by BCAAs alone.(12, 13) These studies suggest that BCAAs alone fail to create an anabolic state without the presence of other EAAs.

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EAA protein synthesis
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Evidence based muscle

Whole foods>EAA>BCAA>Leucine

The evidence suggests that the order of anabolic properties is whole foods>EAA>BCAA>Leucine.(14) The reason why whole foods protein sources are listed as the most anabolic are studies that have found whey protein contains certain ingredients that can be more anabolic than EAAs and leucine(15), fat content in whole milk being more anabolic than skim milk(16), and whole eggs being more anabolic than egg whites(17).

Other studies have shown that low-dose whey protein (i.e., 6.25 grams) with 3 grams of leucine and low-dose whey protein with EAAs failed to result in a sustained increase in protein synthesis compared to 25 grams of whey protein.(18)

In an excellent review of the literature titled, “Isolated Leucine and Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplementation for Enhancing Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review,” it was concluded that provided that daily protein intake is met (>1.6 g/kg/bw) there are no benefits of consuming additional BCAAs as building muscle requires a full complement of EAAs.(19)

BCAAs may be useful; a review of the existing studies has found that BCAA supplements ranging from 5.5 grams to 20 grams post-exercise lead to a significant reduction in muscle soreness. (20) When comparing branched-chain amino acids vs. essential amino acids, there is no comparison that essential amino acids are better!



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