Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate: Science Made Simple

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate is often found in muscle building supplements particularly pre workout supplements but does it really add anything or is it just another useless ingredient on the label?

The purpose of my “Science Made Simple” series is to look at the ingredients found in dietary supplements and establish if any scientific evidence supports their effects.

In many cases, I’ve found that supplement manufacturers rely on consumers not knowing which ingredients are killer and which are filler.

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate is often abbreviated and referred to as AAKG but what exactly does it do?

On this page you’ll find out everything you need to know quickly and with as little “science talk” as possible!


What is Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate?

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate is an amino acid comprised of two compounds: arginine and alpha-ketoglutarate.

Let’s look at each in their own right:

Arginine

Arginine is naturally produced by your liver and kidneys and it’s found in foods such as red meat, dairy, chicken, fish and nuts.

As an amino acid arginine plays a part in protein synthesis (making new muscle) and has a number of other roles in the body.


Alpha-Ketoglutarate

Your body uses alpha-ketoglutarate to create energy by extracting it from the protein, carbohydrates and fat you eat.

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate is the combination of both compounds and it is not produced naturally.

Scientists put arginine and alpha-ketoglutarate together because it is said to be effective at elevating nitric oxide (NO) levels over a long period of time. Arginine alone only elevates NO levels for a limited period.



Why Would You Want To Increase Nitric Oxide Levels?

Nitric Oxide is known as a signalling molecule because it controls a number of bodily processes such as:

  • Blood flow

  • Power output

  • Muscle growth

  • Glucose uptake

  • Oxygen release

When NO is elevated it increases the levels of these variables and therefore it’s suggested a higher level of these elements equals more muscle.

NO is also responsible for the pump (a temporary effect where muscles are full) after a weights workout.


Is Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate safe?

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate has been tested and deemed to be safe and well tolerated judging by the clinical trials conducted on it.


Does Science Support The Effects of Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate?

As with everything is the contradictory world of supplements you can usually find studies supporting both points of view. This makes it difficult to know for sure whether or not a compound is useful or not but we can certainly still learn from the results of the studies.

Here’s the highlights from the studies I found:

AAKG Doesn’t Increase NO Levels or Muscle/Strength

AAKG is thought to elevate NO levels but studies into the effects of AAKG do not conclusively demonstrate that NO levels are increased. In addition to this protein synthesis and strength gains were not shown to have increased either.


AAKG Increases Bench Press 1 Rep Max and Peak Power

In contrast to the study above, this creatine study tested AAKG supplementations effects on:

  • Clinical blood markers

  • One rep max bench press

  • Quadriceps muscle endurance

  • Anaerobic power

  • Aerobic capacity

  • Total body water

  • Body composition

It found that AAKG supplementation positively affected the subjects 1 rep max bench press and power performance and clinical blood markers. There was no change in body composition, total body water, quadriceps muscle endurance or aerobic capacity.


AAKG May Prevent Catabolism

There is some evidence to suggest that supplementing AAKG may have anti-catabolic effects, this means it stops your body breaking down your muscles for energy.

In a study were 14 trauma patients where one group were administered 20 grams of AAKG each day and the other group were not, the group supplementing with AAKG showed:

  • A significant increase in protein synthesis

  • Increase in blood levels of muscle building hormones such as insulin and growth hormone

  • Increase in blood levels of amino acids (the building blocks of muscle)


Summary

In summary, the effects of AAKG are unclear so we have to take an educated guess based on the information available to us.

It appears that AAKG supplementation may help prevent muscle breakdown but it would appear not to help us build muscle directly. Similarly, in terms of strength gains again the evidence is unclear.

For those of you concerned with the pump you get after training, it appears that AAKG can create a pump as a result of increased blood flow.

In my opinion AAKG supplementation is unnecessary in its own right as muscle breakdown shouldn’t be an issue if your diet is adequate. The muscle and strength benefits are yet to be proven and the pump (whilst appealing to some) doesn’t mean you’ll gain any more muscle.


Final verdict: 1/5

Of little use for muscle building/increasing strength but can produce a post workout pump.




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