Ask around. That's what most people do to stay informed about what's hot and what's not in bodybuilding, especially when it comes to nutritional supplements. People ask around because word of
mouth does two things very well: It helps maintain an awareness of fad products produced by companies that are swindling consumers, and it helps ignite and amplify interest when a product is
When I asked around the medical literature databases about a recent entry called ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate, or OKG, it was being hailed as an anticatabolic agent, a pro-anabolic agent and a
fat-loss promoter, among other qualities, and it appeared to have all the usual trappings of a formula that could be hyped. Originally, this astounding set of details made me cautious, and it
set me to looking for cracks in the armor.
It soon became difficult to continue bashing this unique compound, however, and the source of my attitude change was the scientific literature, most of which is brand new and extensive. Instead
of evidence that OKG was a worthless fad, what I found were exceptionally clear indications that the headline reports were, in fact) true and that this product does possess some very exciting
The Chemical Breakdown
In order to discuss the properties of OKG, I must first explain the roles of its two components, ornithine and alpha-ketoglutarate. Ornithine is a nonessential amino acid that is not incorporated
into proteins. It's a very basic amino, and it has a GH profile similar to that of lysine and arginine. Biochemically ornithine functions as a shuttle in the transport of ammonia, the ultra-toxic
byproduct of amino acid metabolism in cell mitochondria.
When you eat, ornithine acts as a highly specific trigger for the release of insulin; glucagon; insulinlike growth factor-I, or IFG-l and growth hormone, or GH. With the exception of glucagon these
are anticatabolic hormones that were previously believed to be anabolic, and I'll discuss them shortly. Suffice it to say that ornithine has been a longtime-favorite supplement of bodybuilders,
powerlifters, endurance athletes and dieters, who have taken it regularly in the form of a hydrochloride salt, ornithine hydrogen chloride (HGC) for more than a decade.
Alpha-ketoglutarate is the third chemical intermediate in the Krebs cycle, the energy-producing process that takes place in the mitochondna. When any kind of usable sugars are broken down for energy,
they eventually reach a step in the process where portions of the original molecule become alpha-ketoglutarate. As with ornithine, alpha-ketoglutarate is a very prominent participant in ammonia
metabolism, since it is a principal means by which many important amino acids, particularly branched-chain aminos, are introduced into the Krebs cycle, but it has a pH profile that's radically
different from that of ornithine. Thus, alpha-ketoglutarate participates in amino acid biosynthesis and breakdown reactions within the mitochondria, most visibly during intense training cycles.
As a Krebs cycle intermediate, alpha-ketoglutarate is a tremendously useful dietary additive. All types of athletes prefer to avoid dealing with the blood sugar fluxes caused by insulin response to
sugar ingestion while they're training and competing. Since alpha-ketoglutarate is an excellent source of carbohydrate energy that has very little influence over blood insulin levels, it makes an
ideal food supplement and is traditionally available in the form of calcium- and magnesium- buffered salts, which are known as calcium (Cal aipha-ketoglutarate and magnesium (Mg) aipha-ketoglutarate,
OKG is made by capitalizing on the opposite pH characteristics of the component molecules. The combination of two molecules of free ornithine with one molecule of aipha-ketoglutarate creates the free
compound salt ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate ornithine. Note that the formula doesn't contain any extra ions, such as are indicated in Ca-i-2, Mg-i-2 or Rd. Since alpha-ketoglutarate is slightly denser
than ornithine, it only takes about 1.8 times as much ornithine by weight to establish a true 2-to-1 ratio. This absolute 2-to-1 ratio is a defining characteristic of OKG.
The History of OKG
A few years ago doctors and scientists were researching the problem of how to provide complete nutrition to hospital patients who had experienced extensive burn trauma or had undergone major surgery
and were being fed through tubes. The primary concern was that the patients' bodies weren't absorbing sufficient amino acids. At first the doctors thought that the problem was amino acid dosage, so
they upped the amount in the formula but to no avail.
They were overlooking two major factors. The first was a natural response to the significant clinical stress that's associated with trauma or surgery-a glucocorticoid release that threw recovery
patients into nearly accute catabolism, which means a state of tissue breakdown. No matter how much food was fed through the tubes and placed before the body cells, the cells couldn't recognize or
use it. Under the command of glucocorticoids, including cortisone, they dutifully disassembled cellular proteins, lipids and other chemicals to deal with a perceived shortage that was brought on by
the surgery or other crisis.
The unfortunate outcome of this type of tissue catabolism is always a dangerous rise in ammonia levels within the cells as amino acids become the preferred cellular fuel. The stress response associated
with major workouts is quite similar to that of the trauma of surgery, and human muscle, brain and liver tissues are all highly sensitive to the toxicity of ammonia. The second problem had to do with a
chronic lapse in the normal daily cycling of the hormones insulin and glucagon, a phenomenon that is tied to eating three square meals a day. The most important physiological role of dietary ornithine
and arginine is to signal the insulin- and glucagon-producing pancreas that carbohydrate and amino acids from an ingested meal will soon be available.
These small chemicals cause pancreatic insulin and glucagon release, both of which regulate blood sugar and amino acid concentrations, with insulin also being highly anabolic. Without these chemical
signals horn ornithine and arginine. the regular release of the powerful pancreatic hormones simply ceases. Insulin and the two hormones discussed below are strongly anticatabolic and pro-anabolic; that
is, they overcome catabolic signals from glucocorticoids and they cause the uptake of amino acids and direct protein synthesis. In this regard the two compounds that are of premier importance to the lifter
are IGF-1, which is found in colostrum, and GH.
As with the pancreatic release of insulin and glucagon the glandular release of the highly anabolic substances IGF-1 and GH is triggered by the extra-cellular presence of ornithine. This fact is not lost
on those who are interested in maximizing muscular gains by increasing circulating levels of these hormones, in recovering patients the presence of all these hormone growth factors is essential. Doctors,
being astute and ever- interested in finding a remedy, quickly made use of these facts and took steps to recruit the following: 1) the ammonia toxicity brought on by even mild stress- and glucocorticold-induced
catabolism and 2) the inhibited tissue regeneration capacity that's further caused by insufficient growth factor output due to reduced hormonal responses.
At first the physicians felt that they could kill two birds with one stone; they attempted to spike the drip-solution formulas with arginine because, as with ornithine, arginine is involved in ammonia disposal
and could induce a similar hormone release pattern. After several experiments, however, it was obvious that this approach fell far short of their expectations; so they tried ornithine. Ornithine hydrogen
chloride turned out to be a very powerful hormonal release agent, but the doctors determined that it was sub- optimal because it didn't alleviate many of the problems that are associated with ammonia. Drawing
on the knowledge that alpha-ketoglutarate is depleted in ammoniacal mitochondria, they tried new formulas that contained this Krebs intermediate in order to achieve a more perfect balance. These included
ornithine hydrogen chloride with calcium alpha-ketoglutarate and with magnesium aipha-ketoglutarate in all sorts of ratio combinations, but none really satisfied the demands of the recovering patients' bodies.
The absolutely best, one-and-only major success that was hit upon was the free-compound salting of pure ornithine with pure alpha-ketoglutarate, the mixture of two parts free ornithine and one part free
alpha-ketoglutarate described above. The net effect of using this revolutionary composite is a rapid and near-total removal of ammonia from affected systems, along with strikingly enhanced rates of recovery
and tissue regeneration that are caused by growth factor augmentation. In the completed studies doctors gave the patients 10 grams per day and observed significant changes in hormone levels within the following hour.
It's not exactly clear why the ion salts-hydrogen chloride, calcium and magnesium-of the two active ingredients don't provide comparable responses, but it's believed that their uptake proceeds much less rapidly
than that of the free-compound salt, which is the one true OKG. Obviously, a liquid would be the best form for optimal uptake. You may be wondering, What does the fact that OKG is superior for enhancing specific
hormone release have to do with my training? Well, insulin, IGF-1 and GH are well- known pro-anabolic agents. Not only do they encourage glucose and amino acid uptake in at-risk cells, which effectively halts
the continued need for cellular breakdowm but they also override catabolic glucocorticoid signals.
Thus, insulin and the other growth factors are anticatabolic in the most fundamental way, and OKG is the substance that most strongly induces them to perform their functions. Remember that even anabolic steroids
probably don't work at the muscle site and most likely just induce more IGF-1 or GH production from central stores, if they're anabolic at all. One of the major reasons for combining colostrum with OKG is to maintain
adequate stores of IGF-1. A more likely scenario is that the most effective anabolic steroids are actually anticatabolic in the sense that they compete with glucocorticoids in terms of binding to their receptors
in muscle, thus preventing cellular breakdown. This line of reasoning is supported by the fact that the most successful anabolics now on the market were designed to have a limited number of glucocorticoid-inhibitory
Although glucagon is as strongly induced by OKG as the other three hormones, it doesn't help stop catabolism in stress-injured muscle cells. In fact, glucagon doesn't even associate with damaged tissue. Instead,
it directly stimulates fat cells to mobilize lipids for oxidation and in that way triggers OKG's fat-burning effect. Glucagon also prevents and offsets the natural hypoglycemia that takes place after you eat a meal
and the general lethargy that often accompanies it.
To summarize, OKG has three important effects that are relevant to building muscle:
1) The aipha-ketoglutarate portion of the salt swiftly absorbs poisonous ammonia to form innocuous glutamic acid.
2) lust the right amount of ornithine enhances maximum release of the growth factors insulin, 1SF-I and Gil, which, in turn, perform their respective anticatabolic and pro-anabolic functions.
3) Ornithine also stimulates glucagon release, which leads to fat burning.
When and How to Use OKG
The strain of heavy workouts, whether you're performing hundreds of negatives or high reps, leads to one thing and one thing only: stress. It's the type of stress in which glucocorticoids become involved, and this
absolutely, unequivocally prevents gains because it leads to tissue breakdown. It becomes almost impossible to build mass because each time you reach for a barbell, you're performing minor but stressful surgery on
yourself. At this point you should ask yourself the following questions: Are you in any way or at any time hypoglycemic, the type who becomes drowsy or has headaches after meals or when you're carbing up during workouts?
Are you trying to get shredded by sticking to a low- calorie and very likely low-protein diet? Are you a vegetarian who's aware of the difficulties of getting the proper balance of amino acids in your diet? Are you an
all-around athlete who regularly puts your body through short-term strain or even endurance activities? If you answer yes to any of these questions, there's a good chance that your body suffers from dietary stress
that results in protein catabolism. Since your focus should be not just nutrition, but optimal nutrition that brings measurable results, you should strongly consider using OKG as a means to this end.
Studies show that OKG supplementation has produced a plethora of biochemical and physiological responses including the following, some of which were discussed above:
» It can increase levels of the powerful anticatabolic hormone insulin as well as glucagon by 25 to 30 percent within an hour.
» It has been indicated as a potent promoter of GH and IGF-1 secretions, which stabilize erratic sugar and amino acid uptake.
» lt tends to normalize branched- chain amino acid pools in tissue, particularly in cases of borderline catabolism. In the case of acute trauma and the hypercatabolism that ensues, it stabilizes tissue amino acid levels much more effectively than even direct supplementation of branched-chain aminos does.
» ln terms of repair and recovery it also directly stimulates what is called the polyamine biosynthesis pathway in the fibroblast-type cells that are responsible for the synthesis of new muscle tissue after the breakdown that comes from dietary deficiency, stress, trauma or training-induced damage, which is a firm indicator of rapid growth and new tissue development.
Some pseudo-scientists will think that they're quite clever and well-read because they can point out that in many OKG studies the substance was parenterally administered through tubes rather than orally
administered. This is unsophisticated cant and a general waste of time. For one thing, all of the oral studies that were done demonstrate that OKG is very effective when taken in dosages of 10 grams per day. If these
loudmouths wish to complain about something, they should concentrate on how we have not yet established the best minimum dose-although It is thought to be about six grams per day.
For another thing, do these people truly believe that any of the OKG that is orally administered is actually excreted in the feces? If they happen to know someone to whom this has happened, that person should call
911 immediately because he or she has a major gastrointestinal pathology, as it is not normal to pass free amino acids and carbohydrates. The point is that oral administration differs from parenteral only in time-to-bloodstream
kinetics, and taking OKG 30 minutes before a workout works extremely well, especially when it's in the liquid form.
Many shady producers of what they call "ornithine with alpha-ketoglutarate" supplement formulas provide just that ornithine with alpha-ketoglutarate. These are not OKG in the strict sense of the term, because they don't
contain free ornithine salted with free alpha-ketoglutarate in a 2-to-1 ratio. In most cases these manufacturers have concocted the inferior ion mix of ornithine hydrogen chloride with calcium alpha-ketoglutarate or magnesium
alpha-ketoglutarate. Sometimes the ion salt nature of the ingredients isn't even acknowledged on the label, so caveat emptor- look for the terms 'free base' and 'acid form' in addition to the ratio information.
Remember that this should be a 2-to-1 absolute ratio, or approximately 1.8 grams of free ornithine for every one gram of free alpha-ketoglutarate.
Anything else is a ripoff, and it's impossible to get value for money spent on such shabby formulas. Research has shown that the incorrect ratios are ineffective, and since unethical companies calculate the amount of nutrient
based on bulk weight, they can covertly dilute your share of valuable product with caldam, magnesium or chloride ions. I call this practice the worst type of goldbricking. Another common problem is the fact that both the
ion-type and free-type compounds are strongly hygroscopic, which means that they absorb water and will easily absorb it from the air and turn it into puddles. Needless to say, unintended puddles are not a healthy state for
any supplements, not just OKG and OKG impostors.
For this reason I recommend shopping for OKG supplements that are intended to be liquid. These liquid products are manufactured under sterile conditions and are generally of a high quality in terms of their formulas. Even so,
don't let your guard down. Always check the label, happy hunting, and may massive gains be yours.