The first time I heard anything about “alpha-ketogluterate” was back in the early ’90s. Arginine alpha-ketogluterate (AAKG) was supposed to be the next big muscle builder. They cited studies about burn victims and other traumatic states notorious for muscle loss and how supplementation with aakG could reduce the muscle loss in these patients. It was exciting news and yes, I did order some right away. Unfortunately, the cost prevented anyone from using the levels cited in these studies and the results, as you might expect, never really materialized. Turns out, having been severely burned is not quite the same stimulus as a tough workout.
Despite being overhyped early on, keto-acids have not gone away. A lot of supplements still contain them, but if you ask the marketers why they’re in there, they will quickly refer to the compound that they are bound to such as Arginine for muscle pumps and what have you. No attention what so ever is actually given to the keto-acids themselves. This time around, researchers looked at the benefits of keto-acids directly and in a different light; not as muscle builders, but as performance enhancers. A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition used various forms of keto-acids to see if they could reduce ammonia formation during exercise. Ammonia levels can increase in the blood stream when your body begins using amino acids for fuel. Many have experienced the smell of ammonia emanating from their sweat after tough workouts when their carb intake is low. This is an indication that your body ran out of carbs and is now breaking down protein for fuel. From a bodybuilder’s perspective, this is bad because you’re likely losing muscle to some extent. Even if you don’t consider yourself a bodybuilder it’s still bad because ammonia is known to induce a sense of fatigue.
In this study, three groups of untrained men were put on a training routine that would intention- ally induce over-reaching. This means just short of full-blown overtraining. They started with a 30-minute run and then did three sets of three-minute sprints. Yes, I said three-minute sprints. They did this five times a week for four weeks followed by one week of recovery. Needless to say by the third week, the placebo group were on their knees.
There were two supplement groups; one received ~72 mg/kg bw/day of alpha-ketogluterates (AKG). The other received ~45 mg/ kg bw/day of branched chain keto acids (BCKA). The AKG binds to ammonia to form glutamate and the BCKA binds to form BCAAs. The third group received a placebo.
After four weeks of training, volume, maximum power output, and muscle torque were significantly higher in both the AKG group and the BCKA group, with a slight advantage seen in the AKG group. In addition, by Week 3 the placebo group began showing definite signs that overtraining was imminent, whereas both the AKG and BCKA group showed no signs.
The only downside to the study was the somewhat large amounts used. Nevertheless, for anyone who finds themselves in competitive sports, it may be well worth your while to start using keto acids as part of your supplement regimen.
References: J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Aug 2;9(1):37; Int J Sports Med 1990, 11 (Suppl 2):S129–S142; Prog Neurobiol 2010, 91:200–219.