Is Arachidonic Acid good for bodybuilding? Is it worth using a supplement for muscle building and strength? This article will explain what Arachidonic Acid (ARA) is, what is does …. and more importantly SHOULD you be using supplements containing it!
Arachidonic Acid (ARA) has been around for a while, since the sports nutrition scientist William Llewellyn helped develop it as a commercial bodybuilding supplement in 2003. Back then, it was solely available under the name X-Factor by Molecular Nutrition.
In 2010, he sold his interest in ARA over to Cargill, the massive global supplier of ingredients to sports nutrition companies the world over.
At this point, the limited research available was open to much more scrutiny and, of course further research, as the bodybuilding community became thoroughly interested in this fatty acid’s potential.
Is it capable of such benefits, and what about side effects? Should you be concerned about inflammation, perhaps even your prostate?
We took a look at some scientific research and started finding more informed answers.
Firstly, what is Arachidonic Acid?
What is Arachidonic Acid?
Points go to anyone who’s already gathered ARA is a fatty acid. It’s an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid to be more precise, and it is derived from Linoleic Acid, which in turn is consumed in foods rich in Omega-6s, such as nuts, seeds, oils, meat and eggs.
ARA is the cousin of rockstar essential fatty acids EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid).
Purchase any omega-3/fish oil supplement and you’re pretty much buying capsules full of EPA and DHA. A good thing too because – even though their benefits have been twisted, exaggerated and/or otherwise warped – they are widely considered as very good for you!
The reason this can be said with confidence is that EPA and DHA have been heavily researched.
ARA is less researched, but already we know how important it is to your body.
In neural cell membranes it rivals DHA for prominence (and function). In the brain it counts for 10-12% of total fatty acids, and 15-17% in muscle tissue. And this is why it is interesting to muscle junkies.
How Arachidonic Acid Works (for Muscle Building)?
It plays a large role in muscle tissue recovery by way of its influence on inflammation.
Inflammation has become a rather demonized biological mechanism amongst the athletic world, but in its natural spectrum of functionality it is highly necessary.
So necessary is this inflammation/muscle repair response that scientists realized that Arachidonic Acid plays a key part in the body’s adaptive response to strength and resistance training:
Strength training = inflammatory response = muscle recovery and overcompensatory growth = bigger muscles
Prostaglandins are a group of compounds from fatty acids which exert hormone-like effects in the body. The prostaglandins from ARA include PGF2a – a protein synthesis trigger of significant potency.
Those who lift weights know the value of skeletal muscle protein synthesis: it’s why they grow bigger in adaptation to the training.
So what does this mean in terms of Arachidonic Acid supplementation?
A scientific study involving human subjects was conducted to find out whether supplementation above and beyond natural dietary consumption of ARA increases muscle growth in response to a strength training programme.
You can see the whole study for yourself by following the reference link below.
ref: Eduardo O. De Souza et al. Effects of Arachidonic Acid Supplementation on Acute Anabolic Signaling and Chronic Functional Performance and Body Composition Adaptations. May 16, 2016http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0155153
ARA – The Study with 30 Well Trained Men
As far as studies go, this one beats the pants off a lot of its peers. At least it appears to.
30 men were involved, each with a minimum of 2 years lifting experience. The study lasted an 8 week period and was, of course, double-blind, randomized and placebo controlled.
Liquid capsules of 1.5g total (in two soft gels) ARA were taken daily – or a placebo which contained corn oil.
Strength training was carried out 3 times per week, cycling through muscle groups each time. Before each session and on completion, the subjects were scanned for body composition and muscle thickness of a major quadricep was measured.
In addition, one rep max (1RM) on the bench and leg press was assessed, and muscle power calculated using the benchmark Wingate test.
ARA – The Study with Rats
To support the human study, rats were given equivalent-species dosages of ARA and had muscle tissue examined after electrical stimulation.
This way, anabolic and inflammatory signalling could be measured more precisely before and after the ‘training’ of the rats.
Multiple anabolic and catabolic markers altered but two pathways were significantly changed between the ARA and non-ARA group.
AMPK signalling was reduced and GSK-3beta was increased in the ARA group.
Oddly, initial implications of raised GSK-3b are negative as they reflect similar conditions found in diabetics (type 2) and other insulin resistance. Inhibition of the same signalling pathway would actually improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism!
AMPK reduction may be the counterbalance as it could lead to the observed increased lean body mass via the mTOR pathway.
Precise conclusions cannot yet be drawn from the rat experiment though there appears to be enough to merit further study.
The Results of the ARA Human Study
If you’ve read all of the above then here’s the important part you’ve been waiting for.
- The ARA group showed a significant increase in lean body mass (LBM) at 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs), which is 3%. In contrast the placebo group changed very little.
- Muscle Thickness changed in both with respect to baseline measurements; 4% for placebo and 8% for ARA group.
- 1RM leg press increased significantly in both groups, but without much difference between them.
- 1RM bench press power increased 8.7% in the ARA group only
- Wingate peak power and average peak power increased 12.7% and 13.2% respectively, again in the ARA group only.
- Body fat percentage did not change significantly in either group.
So Arachidonic Acid Works?
Certainly, on the face of it, this research and the results thereof would lead you to expect positive results from taking 1.5g of Arachidonic Acid, however…
As is usually the case with scientific studies of this sort, there is more to the story. So too is there more to understand about ARA in general.
If you are interested in learning more, join us for our follow up article which looks at the potential health side effects of supplementing with this fatty acid, and the gloomier side of strength training based scientific research.
Arachidonic Acid Supplements – Do They Work?
In the first part of this article covering an introduction to Arachidonic Acid and its effects, together with a summary of the latest scientific research conducted with human subjects, will give you a good idea of its potential as a bodybuilding supplement, and why supplement companies are licking their lips at the prospect of profits.
Molecular Research, the company which originally patented the fatty acid ARA as a bodybuilding supplement have opened the license up, and with it decided to push the envelope with respect to scientific ratification of its benefits to physical composition.
We’ve seen the results from said scientific research and ARA looks like a winner, but before you rush out and throw your hard-earned cash at your local supplement dealer, there’s a few more points we’d like to cover, so that you’re making an informed decision.
What’s Up With Scientific Research?
Money is what’s up.
Money is the currency of corruption, the catalyst of nearly all that is wrong with this world.
Deep, huh?… but do stay with us. We haven’t gone off the deep end just yet.
Scientific research, is theoretically devoid of bias, pure, incorruptible.
Unfortunately, it also costs money. But where you might think there’s some philanthropic Gandalf lookalike sat in a temple signing cheques and giving the go-ahead for this study, or that clinical trial, while monks chant gently across a stunning mountainous backdrop, the reality is much less romantic (or ridiculous).
The two major studies looking at the potential benefits of ARA as a bodybuilding supplement were partially funded by, you’ve guessed it, the founding and principal patent-holding supplement company Molecular Research.
When an advert for some face cream cites a study which proves it can make you look younger, who do you think paid for the study? Sometimes the scientists are even on the same payroll as the company.
The point is: the investors have the money and the motivation to invest in these studies. If they didn’t, we’d have very little to go on, and we mean that in a global context.
Now, this in itself is nothing to get too worked up about. Nor is it anything new. Dig a little deeper than the surface of any scientific paper and you’ll find a similar situation.
There’s just…something not right with that paradigm.
That said, without huge pharmaceutical (and now, nutraceutical) companies doing the hard work, we would be nowhere near the advanced state in medicine and health products that we are today. Their motive might be money, but there are rewards for everyone in the end.
What Does It Mean for ARA?
The first study conducted showed little benefit to the bodybuilder. An increase in power was noted, but where the second study resulted in increased Lean Body Mass, 1RM and Power across the board, the first was a bit of a damp squibb.
Now, the scientific community still has some balls, and so the results were available for public access. Thus, ARA didn’t get quite the springboard the company was hoping for.
Please note that we are not trashing any particular company. In fact, Molecular Research – a company with the word ‘research’ in their name – is one which we respect highly. Put that word above your door and you’d better conduct some f***ing research. Which they do, and they publish it, so that’s good!
The first study (reference link below) had a few differences to the second study referenced in beginning of this article.
- 1000mg of ARA (as opposed to 1500mg in the 2nd study) was used in the first study.
- Each major muscle group was trained twice per week in the first study (as opposed to once in the second study)
- Food was logged closely in the first study to ensure the subjects were taking on an adequate amount of protein for positive nitrogen retention and muscle anabolism (in the second study, participants were told to simply continue with regular dietary habits).
ref. Roberts MD et al. Effects of arachidonic acid supplementation on training adaptations in resistance-trained males. 2007.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18045476
None of the above implies foul play by any means, but it makes for an interesting comparison.
A Higher Dose of ARA Supplement
Where protein intake was NOT monitored, along with a higher dose of ARA and more recovery time for the major muscle groups between training sessions, a more significant positive correlation was demonstrated between ARA and muscle growth.
This could look like a case of a company taking a trial-and-error approach to the research until they get the desirable result.
Or, it could simply be that the 1.5 grams of ARA and longer adaptation time are key factors. And surely men who have been serious about bodybuilding for at least 2 years have got their nutrition dialled in!
In the very least, it’s difficult to draw hard conclusions as to ARA’s bodybuilding benefits when the two main studies contradict one another.
What About Side Effects of Arachidonic Acid Supplements?
The dose of Arachidonic Acid involved in the study is far above the RDA from dietary intake alone. Whether this has deleterious effects is up for scientific debate. However, long term use could have some feedback side effects that are undesirable.
Arachidonic Acid is tightly associated with an inflammatory response. In our first article, we highlighted the fact that inflammation is essential for muscle recovery, but may also be negative when outside its normal parameters.
The long term effects of such chronic inflammation have not been studied extensively, and so it remains to be seen – perhaps through user experience – as to whether it is cause for concern.
One concern with any product which encourages inflammation is its effect on certain cancers prone to worsening through such activity. Again there is no firm basis for this concern as of yet but it is unwise to use a supplement of this type if you are suffering from prostate cancer, or any other similar type.
The jury is still out as to the impact on cognitive decline or improvement. ARA may possibly increase markers for Alzheimer’s, but also, paradoxically, improve cognitive function in elderly people.
In this case it might be the dosage which ends up being the critical factor, however, studies are only beginning to increase awareness of what the dosage limits might be.
Arachidonic Acid in Conclusion
Recent research has demonstrated that ARA promotes inflammation, which provides benefits to muscle strength, power and size.
Somewhat in contrast to other studies, the most recent one may have shown more accurately what type of dosage and training regime may be required to get the most from the supplement.
Caution is advised, however, as both research and anecdotal data are in their early days. The supplement industry is largely unregulated and by no means do a couple of well performed clinical trials imply chronic use is totally without risk.
The effects of long term use have not been qualified or quantified and so anyone looking to use ARA as a bodybuilding supplement is advised to approach it in much the same manner as many of the other ‘unknowns’ in the industry: on a cycle by cycle basis.