From time to time I like to research and write about supplements that are on the fringe and relatively unknown compounds in the world of exercise and fitness.
Some of these supplements can be a little sketchy and do not necessarily have a lot of research to support their use. That does not, however, mean they don’t work.
One such supplement is phosphatidic acid (PA)…the topic of this article.
PA has been around for awhile and has mostly been used by body builders to increase muscle mass and strength.
At first glance this supplement seems like a lot of hype but upon further investigation it could possibly work.
Keep on reading and I’ll let you be the judge if PA is beneficial or bunk.
PA is a type of fat molecule that is made up of glycerol, two fatty acids, and a phosphate group. In the body phosphatidic acid plays a big role in activating mTOR (we’ll discuss this more in depth in a minute) which helps protein synthesis regulation and cell growth
PA can also:
Now if that made your head spin let’s talk about what you really want to know. How does phosphatidic acid help your GAINZ? It all starts with mTOR.
mTOR stands for mammalian target of rapamycin and phosphatidic acid might signal this pathway and tell our muscles to grow.
When PA is taken in supplemental form is tells our body to fire up muscle protein synthesis while also reducing muscle protein breakdown.
What does this all mean? It means PA, like whey protein, might be a useful supplement to help you pack on muscle, super charge strength, and enhance recovery.
In fact, one study found PA supplementation led to double the mass gain and double the fat loss in subjects participating in a weight training program.
Sound too good to be true? Keep reading.
While PA can be found naturally in some foods it is usually in such low amounts that it will not have any positive benefits. It is found in the greatest quantities in cabbage and other types of vegetables. Other foods that include phosphatidic acid are:
Most benefits are surrounding PA’s positive effects on increasing muscle mass and strength. However, phosphatidic acid may also:
We will take a closer look at these claimed benefits in the next section of this article to see if they are true are just a bunch of bunk!
Now to the juicy details on PA. Let’s take a brief look at the research.
In a 2012 study conducted by Hoffman et. al, 16 resistance trained men were assigned to either take 750mg of PA or placebo while participating in an 8-week resistance training program (4 days of strength training per week).
Before and after the study all subjects were tested for:
Upon completion of the study the researchers discovered:
So, what’s the bottom line on this study. First, it was small so the results should be taken with a grain on salt. Second, there were no significant differences between the group that took phosphatidic acid and placebo.
PA may have led to small increases over placebo in the variables that were tested but more than likely it was the structured strength training program that was responsible for the positive changes that were observed.
This 2014 study conducted by Joy et al. was conducted in two phases.
Off the bat this was a well conducted study with solid testing protocols. Let’s get to what you really want to know. The results.
The researchers concluded “PA significantly activates mTOR and significantly improved responses in skeletal muscle hypertrophy, lean body mass, and maximal strength to resistance exercise.”
In this 2009 three-week study conducted by Hellhammer et al., researchers took 20 subjects and had them take 400, 600, 800 of phosphatidic acid (PAS) or placebo and subjected them to a trier social stress test (tsst).
This test induces stress by requiring participants to make an interview-style presentation, followed by a surprise mental arithmetic test, in front of an interview panel who do not provide feedback or encouragement.
Upon completion of the study and after the data was collected and reviewed the scientists discovered:
“Treatment with 400 mg PAS resulted in a pronounced blunting of both serum ACTH and cortisol, and salivary cortisol responses to the TSST, but did not affect heart rate. The effect was not seen with larger doses of PAS.
Regarding the psychological response, 400 mg PAS seemed to exert a specific positive effect on emotional responses to the TSST. While the placebo group showed the expected increase in distress after the test, the group treated with 400 mg PAS showed decreased distress.
In conclusion these data provide initial evidence for a selective stress dampening effect of PAS on the pituitary–adrenal axis, suggesting the potential of PAS in the treatment of stress related disorders.”
Most studies that have shown a positive effect have used 750 milligrams of phosphatidic acid daily.
Ideally you want to take 450 milligrams thirty minutes before training and another 300 milligrams after training.
On rest days take 450 milligrams in the morning and another 300 milligrams in the afternoon.
Ideally, PA should be taken on an empty stomach and WITHOUT any food. This is because taking phosphatidic acid with a meal or a protein shake can blunt its effects.
Currently no research had demonstrated any negative side effects when supplementing with PA daily for up to 8 weeks. More long-term studies are needed to determine if phosphatidic acid is safe to take beyond 8 weeks.
The only known interaction PA may have is with calcium supplements. When taken together phosphatidic acid could cause a rapid increase of the actin filament which in turn can increase intracellular calcium concentrations. This could lead to spasmodic muscular contractions.
Probably the best PA supplement is Mediator® Phosphatidic Acid. This branded and patented form of PA has been demonstrated in several studies to increase muscle mass and strength while also reducing fat mass.
However, it should be noted most studies have had a relatively small number of subjects. More research is needed to solidify the positive results.
The easiest place to pick up a quality PA supplement that is dosed in the correct amounts is on Amazon. My top pick is PA(7) by High Performance Nutrition. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
About The Author:
Matt Mosman (MS, CISSN, CSCS) is a research scientist, endurance athlete, and the founder and Chief Endurance Officer at EndurElite. Matt holds his B.S. in Exercise Science from Creighton University and his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of California. Matt and his family reside in Spearfish South Dakota, where they enjoy running, mountain biking, camping, and all the outdoor adventures Spearfish has to offer.