Potent antioxidant and energy-generating molecule with health and performance benefits

In brief

  • ALA is a fatty acid, which is made by the body and functions as a potent antioxidant.
  • ALA is also present in almost all food sources, with the richest dietary sources including meats, organ meats (i.e. kidney and liver) and yeast, particularly brewer’s yeast extract.
  • Benefits associated with ALA supplementation include
    • increasing energy production,
    • strengthening immune defence,
    • providing protection against several disease states, and
    • may enhance exercise performance
    • and promote recovery from training
  • These benefits are associated with intakes of approximately 600-1200 mg of ALA per day, which is most easily achieved through supplementation (providing a rich and concentrated form of ALA), rather than through dietary food sources.


Alpha-lipoic acid (or α-lipoic acid; ALA) also known as lipoic acid (LA) or thioctic acid is a fatty acid and potent antioxidant found in every cell in the body. ALA is made in the body but is also found in almost all foods, the richest dietary sources being meats, organ meats (i.e. kidney and liver) and brewer’s yeast extract.

The primary function of ALA is for its essential role in converting blood glucose (sugars) into energy for use by the body. ALA also functions as a potent antioxidant, which helps protect the body against harmful free radicals (i.e. reactive oxygen species; ROS) that can damage cell structures (i.e. skeletal muscles and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)) and increase the risk for several disease states (for more information see the article on ‘Antioxidants’). Whereas some antioxidants only function in water (i.e. vitamin C) or fat (i.e. vitamin E), ALA is both water- and fat- soluble, meaning that it has potent effects against free radical damage throughout the body. Furthermore, the reduced (or oxidised) form of ALA, dihydrolipoic acid (DHLA) is also a highly potent antioxidant. DHLA is able to regenerate the antioxidant potential of vitamins C and E and glutathione1. Glutathione is one of the major antioxidants in the body that protects against cellular damage from the free radicals that cause inflammation, aging, and promote skin cancer. Glutathione is rapidly broken down making its supplementation ineffective, hence the use of related molecules such as ALA to enhance its production.

What does the research say about ALA ?

Recent research supports the use of ALA for its ability to support:

(i.) Energy production
ALA plays an essential role in energy production by assisting enzymes in the breakdown and release of energy2. Additionally, ALA promotes mitochondrial growth (the “energy powerhouses” of all cells in the body)3 and skeletal muscle energy (blood sugar) uptake4, therefore helping to support the body’s energy demands.

(ii.) Sports performance and recovery from training
Supplementation with ALA may help prolong time to fatigue and enhance endurance performance. This may be due to several mechanisms of action, including ALA’s ability to promote mitochondrial growth3; enhance respiratory capacity3,4; and enhance blood sugar uptake by skeletal muscles4. Furthermore, supplementation with ALA may also help to decrease exercise-induced muscle damage3, possibly due to its potent antioxidant functioning, which may help reduce recovery time between training and competition sessions.

(iii.) Immunity
DHLA, the reduced (or oxidised) form of ALA regenerates vitamins C and E, which are important immune-supporting vitamins5. DHLA also increases the body’s glutathione levels in immune cells (T cells and lymphocytes)6.

(iv) Protection against disease
ALA is associated with benefits in models of oxidative stress and inflammation including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and has suggested anti-aging properties in terms of brain function. ALA may help protect against a variety of disease states including the ability to reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk; protect against Parkinson’s disease (and other brain-related diseases due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and provide antioxidant protection to the brain); and also support liver function (by increasing glutathione levels, which supports the functioning of detoxification enzymes, important for healthy liver function)2. Daily supplementation of 600-1800 mg ALA may also help to control diabetes, by enhancing blood sugar control (facilitating the uptake of blood sugars by skeletal muscles), and also protect against diabetes-related complications including neuropathy and retinopathy2.

What does this mean in practice?

Although ALA is found in almost all dietary food sources, it is only present in small quantities2 so it would require large volumes of food to generate the benefits associated with the ingestion of ALA. The amounts of ALA available in dietary supplements are as much as 1000 times greater than the amounts that could be obtained in the diet. Furthermore, uptake of ALA by the body is poor as the dietary form of ALA is not readily available for use by the body2. The benefits associated with ALA are achieved with intakes of 600-1200 mg ALA per day (the recommended dose depending on exercise demands and disease status)2. To this end, consuming ALA in supplement form provides a concentrated source of ALA and as an adjunct to a healthy, whole foods-based diet is likely to offer the following benefits:

  • Endurance training: may help to enhance energy production levels and increase respiratory capacity, promoting the ability to train for longer or at a greater intensity
  • Team-sport athletes / Gym-based training: may help speed up post-exercise recovery rates, supporting the capacity to perform at a greater intensity during consequent sessions
  • Recovery: may help to promote for more rapid recovery by reducing inflammation and limiting the extent of muscle damage
  • Illness: may help to strengthen immune defence, therefore reducing potential training days lost due to illness, a key consideration for elite athletes
  • Health promotion and disease protection: supplementation may help protect against several disease states such as CVD, diabetes, cancer and support healthy brain functioning

ALA uptake by the body is reduced when ALA supplementation is administered in conjunction with food2. ALA should therefore be supplemented before or after, but not with food or meals.

ALA supplements at ROS Nutrition

ROS Nutrition provides ALA 600, a quality-assured ALA supplement providing ALA in the recommended dose of 600 mg per capsule. Depending on training demands and disease status (i.e. high or low training demands and/or absence or presence of diabetes), individuals can tailor their supplementation regimen to suit their individual requirements (i.e. ingestion of one or two capsules per day). PRO GSH® Whey also contains a concentrated source of ALA, helping to promote the health and performance related benefits associated with ALA supplementation.

Find ALA at ROS Nutrition


ALA 600®*

ALA content
Take 1-2 capsules daily.
Per capsule: 600 mg ALA (supports formation of glutathione)
  • May enhance sports performance and exercise recovery rates
  • Strengthens immune function
  • Promotes health and protects against disease


Take 2-3 serves daily*.
Per serve: 100 mg ALA
  • May enhance sports performance and exercise recovery rates
  • Strengthens immune function
*One serve is one 35 g scoop in 250 ml water. Number of daily recommended serves is dependent upon training goals and intensity. Recommended to take one immediately before and after training, +/- one with breakfast.

Further reading

  • Biewenga G, Haenen G & Bast A (1997) The pharmacology of the antioxidant lipoic acid. Gen Pharm: Vascul Syst, 29 (3), 315-331.
  • Shay KP, Moreau RF, Smith EJ, Smith AR & Hagen TM (2009) Alpha-lipoic acid as a dietary supplement: Molecular mechanisms and therapeutic potential. Biochim Biophys Acta, 1790 (10), 1149-1160.
  • Abadi A, Crane JD, Ogbom D, Hettinga B, Akhtar M Stokl A, MacNeil L, Safdar A & Tarnopolsky M (2013) Supplementation with α-lipoic acid, CoQ10, and vitamin E augments running performance and mitochondrial function in female mice. PLoS ONE, 8 (4), 1-12.
  • Wagner AE, Ernst MA, Birringer M, Sancak O, Barella L & Rimbach G (2012) A combination of lipoic acid plus Q10 induces PGC1α, a master switch of energy metabolism, improves stress response, and increases cellular glutathione levels in cultured C2C12 skeletal muscle cells. Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2012, 1-9.
  • Shaik-Dasthagirisaheb YB, Varvara G, Murmura G, Saggini A, Caraffa A, Antinolfi P, Tete S, Tripodi D, Conti F, Cianchetti E, Toniato E, Rosati M, Speranza L, Pantalone A, Saggini R, Tei M, Speziali A, Conti P, Theoharides TC & Pandolfi F (2013) Role of vitamins D, E and C in immunity and inflammation. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents, 27 (2), 291-295.
  • Han D, Handelman G, Marcocci L, Sen CK, Roy S, Kobuchi H, Tritschler HJ, Flohé L & Packer L (1997) Lipoic acid increases de novo synthesis of cellular glutathione by improving cystine utilization. BioFactors, 6 (3), 321-338.