Leucine supplementation and intensive training

Sports Med. 1999 Jun;27(6):347-58. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199927060-00001.


Leucine, isoleucine and valine, the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), make up about one-third of muscle protein. Of these, leucine has been the most thoroughly investigated because its oxidation rate is higher than that of isoleucine or valine. Leucine also stimulates protein synthesis in muscle and is closely associated with the release of gluconeogenic precursors, such as alanine, from muscle. Significant decreases in plasma or serum levels of leucine occur following aerobic (11 to 33%), anaerobic lactic (5 to 8%) and strength exercise (30%) sessions. In skeletal muscle, there is a decrease in leucine level and a reduction in glycogen stores during exhaustive aerobic exercise. Basal fasting serum leucine levels decrease by 20% during 5 weeks of speed and strength training in power-trained athletes on a daily protein intake of 1.26 g/kg bodyweight. The leucine content of protein is assumed to vary between 5 and 10%. There are suggestions that the current recommended dietary intake of leucine be increased from 14 mg/kg bodyweight/day to a minimum of 45 mg/kg bodyweight/day for sedentary individuals, and more for those participating in intensive training in order to optimise rates of whole body protein synthesis. Consumption of BCAA (30 to 35% leucine) before or during endurance exercise may prevent or decrease the net rate of protein degradation, may improve both mental and physical performance and may have a sparing effect on muscle glycogen degradation and depletion of muscle glycogen stores. However, leucine supplementation (200 mg/kg bodyweight) 50 minutes before anaerobic running exercise had no effect on performance. During 5 weeks of strength and speed training, leucine supplementation of 50 mg/kg bodyweight/day, supplementary to a daily protein intake of 1.26 g/kg bodyweight/day, appeared to prevent the decrease in the serum leucine levels in power-trained athletes. According to 1 study, dietary supplementation of the leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) 3 g/day to humans undertaking intensive resistance training exercise resulted in an increased deposition of fat-free mass and an accompanying increase in strength. Muscle proteolysis was also decreased with HMB, accompanied by lower plasma levels of enzymes indicating muscle damage and an average 50% decrease in plasma essential amino acid levels. Furthermore, BCAA supplementation (76% leucine) in combination with moderate energy restriction has been shown to induce significant and preferential losses of visceral adipose tissue and to allow maintenance of a high level of performance. Caution must be paid when interpreting the limited number of studies in this area since, in many studies, leucine has been supplemented as part of a mixture of BCAA. Consequently, further research into the effects of leucine supplementation alone is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Exercise* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leucine / chemistry
  • Leucine / metabolism
  • Leucine / pharmacology*
  • Leucine / therapeutic use*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Physical Endurance / drug effects*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Sports Medicine
  • Weight Lifting* / physiology


  • Proteins
  • Leucine