Supplements Made Simple - Pyruvate

What is it- and does a runner need it?


Posted: 5 June 2000
by Liz Applegate

This is adapted from the book, Eat Smart, Play Hard, by RW USA Nutrition Editor Liz Applegate.

The claims on bottles of pyruvate are stunning: "Increases endurance by 20 percent" and "Promotes 47 percent greater fat loss." According to studies, pyruvate taken in fairly hefty doses of 20 to 25 grams daily appears to boost endurance performance and assist in weight loss. But before you rush out and buy a bottle, read on.

In one study, pyruvate taken on a daily basis boosted endurance in a group of men riding stationary bikes. This may sound promising, but it’s important to point out that these men did not exercise regularly and so these results may not apply to people who exercise on a regular basis.

Pyruvate may, however, show more promise as a fat burner. In a study done at the University of Memphis in Tennessee, exercise physiologist Rick Kreider, Ph.D., compared the effects of a daily 10-gram dose of pyruvate to those of a placebo in a group of sedentary, obese women who were beginning a 6-week walking and weight-lifting program. The women lifted weights and walked three times a week for 30 minutes at a time. The women taking the placebo lost no weight over the 6 weeks, while the women who took the pyruvate supplement lost about 1 pound of fat.

"There may be a benefit to taking pyruvate, perhaps at higher doses than used in this experiment," Dr. Kreider notes. "But more research needs to be done, particularly since we found such a small benefit of pyruvate on weight loss. It’s also difficult at this point to justify the expense of this supplement, which is about $10 a day." The dosage used in the studies was 15 to 30 times more than what’s recommended on product labels.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kreider’s colleague, exercise physiologist Pauline Koh, M.S., monitored the women’s cholesterol levels during the exercise program. Surprisingly, those taking the pyruvate suffered a drop in levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. And since exercise should boost HDL levels, this ill effect warrants some caution. "While more research is needed to support our work, these results are certainly not desirable for those interested in becoming fit as well as those hoping to ward off heart disease," says Koh.

My recommendation: Thus far, research showing any promise for pyruvate as a fat burner involves daily doses that greatly exceed recommended dosages printed on most product labels. Manufacturers recommend approximately a 1- to 2-gram daily dose. "There’s no evidence that pyruvate works in any way at such low levels," says Dr. Kreider. A dosage high enough to be effective would be prohibitively expensive. Don’t bother.


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