Discover the researched and proven benefits of Beta-Alanine, and why you should include this powerful single ingredient in your nutrition strategy…
By Professor Graeme Close & Scott Hill
What is it?
Beta-alanine is an amino acid produced within the body, as well as being found in foods such as meat and poultry. When ingested it combines with another amino acid (L-Histidine) to form a dipeptide (2 amino acids joined together) known as carnosine which is stored within skeletal muscle. It is in fact carnosine not beta alanine that has the important exercise related functions in the body. However, we cannot supplement carnosine since the enzyme carnosinase would break it down prior to reaching the muscle (5,12). We also do not need to supplement with L-Histidine (the other amino acid that makes the dipeptide) given that only beta-alanine is rate-limiting in the formation of carnosine (6,4). Find out more about Beta-Alanine
Although beta alanine is found in meat and poultry, the amount needed to have ergogenic effects is much higher than you would get in a normal diet and therefore over the past decade there has been a great deal of interest in beta-alanine supplementation.
What is it supposed to do?
Beta-alanine supplementation has consistently shown to increase anaerobic exercise performance, more specifically in exercise lasting 60-240s, with particular emphasis on open-ended exercise such as time-to-exhaustion (TTE) tasks (17). Due to the nature of aerobic exercise, it is traditionally thought that beta-alanine supplementation would not serve to benefit performance, as exercise-induced acidosis is not as severe as that seen in anaerobic exercise.
However there is some evidence to show that beta-alanine can actually provide benefits to exercise bouts over 4 minutes, in TTE (13) as well as fixed end-point tasks such as a 2000m row (3, 6). This makes sense practically as even though literature points at >4 min as the ‘cut-off’ point for its effectiveness, realistically it would be naïve to think it would not benefit an exercise bout lasting slightly longer. “This ‘skin tingling’ sensation is felt most commonly on the face, neck and back of the hands”
The research with regards to the effectiveness of Beta-alanine supplementation on strength has generated mixed findings. One area that it may help is rather than increasing maximal strength, beta-alanine supplementation could allow for an increased training volume, which may indirectly help improve strength (17). It has also been suggested that beta-alanine supplementation can attenuate neuromuscular fatigue, particularly in older athletes (11, 16), as well as tactical athletes such as military personnel (9, 10).
Are there any detrimental effects of supplementation?
There is one common side effect of beta alanine supplementation felt by many individuals who supplement with this – a condition known as paresthesia, (AKA skin tingling)(6). This ‘skin tingling’ sensation is felt most commonly on the face, neck and back of the hands. While some find this feeling strange and uncomfortable, it causes no harm and usually disappears between 60-90 minutes following ingestion (15).
It is also commonly wrongly thought by some to be a sign that the supplement is ‘working’, when it is in fact independent from what it is doing inside the body. However this effect can be minimized/avoided by using doses of less than 2g at a time (4) and by ingesting the supplement with food such as chicken broth (6).
Some people actually like the skin tingling hence why beta alanine is often found in pre trainers, however in truth the acute effects are purely placebo and the genuine performance benefits of beta alanine can only be seen through daily supplementation.
Suggested strategy (dose/week)?
Beta alanine needs to be taken at the correct dose for it to be of any benefit. While evidence shows that a loading strategy of just 4-6g a day over two weeks is enough to increase muscle carnosine levels (4), greater increases are seen if this is increased to 4 weeks (6,14,7) with even greater again seen at 10 weeks (3). It also must be noted that individuals respond differently, therefore this must be considered when choosing what dosage to take, and as no upper limit has been identified for muscle carnosine concentrations (17) there is reason to suggest individuals to go for the upper limit depending on tolerance to paresthesia.
A good starting strategy may be to take 4g per day (split as 4 x 1g doses if concerned about the skin tingling) for a minimum of 4 weeks and assess the benefits.
• Supplementing with Beta Alanine for 4 weeks (4-6g daily) significantly increases muscle carnosine concentrations, whereby it acts as an intracellular pH buffer.
• Beta Alanine is currently considered a safe supplement to use in healthy adults, as long as recommended doses are adhered to.
• Paresthesia is the only known side effect, but can be managed through smaller doses and sustained-release formulas.
• Recommended supplementation has shown to improve exercise performance, with greater results seen in TT/open-ended trials of 1-4 minutes in length
• Beta Alanine attenuates neuromuscular fatigue, particularly in older populations, with evidence also showing improvements to tactical performance
• Beta Alanine can be combined with other supplements such as Sodium Bicarbonate, Creatine and Caffeine to enhance its performance improving effects.
• There is some evidence to show that Beta Alanine could improve performance in strength and endurance sports
• While there is no direct evidence of Beta Alanine effects in team sports, due their physiological demands sometimes falling into the 1-4min exercise bout bracket, it would likely improve performance.
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