September 09, 2011

Lose Fat, Not Muscle: I Love Leucine?

No, That's Leucine, Not Lucy! Though She Is Pretty Darn Adorable.

Happy Friday, folks!

So this is just a quick follow-up post for those thousands of four readers who read the last lazy-links round up, and may have caught that bit about leucine, one of the trendier amino acids, helping preserve muscle mass when people are losing weight.

Did any one else then find themselves driven to go google leucine and investigate? Or am I the only nutrient-obsessed nutbucket who takes every passing study seriously in the quest for easy muscle-building/fat blasting tricks and has to go check 'em out?

Anyone?.... Anyone?... Sigh.

But it's all good, because: it turns out there may be something to the leucine-muscle building connection after all!

Does Leucine Helps Preserve Muscle?

Were you thinking of climbing Everest anytime soon? Well, the recent study that initially triggered my interest was mainly about mountain climbers. And despite the headline, the article is frankly pretty damn confusing as to whether they got anything conclusive on whether leucine helped preserve muscle or not. Apparently the leucine-packed bars they gave the climbers tasted like crap, and the researchers discovered they had some serious work to do on the "palatability of the leucine food vehicle."

But what the article did reveal was that the study was based on a bunch of previous research that says leucine helps people on calorie-restricted diets retain muscle mass while losing weight. And for those trying to gain muscle, leucine supplementation seems to help. For those of us not planning on climbing Everest, this is a tad more practical.

Food Sources of Leucine

Some commonly mentioned food sources of leucine are, (in no particular order): whey, soy, eggs, milk, seafood, meat (particularly game meats), poultry, lentils, peanuts, cheese etc. Lots of protein powders and bars contain it. There are several big-ass lists of where to get it, such as this leucine list, but seriously: bearded seal? Whale meat? Elk? My grocery store ain't gonna be much help on some of these. Self Magazine also has a nutrient data-base with lists of food high in leucine. Men's Health tout's whey protein as a source of leucine for muscle-building purposes.

When Should You Consume Leucine To Build Muscle?

Looks like during or right after a workout. According to this leucine research, a large dose of leucine consumed immediately after exercise "increased muscle protein synthesis more than when periodic smaller doses of protein were consumed." It was also reported that "muscle protein synthesis was 33% greater after consumption of the leucine-enriched protein beverage than after a lower-leucine drink."

Should You Bother With Any of This Leucine Stuff?

Well, that depends. Leucine is naturally in a lot of stuff we eat anyway. But if you're really watching your calories, and are worried about losing muscle while doing it, you may want to be strategic about your post exercise meal. For example, before I read up on leucine, I'd been giving second thoughts to the egg whites and whey protein I'd been adding to my post workout smoothie. Were they really worth the calories? Now I'm thinking: well, yeah, maybe so! But on the other hand, I'm probably not going to run out and buy a bunch of crappy tasting leucine-filled power bars. I don't Love Leucine that much.

Anyone else curious about leucine? Or are you folks better at letting this research come and go without running around changing your diet every 5 minutes?


  1. I have an egg just about every day and eat some of the other stuff on that list so I don't have to trouble myself about getting leucine. I'm glad, too, based on the palatability issue.

  2. If this nutrient was absolutely essential and the only way I could get Leucine was from the hind legs of he BooShu bird then I would change my meal plan to eat BooShu drumsticks. Given that it is already in my daily staples of whey, eggs, milk, seafood, poultry and lentils I am going to trust that I am getting an adequate amount. But if I start seeing everything through green eye balls I will call you and we can go elk hunting.

    Thank you for this information, I love Lucy- ine!


  3. Whey protein, soy, eggs, poultry, lentils, peanuts, cheese are all things that I eat fairly regularly. Not sure about the timing though - I usually do my workout after work then eat dinner within 30 - 60 minutes after finishing my workout. Not sure that would count as 'immediately after workout'. Whey protein goes in my breakfast smoothie - does that mean it doesn't really count?

  4. Sweet! For once it pays to live in the sticks. We eat elk and buffalo quite often rather than beef. And we love us some eggs. However - I'm sure not scarfing down some buffalo right after a workout.

    Here's a fun Leucine positive South Dakota product for you: Although I hear they also have palatability of the leucine food vehicle issues.

  5. Very curious, as i'm big about not losing muscle as i age. Thanks for the links.

  6. You guys are too funny, and thanks for stopping by!

    So Bdaiss, on the tanka bars? I've tried 'em and they're actually good! Won some in a giveaway but then forgot completely about them. Thanks for reminding me!

  7. Always interested in food and physiology research. Keep it coming!

  8. To me, 'Leucine' sounds like the title of a less-than-successful Country song, the kind where his wife leaves him and his truck breaks down and his dog dies.
    If I didn't read Cranky Fitness, I'd never get educated about things like this :)

  9. So interesting---and no, you're not the only nut-bucket. After reading this I'm glad to be a buffalo eating eggasaurus! :)

  10. I'm willing to try it. I've noticed that a higher protein diet works for me-- maybe it's actually a higher leucine diet.


  11. This is a great article, I'm always reading up on ways to prevent muscle loss and burn more fat. Thanks for sharing this information with us all.

  12. I read about this all the time in the mags I read. If I was younger & was building for a purpose, like a contest, I may think about it. At this stage in my life, I eat a lot of the foods with it in it AND I don't have money to buy extra stuff anyway, so.. I just work out hard & have been lifting heavier since I don't gain as easy with age...younger me could pack on the muscle mass quick!

  13. Well you know how I love me some research, especially on nutrition. But I really love it when they tell me to get it from whole foods rather than a supp. So, yay eggs! Also, Jane's comment cracked me the heck up.

  14. I think it has been recommended to eat eggs 5 times a week. They are rich in protein and of course healthy.

  15. sooooooo much information this misfit hath been shoving her head in the sandbox sand lately.

  16. Based on the list of foods that contains leucine I'm going to guess I'm getting enough -- between eggs, seafood, chicken, etc. Good information though, thanks for sharing!

  17. If you don't want to see all the, ah, items rarely found at your grocery store (e.g. bearded seal and Whale meat, etc.), on the page there's a button named 'Common Food Items'. Click on that and the weird stuff goes away.

  18. Eating raw egg whites stops you from absorbing Biotin. It adheres to cells blocking it. That doesn't happen with the yolks.


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