Majid Koozehchian, M.S.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), also called thioctic acid, is an antioxidant that is commonly used as a dietary supplement, particularly in the Unites States. A unique characteristic of ALA is that, unlike other antioxidants such as vitamins C (water soluble) and E (fat soluble), ALA functions in both watery and fatty tissue environments. Besides serving as an antioxidant itself, ALA also restores other oxidized forms of antioxidants including vitamins C and E to their active states. Unlike many other antioxidants providing extracellular protection exclusively, ALA provides both intracellular and extracellular protection.
ALA and exercise
ALA is beneficial in several ways. It helps the body convert simple sugars such as glucose, lactose, and maltose into energy. The conversions of sugar can help improve exercise performance, leading to more efficiency in health and fitness programs. ALA also assists in the delivery of creatine, carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients to the muscle tissue, which are necessary for increasing strength and endurance, as well as muscle size. In other words, ALA can extend workout time and improve muscle strength.
ALA helps prevent or repair muscle damage in both endurance and resistance exercise. Endurance athletes pump higher amounts of oxygen through their respiratory systems during exercise compared to the resting condition. The oxygen oxidizes glucose and fat as fuel during intense exercise, with free radicals as a by-product. (A free radical is any molecule or atom [e.g. oxygen, nitrogen] that has at least one unpaired electron and is therefore unstable and highly reactive. When free radical levels build up, tissue damage occurs.) ALA assists to prevent muscle damage caused by free radicals and speeds up muscle recovery. The multiple health benefits of ALA have made it a popular supplement among endurance and resistance athletes.
Dietary Sources and Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for ALA
ALA is made by the body and can be found in extremely small amounts in certain foods, such as broccoli, spinach, yeast, peas, rice bran, Brussels sprouts, and organ meats. There is no RDA for ALA, but studies show that 200-400 mg of an ALA supplement can supply extra free radical protection for the whole body. This may help prevent several health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, glaucoma, HIV infection, and liver disease. For maximum absorption, the supplements should be taken on an empty stomach.
ALA is able to function in both extracellular and intracellular environments and to eliminate free radicals, which tend to accumulate with vigorous exercise and can cause tissue damage. These characteristics make ALA an effective antioxidant that can benefit everyone, especially athletes.
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