Alpha Lipoic Acid and Bodybuilding Nutrition

Alpha Lipoic Acid and Bodybuilding Nutrition.

ALA can improve your body's ability to use nutrients.

 Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant and, perhaps, a powerful nutrient-partitioning agent.  It can potentially make an enormous difference in terms of how much fat you gain versus how much muscle you gain. ALA changes the ratio of muscle to fat gained in favor of muscle and at the expense of fat.

Except immediately following your workout, the carbs you eat cause an insulin spike, which when combined with high blood glucose levels resulting from those carbs, makes for a very lipogenic environment. Using  ALA, you can channel more of the glucose to the muscle cells instead of the fat cells gaining more lean muscle mass without a concurrent gain in body fat. Please read on to learn how to make the most of  ALA.

As you probably know, an antioxidant is a substance that prevents or slows the breakdown of another substance by oxygen. In the body, vitamins and minerals such as beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor), vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium have been found to act as antioxidants. They act by scavenging free radicals, molecules with one or more unpaired electrons, which rapidly react with other molecules, starting chain reactions in a process called oxidation.

Free radicals are a normal product of metabolism and the body produces its own antioxidants to keep them in balance. However, stress, aging, and environmental sources such as polluted air and cigarette smoke can add to the number of free radicals in the body, creating an imbalance. The highly reactive free radicals can damage healthy DNA and have been linked to changes that accompany aging (such as age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older people) and with disease processes that lead to cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

Studies have suggested that the antioxidants that occur naturally in fresh fruits and vegetables have a protective effect. For example, vitamin E and beta-carotene appear to protect cell membranes; vitamin C removes free radicals from inside the cell.

Touted to be the supreme antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an enzyme found in the mitochondria — the energy producing structures found in our cells. ALA can operate in concert with vitamins C (water soluble) and E (fat soluble). Much research has been dedicated to examining ALA‘s effects on diabetes, especially the nerve disease accompanying the progression of diabetes. Although a lot of advertising and marketing has promoted the potential “insulin-boosting” action of ALA, very little evidence points to this effect in humans. Indeed, the minimum effective dose of ALA required to improve some aspects of diabetic symptoms is not cheap: 600 mg/day.

ALA is comprised of a pair of nearly identical molecules called isomers. New research indicates that the active half of ALA, the R isomer, may be far more effective than what is widely available. This super ALA loaded with R isomers may enable consumers to use a lower dose with potentially greater effects.

Although alpha lipoic acid is involved in cellular energy production, its chief role as a dietary supplement may be as a powerful antioxidant. The body appears to be able to manufacture enough alphalipoic acid for its metabolic functions (as a co-factor for a number of enzymes involved in converting fat and sugar to energy), but the excess levels provided by supplements allow alphalipoic acid to circulate in a “free” state. In this state, alphalipoic acid has functions as both a water- and fat-soluble antioxidant. This unique ability of alphalipoic acid to be active in water and lipid compartments of the body is important because most antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, are effective in only one area or the other. For instance vitamin C is usually restricted to the interior compartment of cells and the watery portion of blood, while vitamin E embeds itself in the fatty portion of cell membranes. Adding to the potential importance of alphalipoic acid is its role in the production of glutathione, one of the chief antioxidants produced directly by the body.

In animal studies, alpha-lipoic acid supplementation has been shown to improve several indices of metabolic activity and lower the degree of oxidative stress. alphalipoic acid supplementation reversed the declines in oxygen consumption and mitochondrial energy production that are commonly observed with aging. Activity levels increased approximately 3-fold in animals fed the supplement, suggesting that energy levels were enhanced. Levels of other antioxidants, such as glutathione and ascorbic acid, were also elevated in animals consuming alphalipoic acid, suggesting that the supplement may help protect and/or recycle these antioxidants and contribute to the overall capacity of the body to neutralize free radical damage.

In conjunction with other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, alphalipoic acid may be doubly helpful in patients with diabetes. By promoting the production of energy from fat and sugar in the mitochondria, glucose removal from the bloodstream may be enhanced and insulin function improved. Indeed, alphalipoic acid has been shown to decrease insulin resistance and is prescribed frequently in Europe as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) associated with diabetes. In the U.S., the American Diabetes Association has suggested that alpha-lipoic acid plus vitamin E may be helpful in combating some of the health complications associated with diabetes, including heart disease, vision problems, nerve damage and kidney disease. alphalipoic acid has also been implicated in helping to protect the brain from damage following a stroke.

ALA is of particular interest to the bodybuilder as well. Let’s assume that as a bodybuilder, you are on a bulking cycle. Here’s what happens when you eat a bulking meal without the benefits of ALA:

1. Meal taken w/o ALA.

i) Food (Macronutrients) is ingested.
ii) The body converts these nutrients to glucose, its main source of fuel. (Protein and triglycerides are also converted to glucose) Protein: is 58% glucogenic and Fat is: 10% glucogenic.
iii) The body detects the glucose entering the Blood stream. The Pancreas releases insulin to shuttle the glucose/amino-acids/fats into the cells. The glucose is delivered to the myocites (muscle cells) and to the adipocytes (fat cells).

Unfortunately, when bulking, the muscle-cells are often COMPLETELY full; so all the nutrients are either oxidized for energy or shuttled into the adipocytes (fat cells). The net result is that although you gain muscle when bulking, you also increase your fat mass as well.

Now let’s look at what happens when the bodybuilder includes ALA in a bulking regimen.

i) Food (Macronutrients) is ingested.
ii) The body converts these nutrients to glucose, its main source of fuel. (Protein and triglycerides are also converted to glucose) Protein: is 58% glucogenic and Fat is: 10% glucogenic.
iii) The body detects the glucose entering the Blood stream. The Pancreas releases insulin to shuttle the glucose/amino-acids/fats into the cells. The glucose is delivered to the myocites (muscle cells) and to the adipocytes (fat cells).

However, and this is the interesting part, ALA increase the number of glut-4 transporters on the out-side of the myocites (muscle-cells) by almost 50%. And this enables the muscles to increase the amount of glucose that they absorb from the blood stream.

Unlike the first scenario, where glucose was being diverted straight into the fat cells, in the second scenario, the orally administered ALA forces the glucose and nutrients into both the MUSCLE-cells and the fat-cells.  This creates an anabolic environment within the muscle cells, providing for increased growth potential.