Essential Amino Acids (EAA) vs Whey Protein: Which one is right for me?

The problem for a lot of athletes, once they start to make progress with their training, is that they can end up down a rabbit hole with masses of information and science on how to fuel or to recover for their specific sport or goal leaving them feeling frustrated and confused. 

British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveals that 43 per cent of adults surveyed admit that they find it difficult to find reliable information on healthy diets, with changing information, messages, and advice from media and experts being the biggest causes for the confusion.

Our focus at Amino is to help our athletes and members make smarter more informed choices around these decisions, taking seemingly complex information and distilling it down into a simple format. 

One common question we get is around whether ‘is it better to use EAA or Whey protein to recover from training sessions?’ 

There is no right answer to this problem but only what works best for the individual in their specific situation

Whole proteins like whey have pros and cons just as free form Amino Acids like EAA has pros and cons. 

The key is to recognize that to get the most from your training, you need to be using one or the other or even in some situations both. 

Essential Amino Acids (EAA) vs. Whey Protein

Amino Acids vs Whey Protein
To help you try and figure out what the best option might for you we've outlined some pros and cons along with some use cases based on what goal you might be looking to achieve.

Whey Protein

PROS

  • Whey is a complete protein source so great for recovery
  • Spikes insulin so is good for post-training (Insulinogenic)
  • Tolerated well by young or healthy digestive systems
  • Cheaper than EAA
  • Higher in calories

CONS

  • Whey is inflammatory 
  • Spikes insulin so bad for snacking (Insulinogenic)
  • Whey may not be tolerated well for people with digestive issues
  • Not good for athletes and sportspeople as may cause digestion issues
  • Not vegan (plant-based)
  • Higher in calories

Essential Amino Acids

PROS

  • Fastest absorption
  • No digestion needed 
  • EAA is non-inflammatory
  • Great for older athletes as digestion and assimilation is less efficient as we age
  • Great for athletes as no digestion issues 
  • Can be vegan (plant-based)
  • Low calorie

CONS

  • Low calorie for those looking to gain muscle 
  • Used and cleared rapidly in comparison to whey 
  • More expensive than Whey
  • Low calorie

What works best for your situation?

I want to get Leaner 

If your goal is to decrease your body fat stores the key area of focus should be calories manipulation and restriction. Apps like myfitnesspal do a great job at helping you to track this, but one of the issues with calorie restriction over time is that it can eat away at your muscle tissues, so not only will you be losing fat but you will also be burning muscle. Amino acids are low in calories but prevent this muscle wasting and make your fat loss more effective. Whey protein can also be useful but the extra calories and slower digestion must be considered as part of the whole daily macro intake. 

Winner: EAA 

 

I want to get Bigger

If you are looking to build muscle then having an excess supply of calories in your diet and appropriate amino acids during your workout is essential, to begin the repair and recovery process. Calories will come in the form of diet that you put in place around your training and so you won’t grow unless you provide enough energy for the building process. As long as this is surplus you will be on your way to your goals. 

EAA provides the fastest way to get amino acids to the working units but should be used alongside carbohydrate or sugars to promote an insulin spike. Also, it must be taken into account that EAA has fewer calories so this needs to be made up for somewhere else in the diet.

Whey will spike insulin and provide a slower in comparison release to EAA but it also contains more calories which are crucial to your goal. 

Winner: Whey protein or EAA (Personal preference) 


I am looking to improve my Health 

If you’re training to optimise your health then free form essential amino acids (EAA) are the route to go as one of the main issues we are looking to improve in a health optimisation program is to decrease inflammation in the body and free form EAA does this while whey protein does the opposite, it increases it. 


As you may know, a lot of disease and negative health consequences are fuelled in an inflammatory state and so to improve the body's inflammatory status, choosing low inflammatory options wins. If you are looking to manage inflammation and get the most from recovery, then EAA is 100% the best option for you. 

Winner: EAA


I’m an athlete/sportsperson and want to improve my Performance 

Athletes and sportspeople are looking to get the quickest and best recovery possible so that they see improvements in performance from session to session. There are three main categories of performance. Power, endurance and intermittent sprint.  


Power athletes (sprinting, lifting) are looking to get the maximum out of their recovery so they can see power/strength and speed improvements between sessions. Because of the nature of the training muscle tissue damage levels can be high and so having an appropriate amount of amino acids is critical to begin and support the recovery process. Both Whey and EAA are viable options here and it comes down to preference. EAA provides faster absorption and fewer digestion issues during long training sessions. 

Winner: EAA or Whey  (Personal preference)

Endurance athletes (5k, marathon, endurance cycling) predominantly focus on fueling their workouts with different forms of carbohydrate but in regards to body recovery, they have to take into account a few factors. Firstly muscle wastage is higher in these types of events due to the volume of energy expenditure and cortisol release which burns through muscle easily, so to preserve muscle mass amino acids are a must to stop muscle wastage. One of the issues for protein in this is that due to lack of blood being delivered to the stomach during the workout digestion can be a severe issue for this category of athletes and provide problems like bloating and stomach cramps. EAA is definitely the best option. 

Winner: EAA

Intermittent sprint sports (combat, football, rugby) have to take into account fueling but also body recovery elements to allow them to make it through their long training and competition seasons. EAA is more effective to have in water bottles and can be used during training and competition when on the pitch or in the ring. Because there is no digestion needed there is no stomach discomfort or thick shake that needs to be consumed. 

Winner: EAA or Whey (Personal preference)


I’m getting older and but still want to perform

If you are looking to fight off ageing and want to get the most from your recovery, EAA is the winner hands down. One of the main reasons sarcopenia or the age-related waste of muscle is so prevalent is the fact that we lose muscle at the rate of 0.5% a year after the age of 30, a lot of this is because we don’t digest and assimilate our dietary protein effectively, due to effects like decreased stomach acid production amongst other reasons. Amino acids skip the digestion stage and are readily available for use and are a must consider for older athletes. 

Winner: EAA


Take Away

The takeaway is that both EAA and whey protein have their uses and it comes down to personal situation and preference of the athlete depending on which one you would choose.

Hopefully, the information above has helped you make an informed decision about this problem and if you have any specific questions, drop the team and email at [email protected] with your personal situation and one of the coaches will get back to you.


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