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Maximize your exercise routine and promote muscle growth with this amino acid

Maximize your exercise routine and promote muscle growth with this amino acid

In a world full of dietary choices high in refined sugars, processed foods, GMOs, and chemical additives, amino acids stand out as the original "good citizens."  Often described as the building blocks of protein, these 20 organic compounds are needed to maintain and grow body tissue, synthesize hormones, produce neurotransmitters ("chemical messengers") and perform various other useful tasks.  (Needless to say, you don't want to skimp on these!)

Among the most valuable is leucine.  As a branched-chain amino acid, leucine has a unique structure that allows it to generate ATP, also known as the "energy" molecule.  So it's not surprising that leucine has a lot to do with promoting physical performance and building muscle.  So let's take a peek at what leucine can do for you.

Power up workouts with leucine

Simply put, leucine enhances pathways that promote protein synthesis, which allows it to maximize muscle growth, maintenance, and repair.  It has also been linked with increases in strength and stamina.  In one impressive study, six weeks of leucine supplementation improved endurance and upper-body strength in athletes who were competitive canoeists. 

Yet another study conducted at Massey University in New Zealand showed that leucine supplementation enhanced high-intensity endurance performance in male cyclists while reducing soreness post-workout.  And the studies weren't confined to youthful participants.  Older athletes experienced enhanced lean muscle mass and improved performance, as well.  While more research is needed, one thing is clear.  When it comes to building muscle and "pumping up" workouts - from the gentlest low-impact exercise to the most grueling routine – many aficionados believe that leucine is the "real deal." 

Leucine promotes fat-burning 

Leucine is one of the body's only two ketogenic amino acids (the other being lysine).  Ketogenic properties mean that leucine promotes fat-burning pathways and helps the body derive energy from pre-existing fat stores.  And this may translate to anti-obesity effects.  An animal study suggested that low-dose leucine supplementation led to increased fat loss compared to a control group.

Leucine may also support a weight loss journey in humans, with one study showing that this amino acid decreases fat accumulation in older adults.  With metabolic diseases and obesity reaching alarming levels nationwide, this is potentially good news! 

Prevent age-related muscle wasting

Yet another "plus" for leucine is that it may act against the muscle wasting that occurs with advanced age.  Known as sarcopenia, this condition can cause frailty and weakness and can lead to decreased physical activity - which in turn worsens the problem.  Although some muscle breakdown is inevitable with aging, leucine could give you some ammunition against it.  A study conducted at the University of Texas and published in Clinical Nutrition suggested that leucine - when used to augment a low-protein, low-carb meal - helped to improve muscle synthesis and preserve muscle mass in older people. 

Leucine can also help prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue which can occur during prolonged periods of muscle inactivity, such as bed rest.  So whether you're an athlete who wants to avoid muscle breakdown on rest days, or an active older adult who wants to preserve the muscle mass you have, you might do well to speak with your healthcare provider about leucine.

But it's not all about the muscles.  Leucine is also believed to stabilize blood sugar by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing the expression of pro-inflammatory molecules. 

Consume leucine through high-quality, high-protein, nutrient-rich foods

Leucine is one of the nine amino acids classified as essential - meaning it can only be obtained through diet or supplementation.  You can increase your leucine intake with protein-rich animal foods such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught tuna, and cage-free eggs.  Parmesan cheese is also a good source of leucine.  In addition, vegetarians and vegans can obtain leucine through peanuts, cashews, cottage cheese, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, brown rice, wheat germ, lentils, and spirulina.

Leucine is also available in supplementary form.  Integrative doctors typically recommend leucine amounts at 2,000 mg to 4,000 mg daily - but check with your healthcare provider before supplementing. 

Whether you're looking to take your workouts to the "next level," improve your body's fat-burning capacity or protect against the loss of lean muscle, you'll want to ensure you get enough leucine.  This power-promoting amino acid means business!

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