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Yep, here’s another acronym to add to the endless list: alpha-hydroxy-isocaproic acid, also known as DL-alpha-hydroxy-isocaproic acid, leucic acid, DL-2-hydroxy-4-methylvaleric acid and HICA. It’s an end product of leucine metabolism in human tissues. Can it be anabolic or anticatabolic? Let’s find out.

Scientists looked at the effects of HICA supplementation on the body composition, delayed-onset muscle soreness—commonly called DOMS—and physical performance of soccer players.

Fifteen healthy male soccer players, aged 22, took part in a four-week double-blind study during an intensive training period.1 The players supplemented with either 583 milligrams of salt of HICA (corresponding to 500 milligrams of HICA)—or a placebo of 650 milligrams of maltodextrin—mixed with liquid three times a day for four weeks.

They practiced soccer three to four times a week, had strength training one to two times a week and had one soccer game during the study. HICA supplementation significantly increased bodyweight and overall lean body mass, particularly in the legs, while fat mass remained constant. In those who got the placebo, the lean lower-body mass even decreased a bit. HICA supplementation also decreased DOMS in the fourth week compared to the placebo.

So four weeks of HICA supplementation of 1.5 grams a day leads to increases in muscle mass during an intensive training period in soccer athletes. What’s so intriguing about the study is that the type of training soccer players do is rather catabolic. Running isn’t typically the best way to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. The fact that a rather small dose of HICA can produce a small but significant increase in lean body mass points up the anabolic potential of the supplement.

That adds to the body of work on the various molecules that are related to leucine. For instance, you’ve probably heard of ketoisocaproate, a.k.a. alpha-KIC. One study looked at the glucose-sparing effect of leucine and its keto acid alpha-ketoisocaproate, called KIC, in overnight-fasted normal volunteers.2 Both leucine and KIC infusions alone decreased glucose uptake (42 and 40 percent, respectively) and increased lactate release (37 and 116 percent, respectively).

So it’s clear that amino acids and their derivatives have roles much more complex than previously realized. With the new data on HICA, I’d suggest a stack of HICA, caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, essential amino acids and protein hydrolysates. Mix it with sugar if you’re a performance athlete. If you’re just interested in looking pretty, no need for the sugar. That combination will not only enhance anaerobic and aerobic performance but increase energy and promote optimal gains in muscle mass and muscle fiber size as well. Not a bad combo, eh?

Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is the CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (; also check out his site


1 Mero, A.A., et al. (2009). Effects of alfa-hydroxy-isocaproic acid on body composition, DOMS and performance in athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 5, 7(1):1.

2 Buckspan, R., et al. (1986). Alpha-ketoisocaproate is superior to leucine in sparing glucose utilization in humans. Am J Physiol. 251(6 Pt 1):E648-653.

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