Can Leucine Help Burn Fat and Spare Muscle Tissue During Exercise?

Research on Mt. Everest climbers is adding to the evidence that an amino acid called leucine — found in foods, dietary supplements, energy bars and other products — may help people burn fat during periods of food restriction, such as climbing at high altitude, while keeping their muscle tissue. It was one of two studies reported in Denver at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on the elite corps of men and women who have tackled the highest peak on Earth, mountaineering’s greatest challenge.

In a pilot study of the feasibility of supplementing the diet of climbers with the branch chain amino acid, leucine, scientists studied 10 climbers for 6-8 weeks as they ascended Mt. Everest, which towers 29,000 feet above sea level. Since Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay made the first successful climb in 1953, over 2,500 people have scaled Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. Thousands more tried and failed, with more than 216 deaths. The researchers were studying the physiological benefits of adding leucine to the climbers’ diets to help them stay healthy. The researchers are from the University of Utah.

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