Let’s face it, the times are changing in the fitness and nutrition industry. Broscience, pseudoscience, and anecdotal lore are giving way to the white lab coats and data driven decisions.
So to search for new, effective supplements, we should turn to the scientists.
The mammalian target of rapamyocin (mTOR) is what all skeletal muscle scientists dream about. Why? It's one of the key components of turning training into lean muscle tissue. If we boil it down to the basics, mTOR activation = muscle growth* and there is a newer supplement being utilized because it is a known activator of mTOR.
*Yes, this is a vast oversimplification but it is generally the right picture.
Phosphatidic Acid, which we will lovingly call PA for this article, is one cool molecule. It does a lot of really important things in the body, but the one I care about is that it is a well-known activator of mTOR. This means PA has some serious potential for aiding in muscle growth.
PA is actually a type of lipid (aka fat) that is often derived from lecithin (which is also used to make other supplements like phosphatidylserine).
One of the important aspects of PA as a supplement is it is actually really well absorbed. When you take it, it actually shows up in your blood. The same can’t be said for a lot of supplements1.
The Research on Phosphatidic Acid
Anytime you start looking at new supplements, you can actually use muscle cells, grow them in a lab, and give them the supplement and see how they respond. One of the first studies done on PA showed that giving muscle cells did increase the “grow” signal for muscles.2
For scientists, seeing a mechanism is a good sign that it might be something worth pursuing, and pursue it they did.
In a small study of well-trained men, the people who took 750 mg of PA for 8 weeks saw a 3.4% greater increase in their strength in the back squat and 2.5% greater increases in lean body mass than the subjects who didn’t take it.
Now 3% might not seem like a lot, but if you are squatting in the 300s, that is at least a 9 pound increase more than the the placebo and man, I would love an extra 9 pounds on my back squat. Additionally, an extra 2.5% of lean body mass might end up being around 2-3 extra pounds of lean mass, which is also something I would happily accept3.
You would think one study would be enough, but replication is critical. A follow-up study in 28 people done using the same dosage above (750 mg/day) showed that PA increased muscle size and lean body mass4.
So it does look like PA works, not only when scientists pump their pipettes, but also in normal people pumping the iron.
Is Phosphatidic Acid Safe?
Now I know most of us would sacrifice a lot of things (sleep, work, … maybe even dare I say women) in the name of gains, but we should probably also see if this thing is safe.
Well, it turns out that phosphatidic acid at efficacious doses, around 750 mg/day, is safe in young, healthy males5.
Phew, dodged a bullet there.
There is a mentality that more is better when it comes to muscle growth. More training, more food, more supplementation. Specifically, people will often take multiple supplements that are “designed” to elicit muscle growth, assuming they will have additive effects.
Interestingly it appears that PA may actually have some interactions with whey protein supplements. In a study done with rats, taking whey protein and PA alone lead to increases in muscle protein synthesis but using them together actually reduced the effect of both, indicating they may interfere with each other6.
Now there are some definite caveats to this study as it was only demonstrating acute muscle protein synthesis in rats. And as we know, muscle protein synthesis is not a great indicator of long term muscle growth.
Clearly a lot more work needs to be done but it looks like more may not always better!
Need to Know
- PA is a lipid molecule that stimulates mTOR
- Taking 750mg or PA per day has been shown to lead to greater increases in strength and size during resistance training programs
- PA is a safe product with no reported negative side effects to date
- Effect of oral administration of soy-derived phosphatidic acid on concentrations of phosphatidic acid and lyso-phosphatidic acid molecular species in human plasma
- Phosphatidic acid enhances mTOR signaling and resistance exercise induced hypertrophy.
- Efficacy of phosphatidic acid ingestion on lean body mass, muscle thickness and strength gains in resistance-trained men
- Phosphatidic acid supplementation increases skeletal muscle hypertrophy and strength
- Safety of soy-derived phosphatidic acid supplementation in healthy young males
- Effects of oral phosphatidic acid feeding with or without whey protein on muscle protein synthesis and anabolic signaling in rodent skeletal muscle