Amino Acids vs Protein Powder: Which Is Better?

Amino Acids

When you are trying to make the best decisions for your health, you always want to do your research to find the best products and services. From doctors and nutritionists to foods and supplements, doing your research and being equipped with information helps you make the best and most informed decision to support your health.

If you’re trying to figure out whether amino acids or protein powder are better for your needs, you’ve come to the right place. Here we go through the benefits of essential amino acids and protein powder and the best supplements for certain conditions.

What Are Amino Acids?

What are amino acids anyway, and why would you want to take them as supplements? Amino acids are often described as the building blocks of protein. In other words, amino acids are the smallest individual units that makeup protein. When we eat whole protein sources such as chicken, steak, nuts, beans, and fish, the digestive system breaks whole protein particles into individual amino acids. These amino acids can then be shuttled throughout the body wherever they are needed.

Amino acids are the reason that protein intake is important. Without adequate protein intake, it is difficult to get all of the amino acids your body needs.

Types of Amino Acids

Generally speaking, amino acids can be sorted into two major categories: essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids can be described as nutritionally required amino acids. If we don’t get balanced ratios of essential amino acids on a daily basis, the body is unable to function optimally. Essential amino acids are absolutely critical for many physiological functions, including immune system function, neurotransmitter synthesis, hormone synthesis, and muscle growth. The essential amino acids are isoleucine, leucine, valine, histidine, methionine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, lysine, and threonine. The essential amino acids are the category of amino acids that we focus on in this article.

Non-essential amino acids, on the other hand, are not required through dietary sources. The body can manufacture these amino acids internally to support biological processes. Though these amino acids are available in foods, they generally produced in sufficient amounts in the body.

There is another category of amino acids, however, called conditionally essential amino acids. Some of the non-essential amino acids are considered to be conditionally essential. The body can produce these amino acids, and under normal circumstances, the endogenous production of these amino acids is sufficient to meet the body’s needs. However, under stressful conditions, the body uses up these amino acids faster and therefore requires more from dietary sources. So, these amino acids are only nutritionally essential under certain circumstances.

Essential Amino Acids in Supplement Form

The best amino acid supplement contains balanced ratios of essential amino acids. Supplementing with a specifically balanced ratio of essential amino acids is much more effective than supplementing with one single amino acid. This is because the body utilizes essential amino acids at a certain rate, and having optimal ratios allows biological processes to occur as smoothly as possible. Having too much of one essential amino acid can throw off your body’s balance.

Similarly, missing one essential amino acid creates a scenario of the limiting amino acid. When your body lacks one essential amino acid, the body cannot fully use up the others. For adequate muscle synthesis and enzyme production, a proper balance of all essential amino acids is crucial.


Essential amino acid supplements are generally available in two forms: essential amino acids (EAA) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). What’s the difference, and which supplement is better?

When comparing BCAA vs EAA, the overall better supplement choice is EAA. Essential amino acid supplements provide optimal ratios of all essential amino acids, while branched-chain amino acid supplements only provide isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Consistently getting just the branched-chain amino acids may cause an amino acid imbalance, since your body requires all of the essential amino acids in optimal ratios to perform smoothly.

For individuals with compromised liver function, branched-chain amino acids may provide specific benefits, though always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement.

Things to Keep in Mind

If you’re considering adding any supplement to your diet, it’s a good idea to first check with your doctor. It’s important to make sure that any dietary supplements fit your needs, don’t interact with any medications you may be taking, and don’t interact with any medical conditions you may be experiencing.

Essential Amino Acids vs Protein Powder: Which Is Better?

What Is Protein Powder?

Now that we’ve gone over essential amino acid powder, let’s take a look at protein powder.

Protein powder is a powdered form of protein that is often made from whey protein or casein. Both whey protein and casein offer balanced ratios of essential amino acids, and both types of protein come from dairy products. However, whey and casein are digested at different rates. Whey protein has to be digested faster, while casein is digested at a slower rate. Both whey protein and casein protein powder also often contain flavoring as well as sweeteners and preservatives.

Plant-based protein powders have also become popular in the last few years, as the plant-based trend has become more popular.  Many vegan protein powders are made of ingredients such as brown rice protein, soy protein, pea protein, and flaxseed protein. The only caveat here is that while plant-based protein powders may be healthier than whey and casein powders and higher in vitamins and minerals, they don’t necessarily offer optimal ratios of essential amino acids.

When to Use Essential Amino Acids vs Protein Powder

Though both essential amino acid powder and protein powder provide optimal amino acid ratios, there are often specific scenarios when one may be more useful than the other. Read on to find out more.

Why Essential Amino Acid Powder Is Useful

1. Easy to Digest

Essential amino acid supplements already provide optimal ratios of essential amino acids in their individual form. This dramatically cuts down on the time and energy that it takes to digest full protein particles, and your body can start benefitting from the essential amino acids in a very short period of time.

Normally, protein-rich foods and protein powder contain whole protein particles that must first be broken down into individual amino acids, which are then absorbed through the intestines and into the bloodstream. Only then can the essential amino acids travel throughout the body for use by biological mechanisms.

On the other hand, essential amino acid supplements provide these amino acids in their individualized form, taking the heat off your digestive system. This is a great option for individuals with digestive issues such as Crohn’s digest, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and celiac disease. Essential amino acid supplements are also useful for individuals who have undergone surgery impacting the digestive tract and may have issues with digestion, such as weight loss surgery.

2. Ideal for Those Trying to Lose Weight

Essential amino acid supplementation is superior to protein powder for individuals aiming to lose weight without losing muscle mass. Essential amino acid powder affords very few calories while also supplying all of the raw materials that your body needs to synthesize and maintain lean muscle tissue. You can add the essential amino acid powder to drinks, oatmeal, and smoothies without adding extra unwanted calories, making it perfect for those watching their caloric intake.

3. Ideal for Individuals with Liver Issues

In the case of liver issues like fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis, the liver faces difficulty with processes such as the breakdown and metabolism of protein particles. Taking essential amino acid supplements may help individuals with liver issues have sufficient amino acids to combat unpleasant side effects such as muscle wasting.

4. Free of Preservatives and Sugar

Essential amino acid supplements contain primarily, well, essential amino acids! This purified form of protein can provide exactly what you need without a lot of extra chemicals.

5. Helping Older Adults Maintain Muscle Mass

Older and elderly adults face specific problems breaking down protein particles into individual essential amino acids and then shuttling them throughout the body. Because older and elderly adults tend to have slower biological mechanisms and less effective digestive processes, taking pure essential amino acids would be much more efficient for building muscle. Essential amino acid supplements provide pure forms of essential amino acids that older and elderly adults can quickly process. This purified form of cell fermentation is much easier on the digestive system and all body systems of older and elderly individuals, making it an ideal supplement for their needs.

6. Facilitating Recovery from Surgery

When recovering from any surgery, getting ideal ratios of essential amino acids is particularly important. Did you know that the body uses up more essential amino acids during repair and recovery from illness and injury compared to baseline? This means that the body’s demand for essential amino acids actually goes up during recovery from surgery. The immune system relies on optimal ratios of essential amino acids to facilitate effective repair of skin, muscle, and connective tissue. Without optimal ratios of essential amino acids, the body cannot repair as quickly and effectively as it should.

Taking essential amino acid supplements during surgery recovery can help prevent a sluggish incomplete recovery. Moreover, many people must dramatically decrease physical activity during the recovery period following surgery. This makes individuals, particularly the elderly or those undergoing particularly invasive and substantial surgery, more prone to muscle loss. Too much muscle loss can contribute to weakness, slow healing, and a slow metabolism during and after recovery. Taking essential amino acid supplements can help make sure that your body is getting all of the raw materials that need to keep up with protein synthesis as well as repair and recovery.

7. Perfect for Those Following a Vegan or Plant-Based Diet

High-quality essential amino acid supplements are also ideal for individuals following a vegan or plant-based diet. People who follow a vegan or plant-based diet tend to be more at risk for lacking optimal ratios of essential amino acids in their diet. Individuals on a vegan diet must be careful to consume a variety of plant-based protein sources to ensure that they are getting balanced ratios of essential amino acids daily. This means they must make sure that they eat beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds each day. To help eliminate the hassle of meal planning and making sure that protein sources are complementary, adding an essential amino acid supplement to your diet on a daily basis can help make the process easier.

Why Is Protein Powder Is Useful?

1. Muscle Building

Protein powder is ideal for individuals who are looking to pack on more muscle mass and bulk. Protein powder often contains at least a hundred or more calories per serving, which adds more caloric value in energy density to your meal. However, this may be beneficial, depending on your needs. If you are looking to bulk up and pack on muscle mass, a high-calorie protein shake might be what you need. Protein powder is an ideal way to help build muscle.

2. Weight Gain

If you are underweight and need to start putting on a healthy amount of weight, protein powders may be exactly what you need.  Adding high calorie shakes to your daily routine can help provide the nutrients you need to increase lean body mass. On top of that, added sugars and fat may be present in different protein powders, depending on the brand. If you are underweight, added sugars and fat may not be a bad thing.

3. Meal Replacement

If you are looking to make a shake as a meal replacement, using protein powder is likely the best idea. This is because protein powder, whether it’s made with whey or casein, tends to be packed with calories. When you choose to do a meal replacement shake, you should ensure that your shake provides sufficient calories to actually serve as a meal replacement.

Shake Ideas

Here are a few shake recipes to help you incorporate either protein powder or essential amino acid supplementation into your diet. These shakes can incorporate any kind of protein supplement, depending on your needs. They can also be used as refreshing drinks or filling post-workout shakes.

Green Machine

Are you struggling to get lots of greens into your diet on a daily basis? Well, we’d have come up with the recipe that helps you get both greens and essential amino acids into your diet, to help you feel your best.

To prepare the green machine smoothie, add apple, a splash of pineapple juice, water, kale, spinach, and ginger to a blender. Add one serving of essential amino acid powder. Blend until smooth. To make the beverage colder and more refreshing on a hot summer day, add a few ice cubes.

Vanilla Milkshake

We’ve come up with a healthy spin on the classic diner version of a vanilla milkshake for this recipe.

To prepare this shake, add two frozen bananas, milk, pitted dates, ice cube’s, and vanilla protein powder to a blender. Blend until smooth. To adapt this milkshake to a vegan diet, swap out that whey protein powder for plant-based protein powder and switch out the milk for plant-based milk. For more protein, choose soy milk. For lower-calorie options, go with almond milk or fat-free coconut milk.

Berry Blast

This berry smoothie contains tons of berries that are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to power your day.

To prepare this smoothie, combine your favorite berries with frozen bananas and low-fat milk of your choice. As an example, try combining frozen raspberries, blackberries, frozen bananas, and almond milk. Add in a serving of essential amino acid powder. Need a hint of sweetness? Add a teaspoon of agave nectar or a couple of pitted dates.

Watermelon Cooler

This refreshing drink is the perfect way to quench your thirst on a summer’s day. It’s also the easiest drink to make!

In a blender, add chunks of fresh or frozen watermelon. Combine with a serving of essential amino acid powder, blend, and enjoy! To add a little depth of flavor, squeeze a little lime into the smoothie and garnish with fresh basil, though this is optional. Plain watermelon is delicious on its own and is packed with antioxidants like lycopene.

Cherry Chocolate Shake

This decadent shake is another healthy spin on a classic diner milkshake. Add frozen pitted cherries, a teaspoon of cocoa powder, frozen banana, milk of your choice, and chocolate protein powder to a blender. You can also add essential amino acid powder, instead of the protein powder, to the smoothie. Blend until smooth, and enjoy!

Cantaloupe Craze

Who would think that cantaloupe would work well in a smoothie? Interestingly, cantaloupe makes a refreshing summer drink that rivals the watermelon cooler described above. Add chunks of cantaloupe to a blender along with ice, soymilk, and a dash of cinnamon. Then sprinkle in a serving of essential amino acid powder, which works best in this drink, because cantaloupe flavor is easy to overwhelm with flavored whey or casein protein.

Pink Power Drink

This shake is almost as fun to look at as it is to drink! Add chunks of frozen beets, frozen strawberries pitted dates, and acai puree into a blender along with frozen banana, soymilk, and either essential amino powder or protein powder. Blend until smooth and enjoy.

Other Ways to Incorporate Protein Powder or Essential Amino Acid Powder into Your Diet

Smoothies aren’t the only way to add extra protein to your diet. Other foods can be used as vehicles for getting protein powder and essential amino acid powder to your diet. Here are a few ideas:

  • Oatmeal: Oatmeal and other breakfast porridges, like cream of wheat or cream of buckwheat, are perfect conduits for adding more protein to your diet. Plus, breakfast porridges are easy on the digestive system and ideal for recovery from oral surgery, for example.
  • Water: Simply mixing protein powder or essential amino acid powder with water is a convenient, low-calorie way to get balanced ratios of essential amino acids in your diet.
  • Coffee: Want to mix up the normal coffee routine? Throw in some vanilla protein powder or essential amino acid powder and shake up with ice.
  • Soup: Soup probably works best as a conduit for essential amino acid powder, which can be found in neutral flavors. Soup is a popular post-surgery food that is soothing, and adding essential amino acids helps boost the nutritional value.
  • Baked goods: Hiding protein powder and essential amino acid powder in the batter is an excellent way to hide extra nutrients! Try adding protein powder and essential amino acid powder to the batter of muffins, brownies, cakes, and cookies before baking.
  • Pancakes: Pancakes are usually a decadent, carb-heavy morning treat. Boost the nutritional value by swapping out refined flour for whole-grain flour and adding protein powder or essential amino acid powder.


Protein powders of all kinds can help you boost your intake of essential amino acids. Getting essential amino acids in optimal ratios is important for nearly all biological functions, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters, muscle tissue, and immune system function. Essential amino acid powder tends to be best for individuals who have undergone surgery, have difficulty with digestion, have liver disease, or struggle with metabolic issues.

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