Is Arachidonic Acid the New Hit in Bodybuilding?

You might have heard about a recent study which showed athletes who took Arachidonic Acid on a daily basis for a certain period of time gained some pounds of lean body mass. However, does this mean we should all start stocking up on this supplement?

Despite the fact that it has been shown – both in vitro and in human studies – that Arachidonic Acid stimulates growth in muscle cells, it is not a flawless solution. Arachidonic Acid is an essential substance that is naturally used by the organism as a precursor, converted by the cyclooxygenase enzime (the same enzime that is blocked when you take Advil, Aspirin, Tylenol or similar drugs) into many other substances specially under inflammatory conditions, like when you have an infection or get injured.

Some of these substances are Prostaglandins, which in turn are fatty acid-like substances in charge of regulating inflammation. One of the effects of prostaglandins is vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) and as a result, oxygen and nutrients’ flow to the area under its effects are enhanced. This effect is also seen naturally when muscles are contracting. Perhaps this prostaglandin-conditioned increase in blood flow to the muscles is the direct cause of the muscle cell growth.

Nevertheless, constant or above-the-normal body prostaglandins levels might promote a pro-inflammatory state which in turn could cause increased pain-sensitivity, fever or other discomforts, as explained before. Even more: Arachidonic Acid has been correlated with the spread of prostate cancer, although this might be due to its inherent growth stimulant effect, and cancer being a state where growth processes are disturbed.

Where can you find dietary sources of Arachidonic Acid?

Common sources of Arachidonic Acid include meat, fish, some vegetable oils, and nuts, among others.

What should you do, then?

It looks like when taken with moderation in doses up to 2000 mg a day and during short periods of time, Arachidonic Acid suplementation is safe. Remember to always consult your doctor shall any uncommon effects, signs or symptoms appear!


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How to maximize creatine absorption?

Creatine absorption and citric acid

It’s usually recommended not to mix creatine with acidic drinks such as grapefruit or orange juice since the citric acid might prevent creatine from being absorbed effectively. Others argue that, the effect of citric acid on creatine is minimal considering creatine will also be exposed to the stomach which is a much more acidic environment, and since creatine survives stomach acid it can also be mixed with acidic beverages without significant degradation as long as you consume them within a few hours after mixing.

Let’s get our facts straight. According to the study “The creatine-creatinine equilibrium. The apparent dissociation constants of creatine and creatinine“, after 25 hours in a solution with a pH of 1, only 2% of creatine is degraded to creatinine. Apparently, degradation is highest when creatine is exposed to a pH between 2 and 5. Considering the acidity of liquids that people usually do not recommend such as grapefruit juice (pH 3.2) isn’t that different to that which people do recommend such as grape juice (pH 3.4), I’d conclude it doesn’t really make too much of a difference.

Creatine absorption and water

You’ve probably been told not pre-mix your creatine since it will break down over time when dissolved in a liquid. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus regarding the exact time it takes for creatine to be degraded to the waste product creatinine, some claiming degradation could take effect in as little as 30 minutes and others that creatine levels do not decrease much for at least a day or three. If you want to play it safe, drink the mixture as soon as possible after dissolving the creatine. There are shakers available with separate compartments so this should not prove to be a major hassle.

Creatine absorption and baking soda

Baking soda, a surprising supplement.

According to the study “Combined creatine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation enhances interval swimming“, creatine’s effects might be amplified by combining intake with  sodium bicarbonate commonly known as baking soda. This is a little know fact, probably because supplement companies can’t make money off a cheap universally available cooking ingredient.

Its synergy with creatine isn’t the only benefit offered by sodium bicarbonate, by the way. Here are some other studies suggesting increased sports performance at the recommended dose of 0.3 g per kg of bodyweight taken 60 to 90 minutes before a workout;

  • +34% time to exhaustion and +91% total work during HIIT (Feb 29, 2012)
  • Synergistic and superior effects compared to beta alanine (Feb 20, 2012)
  • Protection against stress induced damage to white blood cells (Nov 28, 2011)
  • Increased performance in tennis players (Nov 4, 2010)

Creatine absorption and food

It’s best to take creatine on an empty stomach for several reasons;

  1. The ingestion of a meal will decrease the acidity of the stomach drastically to the pH levels at which creatine is broken down at the fastest rate as previously mentioned.
  2. Food sitting in your stomach will slow down the absorption of creatine, meaning it will be exposed to these less-than-ideal pH levels for a longer period of time.

Update May 2014: a new study seems to show that sodium bicarbonate has very limited effect on performance. Only during the first exercise of a workout was there a significant difference compared to placebo. They also stress that the health risks associated with increased sodium intake are probably not worth the small boost in exercise performance.

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Can creatine and caffeine be combined effectively?

Effects of supplementing creatine and caffeine simultaneously

Many people using pre-workout supplements ask if creatine and caffeine can be combined effectively. It’s a valid question considering creatine and caffeine are often combined in popular pre-workout products such as MusclePharm’s Assault,  BSN’s N.O.-Xplode, Bentancourt Nutrition’s Bullnox, UPSlabs Jack3D or BPI Sports’ 1.M.R. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of studies to either fully confirm or debunk the fact that caffeine influences the effect creatine supplementation has on strength training. has evaluated the results from various studies and also concludes that the effects of co-ingesting creatine and caffeine are not yet clear:

Co-ingesting creatine with Caffeine appears to partially negate the benefits of creatine supplementation (at 5 mg/kg bodyweight) during the loading phase. The exact mechanism is not known, but might be related to opposing actions on muscle contraction time.

However, caffeine does not negate the benefits of creatine loading when not co-ingested, but just taken before exercise in the same dosage. This result indicates that loading creatine without caffeine on a daily basis, but saving caffeine for select workouts, may be an effective strategy as creatine does not adversely affect Caffeine’s ergogenic effects and may enhance creatine’s effectiveness in anaerobic exertion if the two compounds are alternated.

For more information regarding recent research, also read my article on how to combine creatine and caffeine effectively.

Caffeine’s effects on creatine absorption

Does caffeine influence the absorption of creatine? Again, due to lack of scientific studies, the short answer is “we’re not sure”.  If you wish to use both, perhaps the best solution until more information becomes available is to play it safe and use caffeine as early as possible in the morning and load up on creatine later in the day. As you are probably aware, creatine is shuttled to muscle cells more effectively when combined with a carbohydrate-rich beverage, so I would recommend drinking some grape juice or some pure glucose with your daily dosage of creatine.

Also read my article on how to maximize creatine absorption.

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