The Importance of Leucine in Combating Muscle Wasting, Sarcopenia and Cachexia
By JoAnna Hazard, MS, RD, CSO, LDN
Manager of Nutrition & Environmental Services
As an oncology dietitian, I’ve given my fair share of protein recommendations over the last ten years. If you’re anything like me, it’s become part of the ritual advice you make sure you give to everyone. You look at their weight and history, do some quick math, and maybe even add in a stress factor if you’re feeling feisty. After being in practice for many years it’s easy to get into a daily rhythm, and it’s not uncommon to have forgotten some of the details you learned from that 8 am biochem course from 15 years ago. I’m sure you recall learning about the branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) and are aware of their overall uses, but how much do you truly remember about their specific and unique functions in the body?
Leucine is a BCAA that has gotten a lot of attention in the scientific community over the last decade for its role in not only promoting lean body mass during strength training1 but also in preventing sarcopenia2. As someone who is constantly encouraging protein intake to prevent muscle loss, I found this research fascinating! Leucine is an essential amino acid that we must obtain from food, and while a deficiency is rare, it can occur in populations that have poor intake. While the ideal amount needed is still being debated, research shows that most people need anywhere from 2.5- 8 gm/day to actively stimulate muscle anabolism.
It would make sense that foods the highest in this amino acid are animal muscle meats. For example, 3.5 ounces of chicken contains 2 grams of leucine, and the same amount of beef boasts almost 3 grams on its own! Vegetarians may have to work a little harder but it’s still achievable. 3.5 ounces of tofu has 1.4 grams of leucine while the same amount of navy beans contain around 600mg. All of this seems really doable…unless you’re an acutely ill person living with cancer who has zero appetite can only tolerate liquids at best.
With the issues of anorexia and sarcopenia in mind, Cambrooke has formulated its ENU Pro3+ Nutritional Powder to specifically contain higher amounts of leucine to support muscle synthesis. Each scoop contains 2 grams of total protein with 0.6 grams of that coming directly from leucine! This product works very well when diluted in liquids such as broth and tea. It doesn’t alter the taste and is completely soluble. Muscle growth works best in a well-nourished environment, so I tend to use this product to supplement other supportive recommendations such as high calories snacks and ENUs nutritional shakes.
- Makanae Y, Fujita S. Role of Exercise and Nutrition in the Prevention of Sarcopenia. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2015;61 Suppl:S125‐S127. doi:10.3177/jnsv.61.S125
- Duan Y, Li F, Li Y, et al. The role of leucine and its metabolites in protein and energy metabolism. Amino Acids. 2016;48(1):41‐51. doi:10.1007/s00726-015-2067-1