What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Alpha lipoic acid (lipoic acid, thioctic acid, or ALA) is an organic compound containing sulphur. It has been studied for a range of medical uses. However, what may be of most interest to us is that it shows huge promise in being able to promote strength and lean gains through its synergistic effect with creatine.
Where Does Alpha Lipoic Acid Come From?
ALA is naturally occurring in pretty much all food. Its most notable sources include organ meats, spinach and broccoli. However, the amount of ALA in foods is low and tends to show low bioavailability.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits
Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits for Strength and Lean Gains
Creatine is one of the fundamental supplements that is widely used among bodybuilders and athletes. It is well documented for its ability to increase strength and lean gains. However, it generally has relatively low absorption, therefore large amounts are needed to be consumed to maintain high muscle creatine levels.
It has been shown that an insulin spike from high GI sugars can increase the incorporation of creatine into muscle (Cooke & Cribb, 2008). ALA increases the number of glucose transport proteins within the body, thus increasing glucose uptake (Estrada et al, 1996). This increase of glucose uptake results in an insulin response, and hence an improvement in creatine absorption. A study has shown that taking 1000 mg/day ALA together creatine and sucrose was able to significantly increase total body creatine by 11.5% over that of just taking creatine and sucrose (Burke et al, 2003). This implies that using ALA in combination with creatine will result in a more efficient creatine delivery mechanism, which could mean that less creatine is needed to be consumed. This could eliminate some of the nuisances associated with taking large amounts of creatine.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits for Weight and Fat Loss
There has been little research on human subjects regarding the benefits of ALA on fat loss. However animal studies have shown promising effects. ALA appears to act as an appetite suppressant in rodents, and increases their metabolic rate (Kim et al, 2004). This study is supported by another rat study which also showed that animals supplemented with ALA were less prone to put on weight as a result of consuming a high fat diet, compared to unsupplemented animals (Prietro-Hontoria et al, 2009). Studies such as this gives ALA potential as a fat loss aid, and it should be interesting to see the results of clinical trials on human subjects.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Safety and Side Effects
There have been trials to assess the safety of ALA. Animal studies have shown that megadoses of 121mg/day/kg body weight only had a slight effect of liver enzymes (Cremer et al, 2006). This is the equivalent of 9.7 g/day for an 80 kg man. ALA has been approved as a drug for the treatment of polyneuropathy in Germany.
Clinical studies using APA generally report very few side effects from its use. However it has been said that doses of over 1200 mg administered intravenously may result in some gastrointestinal upset for some people (Ziegler et al, 1995). Therefore it may be wise to test your tolerance before opting for larger doses.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Recommended Doses and Ingredient Timing
Few studies have looked into the recommended doses for the above benefits. Currently the only study looking into the effects of ALA on increasing creatine efficacy used a 1000 mg/day dose. It may be possible that a lower dose may be just as effective. For increasing creatine bioactivity, ALA should be consumed at the same time as creatine. For use as a weight loss aid, ALA can be consumed first thing in the day and immediately before or with meals during the day.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Supplements
Alpha Lipoic Acid can be found in many supplements that contain creatine. This includes pre workout supplements, stim-free pre workout supplements, and post workout supplements. Considering that ALA also has thermogenic and appetite suppressing qualities, it can also be found in some fat burners.
Stacking Alpha Lipoic Acid Supplements
ALA should of course be stacked with creatine and simple carbohydrates to maximise the absorption of creatine. It can also be stacked with many other pre workout ingredients and also fat burners.
Burke et al (2003). Effect of alpha-lipoic acid combined with creatine monohydrate on human skeletal muscle creatine and phosphagen concentration. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 13: 294-302
Cooke & Cribb (2008), Effective Nutritional Supplement Combinations IN Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercise. Ed Greenwood et al. Humana Press
Cremer et al (2006), Safety evaluation of α-lipoic acid (ALA). Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 46: 29-41
Estrada et al (1996), Stimulation of glucose uptake by the natural coenzyme α-lipoic acid/thioctic acid. Diabetes, 45: 1798-1804
Kim et al (2004), Effect of alpha-lipoic acid combined with creatine monohydrate on human skeletal muscle creatine and phosphagen concentration. Nature Medicine, 10: 727 - 733
Prietro-Hontoria et al (2009), Lipoic acid prevents body weight gain induced by a high fat diet in rats: Effects on intestinal sugar transport. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, 65: 43-40Ziegler et al (1995), Treatment of symptomatic diabetic peripheral neuropathy with the anti-oxidant α-lipoic acid. Diabetologia, 38: 1425-1433