It’s no exaggeration to say that Optimum Nutrition is one of the most prominent names in the supplement game, and quite possibly the number one brand out there.
The main reason for this is their ubiquitous whey powder Gold Standard, the most popular protein supplement on the market. But ON provides pills, powders, and potions for almost any requirement an athlete or a casual exerciser might need, and today we’re trying their branch chain amino acid supplement.
Essential Amino Energy’s label says that it’s for “anytime muscle recovery” and “energy and focus,” and it has perhaps more ingredients than any other BCAA supplement we’ve seen. Are they bogus, or could it be the ultimate BCAA?
Essential Amino Energy Nutrition and Ingredients
A nine-gram serving has ten calories and two grams of carbohydrate, which is actually pretty high for a BCAA supplement.
The principle ingredients fall into a five-gram blend of micronized amino acids: taurine, glutamine, l-arginine, l-leucine, beta-alanine, citrulline, l-isoleucine, l-valine, l-tyrosine, l-histidine, l-lysine HCI, l-phenylalanine, l-threonine, and l-methionine.
We’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of these ingredients in the section below, but it’s important to note here that this appears to be a proprietary blend of amino acids, so there’s no way to know if you’re receiving the standard 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine that most brands consider ideal for a BCAA supplement. You also don’t know how many grams of each amino acid are present in a nine-gram serving — only that five of those grams are amino acids.
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There’s also 160 milligrams of caffeine (about as much as you’ll find in a cup and a half of coffee) made from green tea extract and green coffee extract. The green tea extract has been standardized for EGCG, which means it has retained a lot of the healthful phytonutrients found in green tea.
Then there’s the miscellaneous ingredients. Flavoring comes from citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and natural and artificial flavor. Then there’s silicon dioxide and calcium silicate (anticaking agents), sucralose (a sweetener also called Splenda®), a gum blend of cellulose, xanthan, and carrageenan (thickeners and stabilizers), soy lecithin (for mixability), food dye blue number 2 (we had the blue raspberry flavor), and finally inulin. Inulin is a type of fiber that’s good for digestion, but as the final ingredient in a 9-gram blend, there’s probably not enough to have any real benefit.
Essential Amino Energy Price
You can pick up a little 10-serving tub for $7.47 (74 cents per serving) but you’ll probably buy a 30-serving tub for $19, which comes to 63 cents per serving.
That’s about standard as far as BCAAs go, cheaper than the offerings from BPI and Jym and a tiny, tiny bit more expensive than Xtend and Evlution Nutrition on a grams-of-BCAA-per-serving basis.
Essential Amino Energy Benefits and Effectiveness
There’s a lot to break down here. Let’s start with the pros.
It has a hefty dose of caffeine, making it a solid choice for a pre-workout, plus it contains taurine, which may help to reduce the jitteriness and lack of focus that comes with a shot of caffeine. (It may also reduce muscle cramps.)
Essential Amino Energy doesn’t just contain the leucine, isoleucine, and valine that all BCAA supplements contain, amino acids that can prevent muscle breakdown and improve endurance. There’s citrulline, which may improve blood flow and provide a “muscle pump,” beta-alanine which may help delay fatigue, tyrosine which works as a stimulant, methionine which is used for bone strength, phenylalanine which may improve the function of the nervous system and have mood benefits…
But the ingredients list also has an “everything but the kitchen sink” feel to it — a lot of the amino acids feel kind of token. For example, it contains arginine, which is sometimes used as a vasolidator like citrulline. But they both compete for the same mechanism, so it doesn’t make much sense to include them both.
There’s also not much reason to include amino acids like histadine (which is usually prescribed to patients with immune diseases), lysine HCI (usually used to prevent cold sores and herpes outbreaks), threonine (which may boost immunity), and glutamine (most useful for burn patients who need to grow back skin, not athletes who want to build muscle).
It’s also a bit frustrating that this is a proprietary blend. Is it 2:1:1 leucine to isoleucine and valine? Do we know how many grams of each amino acid it contains? I don’t know, and that’s important to a lot of people.
Essential Amino Energy Taste
This supplement comes in well over a dozen different flavors, including mocha cappuccino, peach lemonade, and cotton candy. We tried the blue raspberry flavor which tasted a lot like blueberry candy. It was a little sour and a little fruity, pretty standard flavors in BCAAs, but I wouldn’t call it delicious.
Essential Amino Energy is definitely an effective stimulant, packed with caffeine with some added taurine to boost focus and smooth jitteriness.
My guess is that, given the order they’re put on the nutrition label, it probably has a decent ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. But for a supplement that most people want to be precisely calibrated, Essential Amino Energy doesn’t give me much information. I don’t know how many grams of BCAAs are in each serving. I usually aim for 7 to 10 grams, but it could be a bad idea to consume more than one serving of Essential Amino Energy (which has just five grams of all the amino acids combined) because it’s so high in caffeine.
It’s great for energy and it probably prevents muscle breakdown and improves endurance to a degree. But with BCAAs, specificity is often the name of the game, and essential amino energy doesn’t provide much info there.
Optimum Nutrition Essential Amino EnergyPer Serving: $0.63
- Very high in caffeine
- Has ingredients for improving focus and endurance
- No information about dosages and ratios of the amino acids
- Contains many ingredients that aren't useful for workouts
- Has soy and artificial sweeteners