Optimize your anabolism activity with the latest science in leucine supplementation.
Leucine is a common household name among bodybuilders and athletes these days. This unique branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) is a well-documented trigger for muscle protein synthesis and is now considered a limiting factor for determining the quality of protein in your diet. Meaning, without leucine in your system, it is nearly impossible to add lean tissue. Athletes who have more leucine in their diet build more muscle mass, recover faster, and gain more strength. But while many athletes know leucine is important, few understand its proper application in their diet.
Leucine is not simply “magic fairy dust” that you can sprinkle on your food and watch your muscles expand. It must be used at optimal dosages and at specific times during the day to reap its anabolic benefits. Unfortunately, many BCAA products contain suboptimal amounts of leucine in their BCAA formulas and thus offer little benefit. Research has shown that there’s evidence of a dietary leucine “threshold” that’s required for optimizing muscle growth. When taking BCAA and amino acid supplements, studies suggests that at least three grams of leucine is needed to fully optimize the anabolic response. By contrast, diluted formulas with less than two grams of leucine fail to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
The important role of leucine in the diet becomes even more critical as we age. Over time, athletes typically find that they don’t achieve the same muscle-building response they used to get from consuming proteins or amino acids as when they were younger. Research has identified that this is a result of “anabolic resistance” to the amino acid leucine. However, when adults with anabolic resistance are supplemented with leucine-loaded BCAA formulas that contain three to four grams of leucine, they are able to restore the anabolic state of their muscles. Conversely, weaker leucine formulas (containing less than two grams of leucine) fail to reinstate muscle anabolism in adults.
To obtain this critical amount of leucine in your diet would require consuming 30 to 40 grams of high-quality protein. Of course, not all people enjoy eating six ounces of steak several times a day. This is where supplementation can come in handy. During my dissertation research at the University of Illinois, our lab showed that when you consume a meal with low levels of leucine, supplementing the meal with leucine will maximize the anabolic response of the food. The implications are that while leucine is an excellent choice as a pre-, intra-, or post-workout supplement, it can also be supplemented with meals to improve the quality and anabolic activity of these meals, particularly those lower in protein or those that contain foods with lower amounts of leucine, such as plant proteins. (Pay attention, vegetarians.)
When searching for BCAA supplements, it is crucial to consider the volume of this important research. For greatest anabolic effects, you must use BCAA formulas that are heavily loaded with leucine and contain at least three grams per serving. An example of a leucine-forward formula is MHP’s supplement BCAA 10X, which is based on the latest research on leucine metabolism. This potent formula features a 10:1:1 BCAA ratio containing 10 times the amount of leucine compared to isoleucine and valine (the other two BCAAs). BCAA 10X contains over four grams of leucine per serving to ensure that you optimize your anabolic response regardless of your size, age, or training status.
By Gabriel Wilson, PhD, CSCS