Leucine is a nutrient regulator of muscle protein synthesis by activating mTOR and possibly other proteins in this pathway. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of leucine in the regulation of human myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS). Twenty-four males completed an acute bout of unilateral resistance exercise prior to consuming either: a dose (25 g) of whey protein (WHEY); 6.25 g whey protein with total leucine equivalent to WHEY (LEU); or 6.25 g whey protein with total essential amino acids (EAAs) equivalent to WHEY for all EAAs except leucine (EAA-LEU). Measures of MPS, signalling through mTOR, and amino acid transporter (AAT) mRNA abundance were made while fasted (FAST), and following feeding under rested (FED) and post-exercise (EX-FED) conditions. Leucinaemia was equivalent between WHEY and LEU and elevated compared to EAA-LEU (P=0.001). MPS was increased above FAST at 1–3 h post-exercise in both FED (P <0.001) and EX-FED (P <0.001) conditions with no treatment effect.At 3–5 h, only WHEY remained significantly elevated above FAST in EX-FED(WHEY 184% vs. LEU 55% and EAA-LEU 35%; P =0.036). AAT mRNA abundance was increased above FAST after feeding and exercise with no effect of leucinaemia. In summary, a low dose of whey protein supplemented with leucine or all other essential amino acids was as effective as a complete protein (WHEY) in stimulating postprandial MPS; however only WHEY was able to sustain increased rates of MPS post-exercise and may therefore be most suited to increase exercise-induced muscle protein accretion.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01492010.