Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is known to be a natural antioxidant. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the cryoprotective effect of ALA on the motility of boar spermatozoa and its antioxidant effect on boar spermatozoa during freezing–thawing. Different concentrations (2.0, 4.0, 6.0, 8.0 or 10.0 mg/ml) of ALA were added to the extender used to freeze boar semen, and the effects on the quality and endogenous antioxidant enzyme activities of frozen–thawed spermatozoa were assessed. The results indicated that the addition of ALA to the extender resulted in a higher percentage of motile spermatozoa post-thaw (P < 0.05). The activities of superoxide dismutase, lactate dehydrogenase, glutamic-oxaloacetic transaminase and catalase improved after adding ALA to the extender (P < 0.05). Artificial insemination results showed that pregnancy rate and litter size were significantly higher at 6.0 mg/ml in the ALA group than in the control group (P < 0.05). In conclusion, ALA conferred a cryoprotective capacity to the extender used for boar semen during the process of freezing–thawing, and the optimal concentration of ALA for the frozen extender was 6.0 mg/ml.