Fitness enthusiasts, here’s a protein to keep your eye on: Leucine. A recent study showed that a protein supplement with a higher amount of leucine might help increase muscle growth and prevent muscle breakdown.
Proteins are broken down into various amino acids – you can think of them like the building blocks of protein. “Essential” amino acids mean that our bodies can’t produce them on our own, so we have to get them from the diet. Leucine is one of those amino acids. The other special thing about leucine is that it is a type of amino acid called a “branched chain amino acid,” which basically just describes its shape. Branched chain amino acids are particularly utilized by our muscles, so the hypothesis is that having more of these branched chain amino acids, like leucine, may help increase muscle build and prevent muscle breakdown.
Now that we know the theory behind leucine helping our muscles, the next question is… does it really help? Although this study says, “probably,” we need to keep in mind that it was very small – only six healthy men and eight healthy women were included. More research definitely needs to take place before you go spending your paycheck on a leucine protein supplement.
If you want to get leucine from your food it’s especially high in the vegetarian sources of protein:
- Soy (tofu, edamame, soy milk)
- Egg Whites
- Beans: lentils, chickpeas, peanuts
- Nuts and Seeds: almonds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, walnuts
- As well as non-vegetarian sources: Beef, chicken, shrimp
Keep your eyes out for more on leucine. But remember, past research has shown that supplementing with protein or individual amino acids (arginine, for example) may not be as helpful as we hope. You can get all the protein you need from a healthy, balanced diet!