The Vegan diet and Leucine


If I were to paint a picture of Leucine, it would be of sunshine, rainbows and possibly, unicorns. Beautiful unicorns. Because it is a kind of magic, and we all want more of it.
To be honest if I could marry an amino acid, it would be Leucine. No contest.

What is it anyways you ask? As I indicated above Leucine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein like the bricks that build a house. There are 21 amino acids, and 9 are considered essential. They are essential since the body cannot make these and we must obtain them from our diet. Of these essential amino acids, 3 are called branch chain amino acids.  Leucine is one of these. The other 2 are isoleucine and valine.

The branch chain amino acids have an affinity for the muscles. If you were to take some of your muscle tissue and examine it, a large portion would be branch chain amino acids…a very large portion. They are unique (aka special like unicorns) because muscle prefers to burn only the branch chains for fuel. This is the reason that after exercise, the BCAA in both the blood and muscle, will be depleted.

Let’s get back specifically, to Leucine. Of the BCAA in your muscle,  it is the most abundant, properly, because of its superpowers. It has the ability to stimulate protein synthesis, and helps to turn on the bodies switch so as to build muscle and spare muscle when dieting. YES. Thats riiiiight! Leucine is the coolest. There is even a rumour going around that all your body really needs to build muscle, post exercise is leucine. But that’s not a really good idea to supplement only leucine, which I will explain later. It just shows that leucine is kind of the star of the show.

Unfortunately for those of us on vegan diets, our supply of natural occurring leucine is not the greatest. I mean, it’s ok if  you are, lets say, “a sedentary individual’. But if some bad a** lean muscle is your goal, you will need to step up your protein game. Studies out of the University of Illinois conducting research on weight loss diets. They found that 125g of protein a day, including 10g of that from leucine showed highest results of fat loss and preserved muscle mass. This is why I recommend 2.5g of leucine be consumed from protein sources at meal time. This is also why I find it hard and refuse to work with vegans who avoid soy products. The results (not to mention the higher risk of injury) from avoiding animal products is compromised enough, but factor in the elimination of soy products as well, and this widens the disadvantage. We end up relying heavily on synthetic forms of BCAA, which just are not the same.

For my vegan weight loss clients, I recommend consuming foods from sources of plant protein like tofu and tempeh, beans, sprouted grains, and protein powders like pea, hemp, and brown rice. I strategize by dividing up protein throughout the day, a practice that is common to many in the fitness circles.  No matter where your protein source comes from (plant or animal) the ideology is the same. Dividing up your protein increases the probability of absorption and aims to provide a constant source of amino acids in the blood for muscle growth and repair.

I know as a vegan you may be sick of being asked about where your protein sources are coming from…we’ve all been there.. Blah blah blah… BUT considering the importance of leucine intake, and its ability to maintain muscle mass, especially while dieting, you might have more motivation to meet get that 125g of protein a day. I mean GUYS, a little amino acid is the key to avoiding the fat skinny trap! Its GOLD! Here is a link to a chart I made to see the best vegan sources of Leucine. check it out.

Leucine is available as a single amino acid supplements, however taking all three together will ensure a proper balanced ratio. When overall protein is too low (but it won’t because you have this awesome chart I made) valine and isoleucine will be preferentially oxidized, creating an  imbalance that compromises muscle building. I like to think of the BCAA as best-ies, they like to work and together.
Lift some weight, eat your plant protein, drink water and build a beautiful strong body!

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