A couple of bite-sized tips ago, we dove deep on our mantra “Flesh Builds Flesh”, explaining why animal proteins are the superior source for those who care about building muscle and empowering performance. You may recall one of those important reasons being that animal proteins are a rich source of amino acids, particularly the 9 essential amino acids we as humans need. Today, we’re going to explore one of those, our dear friend Leucine.
Leucine plays a critical role in muscle growth and development – so critical, it has been termed the “anabolic trigger” (if that name gives you a clue to how important it is). Whether your goal is building your house on Jacked Street, or conquering your opponent on the field, Leucine should be a key component in your nutrition plan.
What Actually Is It?
Leucine is an essential amino acid that, along with isoleucine and valine, make up branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). It is found in protein-rich foods. It is considered the most important amino acids for promoting muscle protein synthesis (MPS) (Karpinski & Rosenbloom, 2017).
How does that work?
Leucine stimulates muscle growth in 2 ways. The first way is through activating a signaling pathway known as the mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. The mTOR pathway regulates protein synthesis and cell growth. By having high levels of leucine, the mTOR pathyway’s signaling is activated, triggering muscle protein synthesis.
The second way Leucine contributes to muscle growth is by enhancing insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and promotes nutrient uptake into muscle cells. Higher insulin sensitivity means cells will be more receptive when insulin is detected in the bloodstream – this means more nutrients will be transported into the cells to fuel growth.
Can I just take leucine and get jacked?
While that might seem like the obvious option, unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. The best way to get more leucine? Eat whole proteins with a complete amino acid profile. While leucine is the “anabolic trigger”, it works in concert with the other available essential amino acids (Wolfe, 2017).
Coach, how much leucine do I need?
You should be shooting for 700-3000 mg of leucine per meal (Campbell et al., 2007). Notice I said “per meal”. You should be spreading your protein throughout the day; this keeps a pool of amino acids readily available. Some food options that are high in Leucine include chicken leg (thigh and leg 5160mg of leucine), beef skirt steak(6oz 5007 mg of leucine), pork chops(4501 mg of leucine, and tuna(6oz fillet 4133mg of leucine) (Whitbread, 2023). I don’t know about you, but a day eating all those proteins sounds like a pretty good one to me.
So, if you want to pull the trigger for packing on muscle, be sure to include leucine-rich foods daily. This critical nutrient is a key to being jacked for whether you want to be a hero on the field or just look jacked on the beach or poolside. And if you need help mastering your macros to get the body you want, head to www.powerathletehq.com/nutrition to hire a coach.
Karpinski, C., & Rosenbloom, C. (2017). Sports nutrition: A handbook for professionals. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Whitbread, D. (2023, May 29). Top 10 foods highest in leucine. myfooddata. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-leucine-foods.php
Coaching: Power Athlete Nutrition Coaching
Education: Power Athlete Academy
Rob has been in the fitness/strength and conditioning industry for 21+ years. For the last 12 years, he has owned and operated CrossFit West Houston. Through CrossFit, Rob found Power Athlete the methodology course and earning his Block One. Nutrition is a passion which lead him to currently pursuing a Masters program in Nutrition at Lamar University and Power Athlete Nutrition coach.
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