Background: Leucine has been suggested to improve athletic performance. Therefore, the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), especially leucine, are popular as dietary supplements in strength-training athletes; however, the intake of leucine in excess of requirements raises concerns regarding adverse effects. Currently, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for leucine is unknown.
Objective: The objective of the current study was to determine the UL for leucine in adult men under acute dietary conditions.
Design: Five healthy adults (20-35 y) each received graded stepwise increases in leucine intakes of 50, 150, 250, 500, 750, 1000, and 1250 mg · kg⁻¹ · d⁻¹, which corresponded to the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) and the EAR ×3, ×5, ×10, ×15, ×20, and ×25 in a total of 29 studies. The UL of leucine was identified by the measurement of plasma and urinary biochemical variables and changes in leucine oxidation by using l-[1-¹³C]-leucine.
Results: A significant increase in blood ammonia concentrations above normal values, plasma leucine concentrations, and urinary leucine excretion were observed with leucine intakes >500 mg · kg⁻¹ · d⁻¹. The oxidation of l-[1-¹³C]-leucine expressed as label tracer oxidation in breath (F¹³CO₂), leucine oxidation, and α-ketoisocaproic acid (KIC) oxidation led to different results: a plateau in F¹³CO₂ observed after 500 mg · kg⁻¹ · d⁻¹, no clear plateau observed in leucine oxidation, and KIC oxidation appearing to plateau after 750 mg · kg⁻¹ · d⁻¹.
Conclusion: On the basis of plasma and urinary variables, the UL for leucine in healthy adult men can be suggested at 500 mg · kg⁻¹ · d⁻¹ or ~35 g/d as a cautious estimate under acute dietary conditions.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00972582.