Optygen is a stimulant-free endurance supplement that's touted to optimize aerobic exercise performance in cyclists, marathon runners, and triathletes. The Optygen formula is said to be revolutionary and based on human clinical research and the scientific research on increasing endurance. That got my attention. So, let's review Optygen and see what we can discover.
The Optygen website (FirstEndurance.com) mentions that the Optygen formula is:
- “based on human clinical research
- latest research
One problem with these statements is that the website does not list any published peer-reviewed evidence for Optygen itself.
On the “Research” page of the product website, there is a mention of a 2007 study done by Dr. Andrew Creer at South Dakota State University. The website also mentions another study, also done in 2007 by Dr. Karlton Larson of Luther University.
However, no mention of where these two studies were published can be found. Therefore, I conclude that neither study mentioned on the Optygen website is published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
That doesn’t necessarily mean these studies were not good. They may be great —but, lack of peer review reduces the significance of these studies in my mind.
All that aside, let's now look at the published clinical research and see what can be discovered.
According to the product website (FirstEndurance.com), Optygen is composed of the following ingredients:
Amount per serving
|Cordyceps CS-4 (Cordyceps Sinensis)|| |
|ATProTM Matrix|| |
|Rhodiola Extract (Rhodiola Rosea)|| |
mcg = micrograms
Let's look briefly at each ingredient.
The type of chromium used by Optygen is called Chelavite®. This is an invented word used to refer to a proprietary type of chromium called ” chromium dinicotinate glycinate.” That's fancy talk meaning that this supplement contains chromium, niacin (a vitamin), and glycine (an amino acid). Glycine is probably added to increase the absorption of the chromium.
It’s the chromium (and maybe the niacin also) in this mixture that is the main thing to focus on. Does chromium help exercise endurance? If it does, I can't find any published peer reviewed proof for it. Aerobic exercise can lead to losses in chromium and this in theory might alter blood sugar control and “might” hinder exercise performance. I'm speculating here of course. That said, research seems to show less chromium excretion in those who exercise regularly.
The niacin in this mixture might also help regulate blood sugar levels by helping insulin work better. The big “if” here is whether this type of chromium (Chelavite) helps benefits blood sugar levels in aerobic athletes. At this point, I'm not sure.
Cordyceps has been popular with aerobic exercise athletes for several years. Is there any evidence it really works?
In a study published in 2011 cordyceps helped endurance in rats who exercised and in those who did not exercise. That's interesting. The amount of cordyceps given to these rats was 200 mg per kilogram of body weight per day (given for the 15 days of this study).
In other words, researchers gave rats different amounts of cordyceps, based on how much they weighed. This is very different than the 1000 mg in a serving of Optygen.
If this rat study is applied to humans, a person who weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms) would need 68 x 200 = 13,600 mg per day!
So much for rat studies… What do people studies say about Cordyceps and exercise?
In a study published in 2004 in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Cordyceps CS4 (the same type that is in Optygen) did not help aerobic endurance in 22 male cyclists who took cordyceps for 5 weeks. The amount of cordyceps used in this study was 3 grams per day (triple the amount in Optygen).
In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20 older adults (age 50 – 75 years) were given a placebo or 333 mg of Cordyceps CS4, three times per day for 12 weeks. In other words, the people in the study received 333 mg X 3 = 999 mg per day of Cordyceps CS4.
(Click the link above for the full text of the study).
At the end of the study, researchers noted that cordyceps helped increase the point at which lactic acid starts to significantly accumulate in the blood (this is called lactate threshold. Increasing when lactate threshold occurs can help exercise performance).
The research did not see any change in VO2max (maximum aerobic ability).
Might cordyceps work differently in older adults or work best in those who are not “athletes?” These are questions I do not know the answer to at this time.
I did manage locate two studies that specifically looked at Optygen itself.
1. One study was published in 2005 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and was titled “Cordyceps sinensis- and Rhodiola rosea-based supplementation in male cyclists and its effect on muscle tissue oxygen saturation.”
This was a very small study —only 8 men between the ages of 18-50 years. All men performed 2 exercise tests to fatigue on a bicycle ergometer (stationary bike). Men were randomly assigned to a placebo group or a group that received Optygen (there were 4 men in each group).
The Optygen group first received a “loading phase” dose of 2000 mg (6 capsules) with water in the morning for 6 days. Then, they were given a maintenance dose of 3 capsules (1000 mg) with water, in the morning for the next 7 days, as was recommended by the manufacturer.
At the end of this small study, Optygen did not cause any improvements in tissue oxygen saturation or any other parameters the investigators looked at.
2. In another study of Optygen titled “Effects of a commercial herbal-based formula on exercise performance in cyclists” published in 2004 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 17 amateur cyclists were given the Optygen supplement for 2 weeks.
At the end of the study, no change was seen in VO2max (aerobic capacity), time until exhaustion set in, or peak heart rate compared to placebo.
In a study published in 2011, in the Journal Biology of Sport, cordyceps (2.4 grams per day) did not raise testosterone levels or strength compared to placebo, when it was randomly given to 16 resistance-trained young men for 8 weeks. You can view the entire study at this link.
For more on cordyceps, see my review of Mdrive, a testosterone booster for men over 40.
The name ATPro is a catchy name and is an obvious reference to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the main energy molecule of our body. When we burn fat or burn carbs, we “burn” it to make ATP. ATP, in turn, breaks apart and gives us the energy that we need.
Tip. ATPro contains no ATP. That's good because even if it did, it would be destroyed in the stomach when ingested.
As far as I can tell, ATPpro is composed of several ingredients. They are:
- Calcium Pyruvate
- Sodium Phosphate
- Potassium Phosphate
They don't tell us how much of each ingredient is in ATPro. They only tell us that all of the ingredients add up to 800 mg. Sodium and potassium are basically just electrolytes so I won't bother with them. Instead, let’s look at the big three players:
I was actually one of the first people in the US to review the research on pyruvate in the mid 1990s. Back then, people used pyruvate for a LOT of things—including weight loss. Let's just look at the endurance research on pyurvate here.
In a study from 1990, pyruvate improved muscle endurance in 8 male cyclists (more than placebo) who exercised on a cycle ergometer (a stationary bike). This same effect has been seen in lab animals as well.
Tip. Most studies combine pyruvate with dihydroxyacetone, which Optygen does not have).
In a more recent study (2008) pyruvate and creatine were shown to improve intermittent hand grip exercises (compared to placebo) in 49 males. The amount of pyruvate used in this study was 5 grams per day (for 28 days).
Whether handgrip endurance translates into being better at riding a bike is debatable.
Another point is that this study used 5 grams per day. That's more pyruvate than is in Optygen. In fact, all of the pyruvate studies I have ever seen have used between 5-7 grams of pyruvate.
It is important to note that not all studies have shown that pyruvate helps endurance.
As an aside, when I first investigated pyruvate, I tried it for a month, using 7 grams per day. I did not notice any improvement in my exercise ability.
Ribose is a type of sugar. With respect to exercise, ribose is popular among some endurance athletes because of research —primarily conducted on sick people with heart disease —showing that it might help improve oxygen delivery to heart muscle. But, does ribose help healthy people exercise better?
Well, it's hard to say, but most of the research so far shows ribose doesn’t help. For example, in a study from 2006, ribose (10 grams per day) didn’t help rowing performance in women.
In a study from 2001, ribose didn’t help at regenerating ATP after exercise.
Looking at the research, I'm hard-pressed to find a “ribose helps exercise” study. I do see research on ribose helping fibromyalgia but as for exercise, for the moment, I'm skeptical.
This is actually one of the building blocks of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). I'm wondering if they added adenosine to Optygen in the hopes that this might help replenish ATP reserves during exercise and recovery? Adenosine is a vasodilator. In other words, it expands blood vessels.
Might adenosine be in Optygen in the hopes that it would expand blood vessels, allowing for a greater blood flow to exercising muscles and heart during exercise? Regardless of my speculation, I am unaware of any study showing oral adenosine supplementation improves exercise performance.
The scientific name is Rhodiola rosea. We pronounce this herb as “row-dee-ola”. In a study from 2013, 3 grams of rhodiola appeared to reduce heart rate during exercise and reduce how hard exercise felt when people rode a stationary bike.
I'll point out that 3 grams of rhodiola is more than is in Optygen.
Likewise, in a 2004 study, 200 mg of rhodiola improved the time until exhaustion set in during exercise.
Conversely, rhodiola didn’t work in a small study from 2007.
When I noticed that there was a “regular” Optygen and an “high performance” version, my first question was why? Doesn’t everybody who is interested in Optygen want “high performance”? Here is Optygen HP on Amazon.
So, what's up with having two versions of this supplement?
Here are the ingredients in Optygen HP:
|Amount per serving||% DV|
|Cordyceps CS-4 (Cordyceps Sinensis)||1000 mg||N/A|
|ATProTM Matrix||800 mg||N/A|
|Rhodiola Extract (Rhodiola Rosea)||300 mg||N/A|
|Beta Alanine||1000 mcg||N/N|
So what is the difference between regular Optygen and OptygenHP? The Optygen website says that the HP version is “Twice as strong” but, for most part, I don't see a big difference. Let's look at each product side by side:
|Chromium||2000 mcg||2000 mcg|
|Cordycepts||1000 mg||1000 mcg|
|ATPro Matrix||800 mg||800 mg|
|Rhodiola||300 mg||300 mg|
|Beta Alanine|| |
As I see it, the only difference between Optygen and Optygen HP is that the latter has beta alanine. Let's look at that ingredient now…
It's scientific name is 3-aminopropionic Acid. Beta alanine is actually a “sexy supplement” in the world of exercise because of research noting that might help those who workout.
Let's look at some of that research.
In a study published in 2012 in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2000 mg (2 grams) of beta alanine was randomly given to 39 male students for 6 weeks. Compared to placebo, beta alanine improved VO2max (maximum aerobic capacity) and time untill exhaustion set in when compared to placebo.
In another 2012 study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, beta alanine improved punching force in amateur boxers. The amount used was 6 grams per day for 4 weeks.
In an 8-week-long study published in 2009 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise beta alanine supplements were shown to significantly improve cycle sprint performance (by 11.4%) after an exhaustive bout of exercise. This study used 17 “well-trained” cyclists.
In a 2004 study that lasted 28 days, beta alanine was shown to delay fatigue in women during sub-maximal bicycling tests compared to placebo. Interestingly, in this study, beta alanine did not improve VO2max.
How Does Beta Alanine Work?
The prevailing theory is that beta alanine increases levels of a compound called carnosine. Carnosine helps reduce lactic acid levels inside muscles. In theory, this means less muscle fatigue and better/ faster recovery. Beta alanine does not seem to raise testosterone levels.
For more info, see the beta alanine Wikipedia page.
How Much Beta Alanine Works?
For improving aerobic exercise performance as well as sprinting researchers usually use between 2400 mg (2.4 grams) to as much as 4800 mg (4.8 grams) of beta analine in trained individuals. This is more than is in Optygen HP (1000 mg per serving). Here is a brand of Beta Alanine powder that appears to have some high marks from consumers on Amazon.
Optygen Side Effects?
Based on what I saw, I think the product is safe in healthy people. I'm not aware of any side effects specifically from the Optygen supplement specifically. Adensine might have a blood pressure lowering effect that may be pronounced in those who take blood pressure lowering medications, although thats' just a guess. The blood sugar lowering effects of chromium and niacin might —in theory —be a problem for diabetics taking diabetes medications. I admit that, these are probably worst case scenarios, not noticed by most people. In healthy people, I think Optygen is very safe.
How To Contact First Endurance?
On the website they give this address First Endurance:
P.O. Box 71661 Salt Lake City, UT 84171. A contact # of 1-866-FIRST11 (866-347-7811) is also given.
Does Optygen Work?
The website for the product makes it sound like Optygen is great, but I keep coming back to the fact that only unpublished studies show it works —while published, peer reviewed studies (which I listed above) indicate it does not work. While I could be wrong, of all the ingredients in Optygen, I think the best evidence is for beta alanine and rhodiola. As for the rest of the ingredients, I remain skeptical.