Leucine: Secret Weapon For Staying Lean

Leucine: Secret Weapon For Staying Lean

Leucine. Have you heard of it? It's a branched chain amino acid that might be the secret to building muscle and losing body fat. While lots of research is underway on this nutrient, incorporating leucine-rich whole foods in your diet can benefit the runner—especially the aging runner. Let me explain.

We know as we age we lose muscle mass, and as a consequence our metabolism slows… hello middle-age spread. While it might be in part due to a poor exercise routine that doesn't incorporate strength training, research is pointing to nutrition as being the ticket to maintaining muscle mass as we age. In fact, high quality proteins (rich in leucine) become even more vital as we get older.

If you're a runner and you're young, about 20-25 years old, your body doesn't need as much of the amino acid leucine. About 1.7g does the trick. But as we age, especially over 60, the body requires 2.5 grams of leucine or more to trigger muscle protein synthesis. Between 25 and 60 years old? While more research is needed, likely the ideal range is somewhere between 1.7 and 2.5 grams.

So with all this talk about leucine, you might be thinking that you need to go out and purchase a supplement. No need—you can easily get this nutrient through whole foods. The trick to maximizing the muscle-building pathway is to eat whole, intact proteins (and carbohydrates… we are runners) every 4 hours. Two grams of leucine is about 20 to 25 grams of animal protein. If you're a vegetarian, you will need to eat more (about 30 grams of protein) since the leucine concentration is not as high in plant foods.

The key to all this talk about leucine is to space your proteins throughout the day. Most people get 50 grams of protein at dinner and struggle to get 10 grams at breakfast. You don't have to be a pro at math to know what to eat. I'll show you how you can do this plan below.

8 AM Breakfast:

1 egg + 2 egg whites with ½ ounce cheddar cheese

1 slice Canadian bacon

1 slice whole grain bread

4 ounces orange juice

12 PM Lunch:

3 ounces tuna

½ cup spinach

2 slices whole grain bread

1 apple

4 PM Snack:

5-ounce container Greek yogurt

1 cup fresh berries

1 ounce almonds

8 PM Dinner:

3 ounces grilled chicken breast

1 cup brown rice

1 cup lettuce greens

2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette

As always, if you have any questions or comments, tweet me @DietDivaTara!

Known as the "Diet Diva," Tara Gidus is a nationally acclaimed nutrition expert and the official nutritionist of runDisney.