Nitrates: The Freaky-Intense King of Muscle Pumps?

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the last three or four years, you likely know that amino acids nitrate salts (and creatine nitrate) are among the hottest new legal dietary ingredients in the sports nutrition industry.

All the larger, better companies have correctly licensed these patented ingredients and formulated them into their product line. A few smaller companies have been allowed to do so as well. But unfortunately, many companies who do not have permission – a contract or a license – from the patent assignee/holder have also decided to illegally formulate them into their product lines too.

We’re going to talk about all that in a moment. But first…

Ron Kramer Thermolife

Ron Kramer pictured here (second from left) with engineers and factory reps in a recent trip to China last month to audit the factory that makes his patented amino acid nitrates. Ron says “at the end of the day these are our ingredients and I need to make sure everything is done right from start to finish in the manufacturing of our ingredients so I have to go with a regulatory team and inspect the factory personally to make sure they qualify if they are going to make our ingredients. Nothing is more important to me than quality. People who infringe our patents and steal our ingredients are buying them off the black market and people don’t know what they are getting.”

Ron Kramer: The King of Nitrates

I have known Ron Kramer, the owner of Thermolife International LLC, going on like a dozen years now. We were bitter enemies in the past. However, in recent times, we have become friends – I would like to think “very good friends” in fact. As as a point of disclosure, indeed I do “some business” with Ron and Thermolife now.

Ron has a reputation of being difficult to work with, angry and litigation happy. I think his reputation and these perceptions are a bit unfair.

For those of you have not made the connection yet, Ron Kramer and Thermolife currently hold something like fourteen United States patents covering virtually every possible composition and method of use for amino acid nitrate salts (and creatine nitrate) in the USA. To write that Ron is essentially the “King of Nitrates” is not really an understatement at all. And if you or your company want to formulate any amino acid nitrate into your product line you legally need to have Ron’s express written permission to do so.

If you do not? And you put an amino acid nitrate or creatine nitrate into your formula (technically, if you even make or possess the raw ingredients in the USA in actuality) you are picking Ron’s pocket, you are literally stealing from him. And I don’t know about you but I personally believe that if someone is stealing something from me I might become “difficult, angry and litigation happy” too. Most of the folks in the industry complaining about Ron are folks who have stolen from him or are stealing from Ron by squatting on his intellectual property, just taking it, using it without permission and making a profit from this thievery – in many cases, a substantial profit.

For whatever reason or reasons, I have recently found myself as a mediator/advocate between Ron/Thermolife and companies that want to license his patented nitrates or companies he is suing for stealing his intellectual property. A lot of these companies are initially angry and quite hostile towards Ron/Thermolife until I explain the situation with the following analogy:

Suppose Ron owns a Ferrari 458 Italia. It’s his car and he can do whatever he wants with it basically. You like it. I like it. What’s not to like about a Ferrari, right? Ron agrees to let me rent his car if I promise to fill the tank with gas and return it to him in the same condition I received it. Ron, however, is just not comfortable allowing you to drive his beautiful Ferrari so he’s decided not to rent it to you under any conditions. You’re unhappy with his decision because you just have to drive that hot car. So you decide to take Ron’s car without Ron’s permission and go for a lengthy joy ride. Obviously, when you get caught you would expect to be arrested and if you damaged Ron’s Ferrari then you would be liable to any costs to make it right.

Replace “Ferrari” with “Patented Intellectual Property” in the above paragraph. Is it starting to make sense to you? So if you hear about “Angry Ron” shouting from the roof tops about nitrates and suing half the people in the industry its because half the industry has lined up to essentially steal his Ferrari and take it for a heck of a joy ride. So why is this nitrate thing so interesting anyhow? Good question!

Muscle Pump

Nitrates induce some mind boggling pumps. Use nitrates with agmatine? Pumps can be so intense as to induce stretch marks if you are not careful.

Why is Everyone So Worried About Nitrates?

They work! It’s really quite that simple.

In an age of instant gratification, amino acid nitrate salts and creatine nitrate are instantly gratifying. Ingest a gram or two of any of them? BOOM! 15-45 minutes later you’re swole.

Nitrates induce some mind boggling pumps that rival high dose agmatine. Use nitrates with agmatine together? Those pumps can be so intense as to induce stretch marks if you are not careful.

Nitrates are relatively inexpensive too and offer a lot of bang for the buck. They mix well into water and are easily flavored. Are they 100% perfect? Show me anything that is. But more often than not, people who like to “feel” a solid pump when they work out and who like the aesthetics the pump leaves for a few hours afterwards are using stimulant and non-stimulant pre-workout powder products with some sort of nitrate in it.

And yeah, Ron Kramer discovered/invented amino acids/creatine nitrates and has a bunch of patents covering them every which way you can think of (www.NO3-T.com is where you can see all the current issued patents). Is it possible for a company to formulate around Ron’s IP? Sure…but the path is exceedingly narrow, limiting in scope and results in a product that is at a serious commercial disadvantage in most cases. The better way to go – if nitrates are your thing – is to legally and correctly license an amino acid nitrate salt from Ron and then add in all the remaining other goodies you want in your formula and not have to worry about stepping on his IP and finding yourself in your lawyer’s office.

Is Ron Kramer’s Stranglehold on Nitrates Unfair?

Overhead PressI’m not going to get into the pharmacology of nitrate salts here as there are so many other places on the interwebs where you can find out everything you would ever want to know about nitrates and nitric oxide. But I do want to address one last set of stuff.

So it often goes like this – Company X wants to put an amino acid nitrate in one or more of their products. Ron, at his sole discretion (and he does get to make this call) decides for some or no reason that he is not interested in doing business with them. Company X then blows Ron off, steals his IP and soon finds itself being served with a lawsuit for patent infringement.

Company X then complains that its so unfair (no its not!) and then either tries to overturn Ron’s patents by whining that they are invalid or publicly complains or hires someone to publicly complain (in the case of one company where they don’t/didn’t have any employees with enough brain power to form a cogent complaint) that nitrates are not legal as dietary ingredients by spinning DSHEA 1994. So let’s address these two points.

I can tell you from personal experience it is not easy to get the United States Patent & Trademark Office to issue you even a single claim for a Patent. The process is difficult, lengthy and expensive. I have been successful in only three applications out of dozens of attempts to get patent protection for novel ideas in the USA. It’s almost as if the folks examining the applications for patents get paid a commission to “say no” or just deny you a patent claim – this is how difficult it is!

The good news is that once the USPTO says to you, “its allowable” then you own it! It’s exclusively yours! And its considered to be absolutely 100% valid unless there is blatant and exceedingly clear evidence that it’s not.

What it Would Take to Topple the Nitrate Dynasty

To overturn an issued patent, you have to prove that the examiner, and likely the examiner’s supervisor, both made an error – the same error (or that there was clear fraud in the prosecution of the patent by the inventor). This is also a time consuming, expensive and frustrating task that can take years to accomplish even if you are successful. Has it been done successfully? Sure! But again, you need to have some amazing evidence to get this done.

Ron Kramer has twelve issued patents already regarding these nitrates. So even if an angry, spurned company managed to get one of them reversed, invalidated or overturned? There are eleven more that are still valid that likely have overlap with whatever use anyone would want to apply such to in our industry. You’d have to overturn all of them or certainly most of them to make any impact on the ground.

This is like tilting at windmills. It would take decades, millions of dollars in legal fees and you still need to have ironclad evidence as to why the patent should be invalidated and the examiner/examiner’s supervisor made an error – the same error. In the mean time, while your playing Don Quixote, the patents are still considered valid and you can’t use the nitrates anyhow and Ron can go about his merry way – as he should be allowed – to license and sell them to whomever he sees fit. And he can and will get an injunction against your company from using them while this whole re-examination process winds through USPTO or federal court. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in America.

Dumbbell Rows

People who like to “feel” a solid pump are using stimulant and non-stimulant pre-workout powder products with some sort of nitrate in it.

Attacking Nitrates as Being Unacceptable Dietary Ingredients

So when a company realizes that this is a seven figure financial, half a decade long fight to try to invalidate one or more of Ron’s awarded nitrate patents, the next move is usually to try to claim that these nitrate salts, the very same compounds these companies so desperately wanted to use in their own products, are not acceptable as dietary ingredients unless an NDI is submitted to FDA or they are determined as GRAS by FDA for food use. That’s also likely incorrect.

And I think most of the people trying to make this false argument know it but are so arrogant and hypocritical that they feel they can continue to keep repeating this nonsense over and over and over again. Hey, say it enough times, even though it is an outright falsehood and it becomes true in the eyes of the public. An ex-underling of mine taught me this lesson quite clearly – the method clearly cribbed out of Saul Alinsky’s playbook.

Since much of what is/is not/might be/could be a dietary ingredient is not exactly clear cut or black and white, the FDA in their infinite wisdom, issued a draft guidance document to try to clarify the situation. Yes, it is a draft and non-binding document but the likelihood that it will be adopted and implemented in a manner substantially similar to this draft version is very high in my opinion.

Here is the whole document for your review: click here.

Please pay particular attention to Section IV(B)4 where it reads discusses what the definition of “chemically altering” something is and when something would be exempt from being considered chemically altered:

“The following are examples of processes that FDA would likely consider to involve chemical alteration.

A process which makes or breaks chemical bonds such as hydrolysis or esterification, unless the bonds created by the process are reversed when the ingredient is dissolved in water (e.g., creation of a soluble salt) or during ingestion.”

Barbell CurlsLet’s look at a typical amino acid nitrate salt. Arginine nitrate is basically the “salt” of arginine and nitrate. It forms a stable solid at room temperature. Arginine is clearly a dietary ingredient that is 100% OK to use in dietary supplements.

If you put arginine nitrate salt into water, it is freely soluble and “splits” into free arginine and nitrate (in the form of the acid). So per the FDA Draft Guidance Document, as long as the arginine (a valid dietary ingredient) nitrate salt hydrolyzes into the two constituent parts when put into water then its not considered a chemical alteration to arginine itself. And no NDI should be required.

A not-so-clever rebuttal to this has been that nitrates are used as drugs. Again, this is disingenuous on several levels.

First hydrochlorides, sulfate, phosphate, hydrates etc., salts have been parts of “drugs” forever. Does this mean creatine phosphate is a drug because there are phosphate salts of drugs? How about creatine monohydrate? Or creatine hydrochloride? I think not.

Second, those “nitrates” that are drugs. They are nitrate esters and not nitrate salts.
That is a huge difference chemically speaking and pharmacologically speaking. I am not even sure that all nitrate esters would absolutely be a drug regardless for reasons beyond the scope of this article but it’s a moot point.

Nitrate salts and nitrate esters are not the same thing, are chemically very different, have physical properties that are very different, are pharmacologically very different and are metabolized in vivo in many instances in different ways. So by saying generically, “well nitrates are drugs” without clarifying that you REALLY mean nitrate esters and not nitrate salts really disingenuous. It’s lying actually!

Examples of nitrate ester drugs (used for a variety of reasons around the world) include, isosorbide dinitrate, isosorbide mononitrate, and nitroglycerine – none of them nitrate salts. And while there are some nitrate salts that are part of legit drugs (mostly topical antifungal creams) it is not the nitrate part that makes the whole thing a drug – it’s the “other part” of it. And in the case of arginine nitrate or creatine nitrate the “other part” is a bona fide and legal dietary ingredient.

Nitrate salts of amino acids are clearly here to stay in the sports nutrition space of dietary supplements. Like it or not, Ron Kramer and Thermolife have essentially a legal monopoly on these interesting, useful and effective dietary ingredients. Ron thought of the idea before anyone else, had the presence of mind to realize that this was a valuable idea and decided to protect his idea.

Some supplement companies don’t like this. But they have to obey the law. And the law reads that if you want to use an idea covered under the awarded claims of a valid patent you need the permission of the assignee/owner (Ron Kramer). And he is under no obligation whatsoever to allow you a license just because you feel you have to put this in your product. That’s not how it works. How it works is if you steal his idea and profit from it he can (and as we know, surely will) haul you into court and you’ll end up spending a lot of money on attorneys in a case that more likely than not? You’re going to lose.

You don’t have to like Ron Kramer. But if you like amino acid nitrates in your pre-workout product you should thank the guy for bringing them into the sports nutrition marketplace at the very least. Without Ron I do not think there would be nitrates in sports nutrition today.

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Name: Bruce Kneller

Bio: Bruce Kneller is the Chief Formulator for Giant Sports supplements and a veteran "industry personality" who has been intimately involved with the success of numerous sports nutrition companies over the past two decades.