Leucine: a nutrient ‘trigger’ for muscle anabolism

If you want to build muscle effectively, simply eating protein won’t cut it. You need to know if your protein food contains the vital amino acids and especially leucine. Protein has a big part in packing on muscle mass, but sometimes it happens that people forget that they need leucine in their protein, which plays an important role in muscle building.

The more leucine you have in your bloodstream, the faster your muscles will be able to synthesize and repair the micro-tears after a resistance workout. Of course, consuming just leucine would be useless since you require all of the amino acids to repair the damaged muscles, but eating foods that have high leucine content in them will definitely help you on your way to building a muscular physique.


Leucine Can Turn on Your Anabolic Switch!

Protein is made up of amino acids, which can be divided into essential and non-essential. There are twenty different amino acids that the human body utilizes during its normal processes, and nine of those are essential. The difference between essential and non-essential amino acids is that the non-essentials can be created inside of your body, while the others can only be brought in through food.

Leucine is different than all of the other essential amino acids because of its ability to trigger the creation of muscle protein. In its foundation, this means that it acts as a starter for your anabolic period – if you get enough leucine in your body, it will automatically determine that it is ready for work and will begin building more and more muscle protein, repairing your damaged muscle tissue and building new tissue as well.

Note that you will need to go through a lot of resistance training for any of this to take place, but when you’re training with protein that has a lot of leucine in it, your body will be much more efficient at building muscle.


How Much Leucine Should You Eat?

Muscle protein synthesis is an anabolic response that occurs in response to protein feeding and resistance training. On the protein front, it specifically relates to leucine intake. To maximize the muscle protein synthesis response, around 3g of leucine is required. This is known as the “leucine threshold”.

However, this isn’t fixed – everyone requires a different amount of leucine, depending on their weight, age, etc. Average humans need 25 to 35 grams of protein per meal, out of which three grams should be leucine.

Here are four foods that you can use to eat more leucine:

1. Whey Protein. It has three grams of leucine for every 25 grams of protein, meaning it has more leucine than any other food which is high in protein. If you put a scoop of whey powder in your post-workout shake, your body will be packed into capacity with all the leucine it requires.

2. Bottom Round Cut of Beef. A four ounce serving of bottom round cut beef will have approximately 1.8 grams of leucine, but it will also be cheaper. I would suggest simmering it in liquid slowly, or marinade it. This will help you make it softer since it tends to be a bit tough, but it’s also very delicious!

3. Ricotta Cheese. Half a cup of it has about a gram and a half of leucine which can often be more than enough. If you google how ricotta is made, you will see that it’s made from liquid whey that didn’t get used in the process of creating cheese. Logically, this means that it has a lot of whey in it, and therefore a lot of leucine. However, you don’t have to make lasagna every time you need some – put it in dips, pancake batter and smoothies! Put it in a sandwich with some smoked fish and spices! Put it on a cracker, even! Everything you can imagine can come true with ricotta cheese.

4. Soy Nuts. With less than a gram of leucine per ounce (902mg to be more precise), this one ranks lowest on our list but it’s still decent! Also, soy nuts are delicious and you can grab them for a snack for any occasion. You can even put them in your yogurt, alongside more leucine!

Reference: Nutrition & Metabolism – The impact of protein quality on the promotion of resistance exercise-induced changes in muscle mass.

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