Leucine - the master key to muscle growth

Here's what we've all been told our whole life: In order to get big and strong, you need to feed your muscles enough protein to grow. After a session of heavy lifting, most of us almost sprint home to eat our protein-rich post-workout meal or our post-workout protein shake. Though it is true that we need enough protein to grow, the whole truth is just a bit more complex. We need to look at what kind of protein we are actually getting in. More specifically, we need to look at what these proteins are made of. 

Proteins are built from amino acids. These amino acids are often relatively small molecules and chain together to create a protein. There are 20 different amino acids humans use, out of which 8 are essential and must be obtained from the food we consume. In other words, we need to eat specific types of proteins which contain these amino acids in order to properly function and of course to build or maintain muscle mass. In this image, you can see which amino acids humans produce and which amino acids are essential amino acids. 

The one amino acid that deserves a lot of attention is Leucine. Leucine is one of the 8 essential amino acids we must obtain from our diet and is also called a Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA). Other BCAA include Isoleucine and Valine. You've probably heard of that term before haven't you? BCAA's are very popular among gym-goers because of its supposedly muscle protecting properties during a workout. What most people don't know however, is that not only is leucine the most important of the three BCAA's, but leucine does so much more than just protect your muscles. Leucine is actually the master key to muscle growth. You read that right! Leucine is the single most important component from your protein intake that determines wether you will build muscle or not. Leucine is basically the switch that turns muscle growth on and off. Without proper leucine intake, we won't see as much muscle growth. 

 Source:  www.physoc.org

So not only is leucine intake important for muscle growth, we also need proper amounts of leucine to make those muscles grow. Science calls this the 'Leucine Threshold'.  As you can see on the image, we need sufficient amounts of leucine to surpass the threshold given with the horizontal dotted line. This threshold is 3.2 grams of leucine per meal consumed. That means, every time you consume 3.2 grams of leucine or more, your body immediately activates a cascade of hormones and signalling molecules which activate muscle growth. The important thing to realise as well here is that your body also needs enough total protein to effectively build muscle. According to research, any amount of protein between 1.6 - 2.4 g/kg bodyweight will be enough. 

So now that you know the science behind leucine and how much you need to consume per meal, how do you effectively get this amount of leucine in? The most logical answer is to eat foods that are rich in leucine. Foods that are rich in leucine include beans, legumes, corn, grains, tofu, tempeh, soy based products and also animal protein. Animal protein usually has the highest amount of leucine you can find, but shouldn't be the reason to turn to animal protein. Eating enough amounts of proper plant-based protein sources will do the job equally well.  

 L-Leucine supplements typically sold as a shake (or tabs). 

L-Leucine supplements typically sold as a shake (or tabs). 

The other option is to supplement on leucine. Most people have used BCAA supplementation before, but are you getting enough out of your BCAA supplements? The answer is usually no. Most BCAA supplements have a 2:1:1 ratio, which means that the leucine content is twice as high as the isoleucine or the valine content. That shouldn't be a problem though, if you take the right amount of your BCAA supplement in. The recommended dose is usually 5 grams, which usually means you get 2 grams of leucine. And that's not enough to surpass the threshold. The solution is to either double the recommended dose (10 grams of BCAA, giving 4 grams of leucine) or buy a pure leucine supplement and serve yourself about 3.5 grams (depending on the leucine content per gram). They are usually not very expensive and last you at least a month. This is actually an amazing investment for vegans and vegetarian, as most people have difficulties reaching the leucine threshold needed. 

Whilst BCAA's and Leucine is very popular among bodybuilders and more experienced gym-goers, it's important that everyone who is looking to add on some muscle mass or shape their body surpass this threshold at every meal. Even the ladies who don't want to put on too much mass need to ingest enough leucine. Without it, you are very likely to progress at a much slower rate or not at all. 

 Ladies, to look fit and sexy you too need leucine!

Ladies, to look fit and sexy you too need leucine!

So my recommendation is: take a look at the amount of leucine you are ingesting from your food and if this is not sufficient, change the amounts you are eating and/or add a leucine/BCAA supplement to your diet in a proper dosage. 

Let me know what your experience is with BCAA/leucine in the comments below. Share this with anyone who needs to know this valuable piece of information! 

Behaviour is everything - do these 4 things to achieve your goals!

A part of the whole fitness transformation journey that isn't nearly mentioned enough is your own behaviour and the lifestyle that follows from your behaviour. The beautiful thing is that behaviour is a very well studied discipline and there are many theories on how and why we behave the way we do. 

During my time in med school and nutrition & dietetics studies, I have had the chance to study a part of the human behaviour. The most interesting thing I have learned is that your own behaviour can be greatly influenced if you have the right motivation and the right tools. See how I mentioned motivation there? It's because motivation to take a certain action or ease a certain craving is the main driver of animal behaviour.

And because changing your lifestyle is greatly a matter of making a change for the best, you need to know what the things are that will drive you to actually do your absolute best. Being aware of these main drivers will result in a greater chance of succeeding. And we all love to succeed, so get reading!

1. Be aware of the basic needs you are (not) fulfilling.  Abraham Maslow was and still is a very popular psychologist who studied human behaviour. He established a hierarchy of the needs we express and the order in which we need to satisfy these to achieve maximum satisfaction. As you can see in the image, the absolute foundation of our needs is purely physical: we need to breathe, have access to enough food, we need to sleep etc. After that follows the need to be safe. We need a job, we need enough resources and need a moral compass, we need to be as healthy as can be and we need a turf to live on. The pyramid goes on like this, up until you reach the top: self-actualisation. This is the need to reach our full-potential as human beings. In this section you also want to be the fittest person you can be. Being aware of all the other needs you must fulfil in order to have undivided attention for your goals is vital. If you have a rocky foundation, your focus will be diverged and your chances of succeeding are lessened. Make sure you resolve any need in the pyramid so your attention can again change towards the top of the pyramid. 

2. Make sure you are motivated from within. Intrinsic motivation is a term that we've probably all heard somewhere before. This is basically the innate motivation you have to do something. Make sure you are motivated by yourself in the first place. Why are you doing all of this? Are you really doing it for yourself? That is vital for you to realise: in order to succeed, you must want to succeed and enjoy the road towards succes. My clients sometimes tell me they don't like a certain exercise of just don't enjoy cooking. My advise is to think and focus on the parts that you do enjoy. That pump in the gym, the feeling of victory after you broke your personal record, the fun you have while performing different exercises. If you are having fun and are doing this for yourself, your motivation will last the longest. 

3. Realise that your environment plays a part in your success. Wether you like it or not, your friends, family and the standards of the culture you live within play an important part in your success. How often do you hear people struggling with their healthy lifestyle among friends and family. I hear this all the time! Eating unhealthy meals because your friends serve you junk food, family telling you you are getting too skinny or too buff and many other examples. My advise is to turn this to your advantage. Talk to your friends and family and explain to them how important this is to you. Most people will understand and be supportive if you explain from the heart why something matters to you. Ask them to be supportive when you are feeling low or when you need them. Set some basic rules and ask of them to respect those rules. If your friends aren't supporting you after this, it might be a good idea to re-evaluate your friendships.

4. Work like a sprinter, think like a marathon runner. What most people on social media won't tell you is that building a healthy lifestyle and achieving your goals is a process that is longer than anyone would care to admit. I am not talking about weeks. I am talking about months to years. If you work hard and expect results to happen overnight, you are only fooling yourself. Your body needs time to change and your mind does as well. Work hard like a sprinter, but make sure your mind is on marathon mode: thinking about a long run. In fact, research has shown that just the simple fact of 'being in it for the long run' greatly increases your chances of succes. You won't easily quit, because your realise setbacks or disappointments are just a part of the long rocky road towards your personal succes. But there's more: focussing on an even longer commitment (lifelong commitment, never-ending pursuit of fitness) will increase your chances even more.

I've seen these 4 things do major changes for a lot of clients. Living to your fullest potential begins with awareness and I am more than happy to serve that to anyone willing and able. I've changed for the best because of these relatively simple changes and if I can do it so can you! 

What are some crazy things you hear from friends and family? What are your major lifestyle pitfalls? Let me know in the comments or feel free to ask me anything!

Personal Update: Vegan Burgers & More!

Last weekend I finally did it: I made the step from plant-based to vegan. Hoorah! I've tried eating vegan before for about a month, and I was kind of happy it was over. Now, after about two years, I am very happy to be vegan permanently. I've taken it step by step, but last weekend it just felt like the right time to start. I'm ready to help make the world a little bit better, one man at the time :-D


I have to say there are a few things I will miss. I was never a fan of meat, but the single most delicious thing in the entire world was definitely BURGERS. A sweet, delicious, juicy burger with as much cheese as I can. And mayonaise, hngggggg. 

The great thing about being vegan is that you get to reinvent yourself and all of your favourite dishes. It got me thinking outside of the box and to get creative. Yesterday, I was at my brother's house hanging out with my sister and a friend of my brother's. We got this idea to go get junk food. But yeah, little problem is: I'm vegan now. So how do I satiate my craving for a burger and keep my surrounding happy as well? VEGAN BURGERS!




We went to the "Vegetarian Snackbar" in The Hague, where I currently live. And though I don't usually expect much of vegan food (or food in general) when I go out, the pressure was on to show my brother, sister and his friends that vegan food can be manly and delicious. 

And yeah. Nailed it! I had a vegan Hawaii Burger and it was absolutely insane. I loved every bite of the burger, with lots of greens and a sweet and sour sauce. And the pineapple of course. The only thing that was missing, was the vegan cheese the cook forgot to drop on my burger. Imagine my sadness. 






Also, last week I have officially started my VEGAN BODYBUILDING PREPARATION. I am going to compete in a second bodybuilding competition and I am going to do it 100% vegan. All plants, no animals. The plan is to build up more muscle in the next 12 weeks, and after that it's time to start lowering my body fat. But for now I am going to just focus on the here and now. This phase: bulking up some more on only plants.

I'm kind of excited to be adding a new dimension to something I love so much. And anyone who knows me, knows I don't know quitting. I only know setbacks So, will you follow me through on this? 

Until the next update! 



WIN - Personalised Training & Meal Plans

My readers are pretty damn awesome! When I started my website and when I started my blog, I had little over a hundred readers. That's not too bad, but I was certainly aiming for higher numbers. 

Now, I am fairly close to a thousand unique readers every month. That's insane! It just hit me that a thousand individuals could fill up a medium sized club. All of them read my blog, find interesting stuff and for some reason mail me questions and ask me for advise (why don't you guys just publicly comment though....). 

Last week I gave you guys two examples of properly and carefully designed training schedules. However, I explained in both cases that a certain level of personalisation is most definitely desired for you to get the absolute best you can get. Don't get me wrong, if you meet the criteria given for a "standard" workout it may work very well for you. But well and best are two different things of course ;) 

Because of that I want to give you guys something cool for being such faithful readers. I am giving away TWO prizes!! 

This is my way of saying thanks and my way of promising that there is MUCH more to come ;) How do you enter? Simple: 1) Like my instagram page 2) Let me know in the comments below or on my Instagram page why you want to win. The most crazy, funny, inspiring or honest answer will get picked by me before FRIDAY. If you use the hashtag #teamfray you get double chances of winning ;) 

Good luck!

Full Body Routine - Advanced

Yesterday I shared a beginner/intermediate routine with you guys and the response was pretty great. Some more advanced readers out there were probably left a little in the dark, so I decided to make an example of an advanced routine as well.

Just like yesterday's routine, I am always very clear that a certain "example" of a proper training schedule is always sub-par to a schedule fully optimised for your needs. If you are a healthy, injury-free gym-goer looking to put on some mass or drop some body fat, you will be fine. As long as you are at a more advanced level (2+ years of proper training experience).

If you want some more focus on a certain body part, you can mail me your question and I will be happy to respond.

A few personalisation tips:

  • If you are a woman, you should add about 2 reps to every exercise. Women can more easily resist higher training volumes
  • If you are extremely advanced (5+ years), you can easily do this routine 5-6x per week. 
  • If you are injured while you follow this training, don't completely stop doing an exercise. Reduce your load and keep going. 


Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments guys!