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Pyruvate and Exercise Endurance Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy Pyruvic acid is a by-product of metabolism in which glucose (a six-carbon molecule) breaks down to two molecules of pyruvic acid (a three-carbon molecule). Research on pyruvate (the salt form of pyruvic acid) demonstrates increased exercise performance and enhanced fat loss. Pyruvic acid is chemically unstable (and can cause nausea and intestinal discomfort), so it is stablized by forming a "salt," called pyruvate. Pyruvate salts are formed when pyruvic acid is combined with either sodium, calcium, potassium or magnesium. Pyruvate is found in the diet. Naturally ingested amounts range from 100 mg to 2000 mg. daily. Foods high in pyruvate include certain fruits and vegetables - most notably, red apples which contain 450 mg. Lesser amounts are found in certain cheeses, dark beer (80 mg per 12 ounces) and red wine (75 mg per 6 ounces).

Pyruvate and Exercise Endurance

Two human studies conducted by premier pyruvate researcher Ronald T. Stanko, MD, from the Gastroenterology and Clinical Nutrition Division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, found that pyruvate and dihydroxyacetone (DHA), for seven days significantly increased muscular endurance in both the arms and legs by 20% and increased the time it took to exhaust arm muscles by 23 minutes and leg muscles by 13 minutes. More recent studies have used only pyruvate, which is more effective than DHA. In athletics, a 20% increase in endurance is highly significant. This result has been substantiated in subsequent studies. The optimal dose has been determined to be 5 grams a day. Higher doses do not produce a greater response.

Mechanism of Action

Pyruvate improves exercise performance by increasing the transport of glucose into the muscle cell, a process known as "glucose extraction" and refers to the amount of glucose extracted by muscles from circulating blood. The pyruvate mixture increased glucose extraction after on hour of exercise by almost 300% in the study that measured arm endurance, 150% in the study that measured perceived exertion and more than 60% in the study measuring leg endurance. Glucose extraction was also increased at rest with the pyruvate mixture, and a 50% increase in muscle glycogen was noted. As glucose is high-octane fuel, increases in glucose extraction as well as glycogen (a reserve source of energy made from glucose and stored in the liver and in muscles) could theoretically translate into a greater capacity for not only endurance but for high-intensity activity like bodybuilding as well.

Increased Weight/Fat Loss

Two well-controlled human studies conducted at the Clinical Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that pyruvate had a significant impact not only on weight loss, especially on fat loss. Obese female subjects were given pyruvate for three weeks. They lost 37% more weight (13 pounds vs. 9.5 pounds) and 48% more fat (8.8 pounds vs. 5.9 pounds). This 48% increase in fat loss translated into a loss of nearly an extra pound of body fat per week. The average weight for these women was 244 pounds. They were on a liquid diet consisting of 1,000 calories a day and were ingesting 30 grams of pyruvate daily (the control group consumed an equal amount of carbohydrates). Again, the maximum effective dose was found to be 5 grams of pyruvate daily.

How Pyruvate Promotes Fat Loss

While one might suspect an increase in metabolic rate to explain fat loss, in fact increased metabolic rate has not been found in humans. However, the data indicate that pyruvate may increase fat utilization in humans, burning it without increasing overall oxygen consumption. Regardless of how it works, the good news is that the studies indicate that it is safe used at 5 grams per day or less.

Side Effects

Adverse side effects in the 100 gram and 30 gram study groups (that is 100,000 and 30,000 mg. - much larger doses than recommended for maximal clinical effect) included diarrhea and gurgling sounds in the digestive tract in some subjects. No changes were seen in heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, EKG and urine output. The intestinal side effects documented in the early studies are no longer seen, as the quality of raw pyruvate has improved.

Amino Acid Pyruvates

Other forms of pyruvate, including amino acid pyruvates such as pyruvylglycine (a combination of pyruvic acid and the amino acid glycine), have been shown to be more effective than pyruvate salts. The increased effectiveness ranges from 40%-50% to double that of pyruvate salts. Interestingly, a major American pharmaceutical company was studying these amino acid pyruvates as drugs, yet with the passing of the Dietary Health and Education Act of 1994, these substances can now be sold as dietary supplements. On the downside, pyruvylglycine is significantly more expensive, so its cost-effectiveness must be determined; also, it may not be commercially available until 1997.

This information is not medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals. Consult your physician before beginning or making changes in your diet, supplements or exercise program, for diagnosis and treatment of illness and injuries, and for advice regarding medications.


1. Stanko, R.T., Robertson, R.J., Spina, R.J., Reilly, J.J., Greenawalt, K.D., Goss, F.L., Enhancement of arm-exercise endurance capacity with dihydroxyacetone and pyruvate, Journal of Applied Physiology 68:119-124, 1990.
2. Stanko, R.T., Robertson, R.J., Galbreath, R.W., Reilly, J.J., Greenawalt, K.D., Goss, F.L., Enhanced leg-exercise endurance with a high-carbohydrate diet and dihydroxyacetone and pyruvate. Journal of Applied Physiology 69:1651-1656, 1990.
3. Robertson, R.J., Stanko, R.T., Goss, F.L., Spina, R.J., Reilly, J.J., Greenawalt, K.D., Blood glucose extraction as a mediator of perceived exertion during prolonged exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology 61:100-105, 1990.
4. Stanko R.T., Tietze, D.L., Arch, J.E., Body composition, energy utilization, and nitrogen matabolism with a 4.25 MJ/d low-energy diet supplemented with pyruvate. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 56:630-635, 1992.
5. Stanko R.T., Tietze, D.L., Arch, J.E., Body composition, energy utilization, and nitrogen matabolism with a severely restricted diet supplemented with dihydroxyacetone and pyruvate. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 55:771-775, 1992.
6. Stanko R.T., Adibi, S. A., Inhibition of lipid accululation and enhancement of energy expenditure by the addition of pyruvate and dihydroxyacetone to a rat diet. Metabolism 35:182-186, 1986.
7. Stanko R.T., Ferguson, T. L., Newman, C. W., Newman, R. K. Reduction of carcass fat in swine with dietary addition of pyruvate and dihydroxyacetone. Journal of Animal Science 67:1272-1278, 1989.
8. Cortez, M. Y., Torgan, C.E., Brozinick, J. T., Miller, R. H., Ivy, J. L., Effects of pyruvate and dihydroxyacetone consumption on the growth and metabolic state of obese Zucker rats. Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53:847-853, 1991.

The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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