Share this article on:

Protein–Leucine Fed Dose Effects on Muscle Protein Synthesis after Endurance Exercise


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2015 - Volume 47 - Issue 3 - p 547–555
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000447
Basic Sciences

Protein–leucine ingestion after strenuous endurance exercise accentuates muscle protein synthesis and improves recovery of muscle performance.

Purpose: The objective of this study is to determine whether a low-dose protein–leucine blend ingested after endurance exercise enhances skeletal muscle myofibrillar protein fractional synthetic rate (FSR).

Method: In a crossover design, 12 trained men completed 100 min of high-intensity cycling, then ingested either 70/15/180/30 g of protein/leucine/carbohydrate/fat (15LEU), 23/5/180/30 g of 5LEU, or 0/0/274/30 g of CON beverages in randomized order in four servings during the first 90 min of a 240-min recovery period. Muscle biopsies were collected at 30 and 240 min into recovery with FSR determined by L-[ring-13C6]phenylalanine incorporation and mTORC1 pathway phosphorylation by Western blot.

Results: The 33% (90% CL, ±12%) increase in FSR with 5LEU (mean, SD: 0.080, 0.014%·h−1) versus CON (0.060, 0.012%·h−1) represented near-maximal FSR stimulation. Tripling protein–leucine dose (15LEU: 0.090, 0.11%·h−1) negligibly increased FSR (13%, ±12% vs 5LEU). Despite similar FSR, mTORC1Ser2448 phosphorylation only increased with 15LEU at 30 min, whereas p70S6KThr389, rpS6Ser240/244, and 4E-BP1γSer112 phosphorylation increased with protein–leucine quantity at one or both time points. Plasma leucine and essential amino acid concentrations decreased during recovery in CON but increased with protein–leucine dose. Serum insulin was increased in 15LEU versus CON (60%, ±20%) but was unaffected relative to 5LEU. Regression analysis revealed p70S6K–rpS6 phosphorylation moderately predicted FSR, but the associations with plasma leucine and essential amino acids were small.

Conclusions: Ingesting 23 g of protein with 5 g of added leucine achieved near-maximal FSR after endurance exercise, an effect unlikely attributable to mTORC1–S6K–rpS6 signaling, insulin, or amino acids. Translating the effects of protein–leucine quantity on protein synthesis to optimizing adaptation and performance requires further research.

1School of Sport and Exercise, Massey University, Wellington, NEW ZEALAND; 2Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living, Victoria University, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA; 3Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, CANADA; 4The Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL; 5Nestle Research Centre, Lausanne, SWITZERLAND; 6Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, CANADA; and 7Canadian Sport Institute-Pacific, Victoria, BC, CANADA

Address for correspondence: David Stephen Rowlands, Ph.D., Massey University Wellington, 63 Wallace St, Wellington, New Zealand; E-mail:

Submitted for publication October 2013.

Accepted for publication July 2014.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (

© 2015 American College of Sports Medicine