Leucine: Improving Muscle Gain & Maintenance

As a triathlete, you work your tail off throughout the season to perform your best in that A race.  The first part of your season consists of building a solid base; gaining strength in the gym that will transition to power on the bike and in the run.  The second half of your season is devoted to speed and continued aerobic improvement.

For some athletes, performing their best means losing fat mass to get to a lean, healthy race weight.  Yet without proper nutrition, not only will fat be lost, but muscle mass as well.  This could lead to substandard performance via decreased strength and aerobic capacity.  Not ideal. 

No matter what your plan entails, the one piece that should never be left out is nutrition.  We having a saying at QT2 Systems & The Core Diet:  Never be nutritionally limited in any training session.  You have full control!  Depending on what phase of training you’re in, your fueling may change to help promote muscle gain and muscle maintenance.

Skeletal muscle responds to exercise in a variety of ways.  Endurance training alters muscle cells to be more fatigue resistant, be able use fats for fuel, and have the capacity for a more efficient use of carbohydrate fuels.  Resistance trained muscles use primarily chemical reactions for power rather than carbohydrates or fat, and these exercises increase muscle fibers to generate greater force. 

In fact, resistance exercise is a potent stimulator of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS – the building of muscle), and this process if further enhanced by eating specific nutrients.

This is where Leucine comes in.

Leucine is an essential amino acid that has been found to be the limiting factor of MPS.  While all amino acids are necessary to build protein, if there isn’t enough leucine, muscle accretion is not nearly as great. 

Leucine content of different protein sources different dramatically:

  • Whey: 108 mg/g
  • Milk solids: 77 mg/g
  • Casein: 82 mg/g
  • Soy: 62 mg/g

As you can see, whey (the liquid that is left behind when milk is curdled and the solids removed) protein provide the highest concentration of Leucine of all other sources. 

Leucine and Muscle Gain
 

                                                                                                                                                                                             

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

*Phillips, Stuart. The Role of Milk- and Soy- based Protein in Supports of Muscle Protein Synthesis and Muscle Accretion in Young and Elderly Persons.  JACN, Vol 28, No. 4, 343-354, 2009.

                                                                                                                                                                                             

The above graph, created as a review of nine studies, shows resistance training-induced changes in lean muscle mass using different protein sources, with Whey supplementation post-exercise creating the highest gains.

Along with the type of protein, the amount consumed also plays a key role.  Studies have found that MPS plateaus with anything above a single dose of 20 grams of protein (about 8.5g of essential amino acids), consumed after resistance training.  Any extra protein ingested at that one time is burned as fuel and not used to build more muscle.

Finally, the timing of protein supplementation is important for MPS.  Taking in 20g of high quality protein within 1-2 hours after a workout is optimal, and/or 30-45 minutes before the workout.

Milk (Leucine) and Muscle Maintenance

In addition to increasing muscle mass, consuming enough milk may help shed fat while maintaining, and even building, muscle mass.  A difficult task, indeed! 

A study released in the Journal of Nutrition, December 2011 followed three groups of women over 4 months.  They were each either eating high, medium, or low dairy; but all were on a reduced calorie diet and were exercising seven days per week.

By the end of the four months, all groups had lost the same amount of weight.  However, the higher protein/ higher dairy group lost twice as much abdominal fat, more total whole-body fat, as well as had the greatest gains in strength and muscle mass.

The researchers hypothesized these changes were primarily due to the Leucine content of the high dairy group’s diet.

So what does this mean for YOU?

Training: Strength Phase

During the strength blocks of your training plan, when muscle accretion is an important factor, focus on having 20 grams of high quality protein (whey isolate, preferably) within an hour of your resistance training session.  This will help you make the most of your time in the gym.

If you’re on a weight loss track, fitting dairy into your diet could mean the difference between losing muscle mass as a result of your calorie deficit, or maintaining it.  Aim for 3 servings of low fat or fat-free dairy per day. 

Diary Options: Greek yogurt is a great option as it has twice as much protein as regular yogurt; low fat cottage cheese is also very high in protein; and of course there’s always skim or 1% milk.  Choose lactose free if you’re intolerant, or take Lactaid.   However, most lactose intolerant individuals can tolerate Greek yogurt due to its low lactose content. 

Training: Speed/Aerobic capacity

During the second half of your season as time in the gym diminishes, and spending time out on the road becomes more valuable, it’s imperative to focus on some nutritional aspects.  During this time, it’s imperative to fuel your workouts well with a carbohydrate pre-workout snacks as well as refueling with a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein recovery drink.

To help maintain muscle mass during this time, keep in the whey protein or dairy to ensure adequate Leucine intake.

Athletes need to side down to the plate before they can step up to the win. 

Read Full Story

Ten Nutrition Tips for the Traveling Triathlete

It’s Monday afternoon and your boss has just informed you, that despite your best efforts to excuse yourself from business travel plans, you’re going anyway.  Before you know it, you’re booked on the 6am flight across the country.  Panic sets in.  My workouts! How am I going to get those key workouts in?  Frantically, you call your coach and somehow, you manage to work out the details. Ok, run a while I’m there, before meetings, after meetings, try to work in a swim, find the local YMCA, got it.  We’re covered. 

Crisis… averted?  What about nutrition?  Oh yeah, got that covered too – grab a snack in the airport, mini bar in the hotel room, the conference must have lunch, and if all else fails – room service.  You work hard to devise a “plan B” training configuration, but no preemptive planning goes into nutrition.  Why should nutrition take the back seat? 

Read Full Story

Food Logging: Is it a stress worth taking?

Logging your intake. I can’t tell you how important it is. The number one piece of advice I give to my athletes, regardless of if they are just starting out, or a seasoned triathlon veteran, is to start keeping track of what they eat! Even if you have (or think you have) control over nutrition, logging intake is a great learning tool. Besides tracking calories, one can monitor grams of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fiber. All of which can make or break your training session, or race!

So here is a list of five things one can learn by keeping a detailed nutrition log (even for just a short period of time):

Read Full Story

The Triathlon Fueling Window

I continue to get asked by athletes and coaches about taking a lower carbohydrate approach to fueling long course events. This concept sounds great on the surface, like Total Immersion-style swimming in triathlon, but as you dig deeper, you discover its pitfalls. I’ll sum this concept up as “Metabolic Efficiency Training – By Nutrition Modification” (low carb approach). I add the nutrition modification piece, as training via proper intensity ranges provides “Metabolic Efficiency” without tinkering with nutrition and is a proven concept. In my mind, there are two major components to the low carb approach: training nutrition modification/impacts and race day modification/impact. The first I discussed in pretty good detail here as “Starvation Workouts” – and the second I’ll discuss in more detail here. I’ll preface this discussion with the experience QT2 has with race fueling. Each year we do about 300-400 detailed race fueling plans for athletes from around the world of all levels. We’ve been doing this for about seven years. I have personally done fueling plans for over 40 PROs (many of whom I don’t coach).

Read Full Story

Detoxing Your Holiday Toxins Away

As we spend the last day of 2013, I bet many people are pondering about the changes they will make in 2014, and they will surely include some sort of health goal. For some, it can be easy to wake up tomorrow and start off on the right foot. But for others, it can be daunting to take that big leap.

Although one of the big reasons the Core Diet is so successful (besides the fact that we focus on real, nutrient dense foods) is that it is realistic. We allow “windows” for those foods that are not on the top of the “eat this” list, as well as a non-Core meal every once in a while (determined by your RD). However, some individuals can go a bit overboard during the holidays!

Read Full Story

Running In Cold Weather: Why You Need To Do This

It’s hard for me to think about bundling up in layers for a run when its still in the 80’s down here in South Florida. But as I pack for my upcoming New England trip, I am reminded of the weather reports in the rest of the country. Snow is trickling down on branches, and runners are seeing their breath before the words “hello” come out of their mouths as they pass a local running buddy. It’s also hard for many to imagine that sweat loss is going to occur when you are about to endure a run in 35-degree weather. But guess what? You still need to hydrate!

Read Full Story

Spooky & Spicy Carrot Salad

Dress up your Autumn dish with this antioxidant packed vegetable! Last week I suggested a new seasonal dish if you were getting bored with your day to day meals, and this colorful salad can do the same thing! Many of us don’t enough raw veggies in our diet, and carrot sticks dipped in hummus can get very old… Try this as a snack or with any lunch or dinner!  It's perfect for this Halloween season! 

Read Full Story

Autumn Fun Recipe

Bring on the pumpkins, Autumn is officially here! Although the days are getting shorter and the weather cooler, many of you have not yet reached the end of your triathlon season. At this point in the game, you might be a bit tired of your day-to-day foods. This is the perfect time to bring out those “hearty” meals that are still packed with good nutrients to ensure your body stays in peak condition.



Read Full Story

Your Tool Box For Health

People typically eat to satisfy hunger or because it tastes good. But food can serve another purpose. The substances in the foods that you eat can drive different physiological functions. In an effort to understand this, I like to envision the following analogy. Think of your body as a "tool box" and the foods you consume as the "tools". Your body uses the tools in the tool box to "tune it up" and help it run efficiently. So it is important, especially as an endurance athlete, to make sure your tool box is equipped with a large variety of useful tools! Just think, you can't repair a car if the only tools available in the tool box are a hammer and a screwdriver. You might need a wrench, crow bar, blow torch, several different sizes of screws, etc to fix the car.

Read Full Story

How to Hydrate While Running!

One of the many concerns I hear from my athletes is, “I can’t seem to drink while running, what is the best strategy?” The answer to that question is whatever way works for you is the best! The important aspect is just getting those fluids and electrolytes down, and to practice that method day in and day out.

Read Full Story

As a triathlete, you work your tail off throughout the season to perform your best in that A race.  The first part of your season consists of building a solid base; gaining strength in the gym that will transition to power on the bike and in the run.  The second half of your season is devoted to speed and continued aerobic improvement.

For some athletes, performing their best means losing fat mass to get to a lean, healthy race weight.  Yet without proper nutrition, not only will fat be lost, but muscle mass as well.  This could lead to substandard performance via decreased strength and aerobic capacity.  Not ideal. 

No matter what your plan entails, the one piece that should never be left out is nutrition.  We having a saying at QT2 Systems & The Core Diet:  Never be nutritionally limited in any training session.  You have full control!  Depending on what phase of training you’re in, your fueling may change to help promote muscle gain and muscle maintenance.

Skeletal muscle responds to exercise in a variety of ways.  Endurance training alters muscle cells to be more fatigue resistant, be able use fats for fuel, and have the capacity for a more efficient use of carbohydrate fuels.  Resistance trained muscles use primarily chemical reactions for power rather than carbohydrates or fat, and these exercises increase muscle fibers to generate greater force. 

In fact, resistance exercise is a potent stimulator of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS – the building of muscle), and this process if further enhanced by eating specific nutrients.

This is where Leucine comes in.

Leucine is an essential amino acid that has been found to be the limiting factor of MPS.  While all amino acids are necessary to build protein, if there isn’t enough leucine, muscle accretion is not nearly as great. 

Leucine content of different protein sources different dramatically:

  • Whey: 108 mg/g
  • Milk solids: 77 mg/g
  • Casein: 82 mg/g
  • Soy: 62 mg/g

As you can see, whey (the liquid that is left behind when milk is curdled and the solids removed) protein provide the highest concentration of Leucine of all other sources. 

Leucine and Muscle Gain
 

                                                                                                                                                                                             

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

*Phillips, Stuart. The Role of Milk- and Soy- based Protein in Supports of Muscle Protein Synthesis and Muscle Accretion in Young and Elderly Persons.  JACN, Vol 28, No. 4, 343-354, 2009.

                                                                                                                                                                                             

The above graph, created as a review of nine studies, shows resistance training-induced changes in lean muscle mass using different protein sources, with Whey supplementation post-exercise creating the highest gains.

Along with the type of protein, the amount consumed also plays a key role.  Studies have found that MPS plateaus with anything above a single dose of 20 grams of protein (about 8.5g of essential amino acids), consumed after resistance training.  Any extra protein ingested at that one time is burned as fuel and not used to build more muscle.

Finally, the timing of protein supplementation is important for MPS.  Taking in 20g of high quality protein within 1-2 hours after a workout is optimal, and/or 30-45 minutes before the workout.

Milk (Leucine) and Muscle Maintenance

In addition to increasing muscle mass, consuming enough milk may help shed fat while maintaining, and even building, muscle mass.  A difficult task, indeed! 

A study released in the Journal of Nutrition, December 2011 followed three groups of women over 4 months.  They were each either eating high, medium, or low dairy; but all were on a reduced calorie diet and were exercising seven days per week.

By the end of the four months, all groups had lost the same amount of weight.  However, the higher protein/ higher dairy group lost twice as much abdominal fat, more total whole-body fat, as well as had the greatest gains in strength and muscle mass.

The researchers hypothesized these changes were primarily due to the Leucine content of the high dairy group’s diet.

So what does this mean for YOU?

Training: Strength Phase

During the strength blocks of your training plan, when muscle accretion is an important factor, focus on having 20 grams of high quality protein (whey isolate, preferably) within an hour of your resistance training session.  This will help you make the most of your time in the gym.

If you’re on a weight loss track, fitting dairy into your diet could mean the difference between losing muscle mass as a result of your calorie deficit, or maintaining it.  Aim for 3 servings of low fat or fat-free dairy per day. 

Diary Options: Greek yogurt is a great option as it has twice as much protein as regular yogurt; low fat cottage cheese is also very high in protein; and of course there’s always skim or 1% milk.  Choose lactose free if you’re intolerant, or take Lactaid.   However, most lactose intolerant individuals can tolerate Greek yogurt due to its low lactose content. 

Training: Speed/Aerobic capacity

During the second half of your season as time in the gym diminishes, and spending time out on the road becomes more valuable, it’s imperative to focus on some nutritional aspects.  During this time, it’s imperative to fuel your workouts well with a carbohydrate pre-workout snacks as well as refueling with a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein recovery drink.

To help maintain muscle mass during this time, keep in the whey protein or dairy to ensure adequate Leucine intake.

Athletes need to side down to the plate before they can step up to the win. 

It’s Monday afternoon and your boss has just informed you, that despite your best efforts to excuse yourself from business travel plans, you’re going anyway.  Before you know it, you’re booked on the 6am flight across the country.  Panic sets in.  My workouts! How am I going to get those key workouts in?  Frantically, you call your coach and somehow, you manage to work out the details. Ok, run a while I’m there, before meetings, after meetings, try to work in a swim, find the local YMCA, got it.  We’re covered. 

Crisis… averted?  What about nutrition?  Oh yeah, got that covered too – grab a snack in the airport, mini bar in the hotel room, the conference must have lunch, and if all else fails – room service.  You work hard to devise a “plan B” training configuration, but no preemptive planning goes into nutrition.  Why should nutrition take the back seat? 

Logging your intake. I can’t tell you how important it is. The number one piece of advice I give to my athletes, regardless of if they are just starting out, or a seasoned triathlon veteran, is to start keeping track of what they eat! Even if you have (or think you have) control over nutrition, logging intake is a great learning tool. Besides tracking calories, one can monitor grams of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fiber. All of which can make or break your training session, or race!

So here is a list of five things one can learn by keeping a detailed nutrition log (even for just a short period of time):

I continue to get asked by athletes and coaches about taking a lower carbohydrate approach to fueling long course events. This concept sounds great on the surface, like Total Immersion-style swimming in triathlon, but as you dig deeper, you discover its pitfalls. I’ll sum this concept up as “Metabolic Efficiency Training – By Nutrition Modification” (low carb approach). I add the nutrition modification piece, as training via proper intensity ranges provides “Metabolic Efficiency” without tinkering with nutrition and is a proven concept. In my mind, there are two major components to the low carb approach: training nutrition modification/impacts and race day modification/impact. The first I discussed in pretty good detail here as “Starvation Workouts” – and the second I’ll discuss in more detail here. I’ll preface this discussion with the experience QT2 has with race fueling. Each year we do about 300-400 detailed race fueling plans for athletes from around the world of all levels. We’ve been doing this for about seven years. I have personally done fueling plans for over 40 PROs (many of whom I don’t coach).

As we spend the last day of 2013, I bet many people are pondering about the changes they will make in 2014, and they will surely include some sort of health goal. For some, it can be easy to wake up tomorrow and start off on the right foot. But for others, it can be daunting to take that big leap.

Although one of the big reasons the Core Diet is so successful (besides the fact that we focus on real, nutrient dense foods) is that it is realistic. We allow “windows” for those foods that are not on the top of the “eat this” list, as well as a non-Core meal every once in a while (determined by your RD). However, some individuals can go a bit overboard during the holidays!

It’s hard for me to think about bundling up in layers for a run when its still in the 80’s down here in South Florida. But as I pack for my upcoming New England trip, I am reminded of the weather reports in the rest of the country. Snow is trickling down on branches, and runners are seeing their breath before the words “hello” come out of their mouths as they pass a local running buddy. It’s also hard for many to imagine that sweat loss is going to occur when you are about to endure a run in 35-degree weather. But guess what? You still need to hydrate!

Dress up your Autumn dish with this antioxidant packed vegetable! Last week I suggested a new seasonal dish if you were getting bored with your day to day meals, and this colorful salad can do the same thing! Many of us don’t enough raw veggies in our diet, and carrot sticks dipped in hummus can get very old… Try this as a snack or with any lunch or dinner!  It's perfect for this Halloween season! 

Bring on the pumpkins, Autumn is officially here! Although the days are getting shorter and the weather cooler, many of you have not yet reached the end of your triathlon season. At this point in the game, you might be a bit tired of your day-to-day foods. This is the perfect time to bring out those “hearty” meals that are still packed with good nutrients to ensure your body stays in peak condition.



People typically eat to satisfy hunger or because it tastes good. But food can serve another purpose. The substances in the foods that you eat can drive different physiological functions. In an effort to understand this, I like to envision the following analogy. Think of your body as a "tool box" and the foods you consume as the "tools". Your body uses the tools in the tool box to "tune it up" and help it run efficiently. So it is important, especially as an endurance athlete, to make sure your tool box is equipped with a large variety of useful tools! Just think, you can't repair a car if the only tools available in the tool box are a hammer and a screwdriver. You might need a wrench, crow bar, blow torch, several different sizes of screws, etc to fix the car.

One of the many concerns I hear from my athletes is, “I can’t seem to drink while running, what is the best strategy?” The answer to that question is whatever way works for you is the best! The important aspect is just getting those fluids and electrolytes down, and to practice that method day in and day out.

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