CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Athletes have been advised for years that carbohydrates and amino acids can enhance their performance. Now, it appears that timing of the right food -- in addition to fluid replacement -- may be crucial to post-exercise recovery.
Based on a series of experiments using rats, University of Illinois scientists say swifter recovery occurs when foods containing leucine, a branch-chained amino acid, are eaten immediately after intensive workouts. Leucine is found in protein products such as meats and dairy products, as well as in protein bars and some sports drinks. The use of a pure amino-acid supplement is not recommended, because optimum dosages are not known.
"Leucine appears to have a specific, and apparently unique, impact on skeletal muscle," said Donald K. Layman, a professor of nutrition. "It stimulates muscle protein synthesis, provides fuel for the muscle and helps to maintain blood glucose. What really surprised us was that its activity is not seen when leucine or protein is consumed before or during exercise. Instead it has a dramatic impact on protein synthesis during the recovery period after exercise."
In the tests, rats were divided into five groups based on sedentary or exercised activity levels and combinations of food (leucine or carbohydrates or both). Researchers then studied muscle recovery after some of the rats ran on a treadmill. The exercised rats fed leucine and carbohydrates (a sugar and water combination) immediately after running showed quicker recovery of muscle protein synthesis.
The findings by Layman and graduate students Josh Anthony and Tracy Gautsch appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The National Institutes of Health funded the research.
"It appears that leucine stimulates a signaling pathway somewhat like the
hormone insulin," Layman said. "It has been
debated whether the action of leucine was simply confused with the action of
insulin. Our research shows that there is a
Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign