This study was designed to determine the ability of leucine to enhance muscle recovery after exercise. Male rats (200 g) were divided into five groups: sedentary, food-deprived (SF); exercised, food-deprived (EF); exercised, fed a carbohydrate meal (EC); exercised, fed a leucine meal (EL); and exercised, fed a combination of carbohydrate and leucine (ECL). All meals were administered by oral gavage immediately following exercise. EC and ECL meals were isocaloric and provided 15% of daily energy intake. EL and ECL meals each provided 270 mg leucine. Rats ran on a motor-driven treadmill for 2 h at 36 m/min and were killed 1 h postexercise. Plasma glucose and insulin were measured, and the gastrocnemius and plantaris muscles were excised as a unit to determine glycogen levels and the fractional rate of skeletal muscle protein synthesis (Ks). Exercise did not alter plasma glucose or insulin. In contrast, prolonged exercise reduced muscle glycogen (-51%) and Ks (-18%). Refeeding a combination of carbohydrate and leucine increased plasma insulin relative to the EF and SF groups and produced complete recovery of muscle Ks and glycogen to values not different from those in SF rats. Feeding leucine alone restored Ks to that in the SF group without affecting plasma glucose or insulin concentrations. Feeding carbohydrate alone enhanced the rate of glycogen repletion compared to the EF group, concomitant with increases in plasma glucose and insulin. The degree of glycogen recovery correlated with plasma insulin concentrations (r = 0.58, P < 0.05). These data suggest that leucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis following exercise, independent of increased plasma insulin. This is the first demonstration that orally administered leucine stimulates recovery of skeletal muscle protein synthesis after exercise.