Date of Award

Summer 6-17-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Dr. Dan Benardot

Second Advisor

Dr. Walt Thompson

Third Advisor

Dr. Sarah Henes


Is Supplemental Leucine Intake Associated with Enhanced Post Exercise Muscle Protein Synthesis and Attenuated Muscle Protein Breakdown?

Knight AD, Benardot D, Thompson W, and Henes ST

Introduction: The role of individual amino acids on protein synthesis and their impact on physical performance is of high importance to athletes and to those studying the science of sports nutrition. Leucine, one of three branched-chain amino acids, is a frequently researched amino acid because of its potential stimulatory effect on muscle protein synthesis (MPS) following exercise in humans.

Purpose: Although there have been many studies conducted on leucine’s muscle stimulatory effect, questions remain as to the efficacy and feasibility of leucine as an MPS catalyst. Contributing to these questions are the widely varied dosing and timing strategies that different researchers have employed. It is the purpose of this thesis, therefore, to assess the differences in study protocols and shed light on the potential effectiveness on leucine as a MPS stimulator. Central to this issue is whether supplemental leucine intake is associated with enhanced post exercise MPS and, if so, what associated factors, including timing and level of intake, are most likely to influence this effect.

Methods: A comprehensive review of the literature on leucine and its effect on MPS was performed. Studies were organized into similar topics, with an assessment and summary of effect produced for each topic area. A general conclusion was made that was based on the summary of each topic area.

Results: Leucine is involved in protein metabolism regulation through its role in stimulating the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling cascade and by indicating energy and amino acid availability. It functions to initiate MPS and decrease muscle protein breakdown by downregulating the ubiquitin-proteasome system, lysosomal activity, and/or increasing circulating insulin.

Conclusions: Supplementation with the amino acid leucine effectively enhances MPS and attenuates muscle protein degradation in humans following bouts of physical exertion. Leucine intake in amounts greater than that found in ~20g whole protein saturates MPS and increases leucine oxidation. For this reason, an upper limit of leucine intake should be established. While leucine successfully increases MPS, it remains unclear whether this translates to enhanced physical performance, an area that requires more studies to be conducted.