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TOP 3 POST WORKOUT NUTRIENTS: Leucine, Creatine and Betaine

Brian Turner

Posted on May 07 2018

By Steve Blechman


 Leucine promotes recovery by stimulating the mTOR pathway to increase protein synthesis to repair injured tissue. Leucine, one of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), is the most important chemical that turns on the mTOR pathway, so it is likely that consuming leucine after exercise would be more effective (and cheaper) than consuming BCAAs. The addition of isoleucine and valine may hinder the benefits of leucine due to competition for transport into muscle cells. The BCAAs share the same active transport system into cells and muscle cells. Indeed, isoleucine and valine have been shown to inhibit absorption leucine. In the March 2018 issue of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, it was reported that men fed 6 grams of whey protein supplemented with leucine, isoleucine and valine observed less protein synthesis than whey protein supplemented with just leucine. Also, research has shown that valine can cause insulin resistance in muscle, which is detrimental to muscle growth and enhances the accumulation of body fat. Also, many athletes consume glutamine supplements because they may boost the immune system. A Belgium study, however, found that glutamine suppresses the mTOR pathway and could interfere with muscle protein synthesis. Yes, glutamine is antagonistic to leucine when it comes to turning on protein synthesis! A dipeptide of alanine and glutamine called Sustamine also fails to turn on mTOR. The science supporting glutamine as a muscle-building, performance-enhancing supplement is quite lacking.

 For best results as an anabolic trigger, take 5 grams of leucine (on an empty stomach) 15-30 minutes before a post-workout meal. By taking pure leucine on an empty stomach, you will get a better spike in blood levels than if you take leucine with food, because food can slow leucine’s absorption. When leucine is taken on an empty stomach, it’s a powerful metabolic switch that turns on protein synthesis. Leucine increases mTOR activity for several hours after training. When leucine is taken after resistance exercise and before a post-workout protein-containing meal rich in essential amino acids, it triggers greater protein synthesis for improved recovery and greater gains. (Nutrition 2017, 42: 30-36; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2016; 104:1594-606; Med Sci Sports Exercise 2011, 43: 2249-2258; Nat Med 2015, 22: 421-426; Biochemical Journal 1996, 100: 7-11; International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, March 2018, 28: 170-177; Amino Acids, June 2008, 35: 147-155; Amino Acids, July 2015, 47: 1389-98)


  Creatine is an extremely popular sports supplement that increases strength, power and lean muscle mass. Creatine monohydrate is the gold standard and most researched form of creatine. In 1992, as Twinlab’s Vice President of Product Development and Marketing (1974-2001), I was the first to bring to the retail market creatine monohydrate (as Creatine Fuel). While there are several different forms of creatine available today, creatine monohydrate has been shown to be the most cost-effective! Creatine increases power output during high-intensity sprints and improves endurance capacity by allowing athletes to exercise at a faster pace. Creatine also promotes muscle adaptions to training and stimulates muscle growth. Creatine can stimulate muscle growth by enhancing IGF-1, muscle cell formation and increasing protein synthesis. Creatine can also inhibit the production of the muscle-wasting protein myostatin. Myostatin acts by inhibiting the growth of muscles— it prevents them from growing too large. By inhibiting myostatin, creatine can promote the growth of skeletal muscle. The blockade of myostatin has the potential as a treatment for various muscle-wasting disorders such as sarcopenia and loss of muscle during aging. Research has shown that creatine monohydrate combined with leucine can reduce the negative effect of myostatin and enhance muscle growth. So, it makes scientific sense to combine leucine with creatine monohydrate to maximize recovery, protein synthesis and muscle growth.

 Supplemental leucine post-exercise also enhances muscle creatine uptake via an insulin-meditated effect. Creatine also promotes muscle glycogen storage. Creatine monohydrate plus carbohydrates increases muscle glycogen restoration following exhaustive exercise better than carbohydrate feeding alone— according to Paul Greenhaff and colleagues from the U.K.

 Exercise capacity and fatigue are greatly influenced by glycogen stores in muscle and liver. Recovery from repeated intense workouts depends on restoration on muscle, liver and glycogen stores. A most recent study published in The Journal Nutrients (April 30, 2018) found that creatine monohydrate may have more muscle protective benefits than whey protein isolate on muscle damage and recovery. Creatine monohydrate supplementation prior to and following a controlled muscle injury was more effective a restoring functional strength compared to whey protein isolate and placebo supplementation. (Journal International Society Sports Nutrition, 9:33, 2012; Amino Acids, published online May 19, 2016; Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 23: 378-387, 2013; European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111: 1965-1971, 2011; Amino Acids, 40(5): 1369-83, 2011; Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 6: 37-43, 2003; Clinical Sciences (Lond), 83: 367-374, 1992; Medical Science Sports Exercise, 35: 923-929, 2003; Medical Science Sports Exercise, 33: 1674-1681, 2001; Journal International Society Sports Nutrition, 11: 38, 2014; Nutrients April 2018, 10(5), 553) 


 Betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, is a natural osmolyte like creatine. It is important in maintaining cellular hydration. As an osmolyte, betaine enhances muscle cell swelling, stimulating protein synthesis and decreasin protein breakdown, resulting in muscle growth. Betaine also has been shown to increase growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Beta Power™ Natural Betaine supplementation (2.5 grams) reduced fatigue and increased power and strength after 15 days of high-intensity, high-volume bench press and squat training. Beta Power™ Natural Betaine, also at 2.5 grams per day, improved arm muscle size and increased body composition— increasing lean body mass and lowering body fat. Other studies have shown 7.8 percent rise in IGF-1 levels and a 6.1 percent drop in the muscle catabolic hormone cortisol. Taken together, betaine is an excellent post-workout supplement when combined with leucine and creatine. For further muscle growth benefits, take the electrolytes potassium and magnesium citrate post-exercise. Potassium and magnesium citrate enhance hydration and muscle cell volume as an osmolyte, working synergistically with creatine and betaine to enhance muscular recovery and muscle growth. Potassium citrate is also an acid buffer. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets result in low-grade, chronic acidosis, enhancing muscle breakdown and muscle wasting. Potassium and magnesium citrate can buffer acidosis and preserve muscle mass when following a high-protein, acid-forming diet. (Biochim Biophys Acta, 1475: 39-46, 2000; Biochem Society Trans 24: 335S, 1996; Journal of Strength Cond Res 25:235-2241, 2011; J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012; Apr 3;9(1):12; Eur J App Phsyiol 2013; Mar;113(3): 793-802; J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2013; Aug 22, 10(1):39; Amino Acids 2012 Jun; 42(6): 2299-305; J Strength Cond Res 2008; May; 22(3):851-60; Calcif Tissue Int 74, 330-335, 2004; The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 31.8 (2017): 2338-2346; Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87: 662-665)