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Whether you’re a bodybuilder with pecs of steel or a casual gym-goer looking to get in better shape, chances are you’ve tried a protein supplement at some point in your life if you’ve ever had an interest in fitness. These supplements come in a number of different forms, but the most common by far is whey protein, which today can be found in supermarkets, drug stores, and online from a wide variety of retailers. While the effects of whey and other protein supplements are well-documented, what’s often less clear is what makes those effects happen in the first place. In many cases, the answer lies with a single amino acid that’s been gaining in popularity in recent years – leucine, one of the three BCAAs. If you’ve heard the name before or are just learning about it now, you might be wondering, “What does leucine do for the body?” To find out, keep reading as the experts at ENU – makers of protein shakes for athletes – explain.
What is Leucine?
Inside our bodies, there are tons of different proteins and amino acids of every shape and function. Some of these molecules carry signals in the brain; others help keep our immune systems running smoothly. While hundreds of amino acids have been identified, all of the amino acids and proteins in the human body stem from a set of 21 compounds called the “proteinogenic” amino acids.
Within this group of 21 amino acids are two main sub-groups; which of these groups a particular amino acid belongs to is a matter of whether or not the body can make that amino acid on its own. If it can, that amino acid is considered a “nonessential” amino acid; 12 of the 21 fall into this group. (It may be worth noting, however, that some of these can become essential during times of stress or illness, when your body needs more of them than it can create.)
The other nine amino acids are the “essential” amino acids, and you have to get them from foods, drinks, or supplements. Leucine falls into this second category, and it’s one of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), along with isoleucine and valine.
Like other amino acids, leucine has a wide range of functions in the body, but it’s unique among the 21 for its outsized role in muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the process by which the body makes new muscle cells. This is the reason why leucine is so sought-after by everyone from fitness buffs to medical professionals: It can help you build bigger, stronger muscles or regain any muscle tissue you lost due to age, illness, or inactivity.
The Top Benefits of Taking Leucine
Although whole protein supplements have long dominated the fitness supplement market, amino acid supplements – those containing significant amounts of leucine, in particular – have been gaining in popularity, largely because of that one amino acid. However, it’s important to remember that any complete protein – such as the whey and soy in ENU nutrition shakes – will contain leucine as well, so you may not need to seek out amino acid supplements specifically. Wherever it comes from, leucine offers a few notable benefits for the body, including those detailed below:
Faster, More Effective Muscle Growth
There are plenty of reasons – both medical and personal – to explain why people want to build muscle mass, but whatever your motivation, leucine can help boost your results. Studies have shown leucine to be effective at boosting gains after the gym and at treating conditions like sarcopenia when included in a protein shake for seniors, all because it stimulates MPS. While this process would happen regardless of how much leucine is in your system, the presence of added leucine can kick it into high gear, leading to greater muscle production.
When your body processes a particular compound, such as leucine, it tends to create byproducts known as metabolites. These substances can often have benefits above and beyond those offered by the original compound – take leucine’s metabolites, for example. One particular compound, called beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), is believed to help protect muscles from damage during exercise, and it may also work to regulate energy when you work out.
Energy During Exercise
It’s no secret that when a person works out, they burn through much of their body’s energy reserves, the bulk of which is made up of a compound called glycogen. Once its preferred fuel source has been exhausted, the body will start breaking down muscle proteins for energy, damaging your muscles in the process. Leucine and the other BCAAs can serve as an alternative source of fuel when your glycogen runs out, preventing much of the muscle damage that would otherwise occur.
Helps Fight Fatigue
Another common consequence of working out is the onset of fatigue, which can often start before your exercise routine has even ended. This type of fatigue, called central nervous system fatigue, is believed to be caused by the buildup of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. By adding leucine and the other BCAAs to your diet, you can fight this buildup and ward off some of the physical and mental exhaustion that tends to occur during and after physical activity.
Add Leucine to Your Diet with ENU’s Nutrition Shakes and Powders
Although adding heaps of protein to your diet can help to boost your body’s leucine levels, know that more efficient options are available. ENU’s meal replacement shakes and Pro3+ nutrition powder can offer a sizeable dose of leucine in a small, convenient package. Learn more about the benefits of ENU products by visiting us online or calling (855) 266-6733 today.