With the exception of creatine, beta-alanine may very well be the most studied supplement in sports science.
And for good reason. It not only has an impressive research track record, but it’s also been shown to be effective at boosting endurance and performance in athletes.
In today’s article, we’re going to be talking all about this powerful compound- what it is, how it works, and if taking it is right for you and your training goals.
What Is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein.
Like most amino acids, beta-alanine can be consumed through diet, and is commonly found in protein rich foods. However, as one of the “non-essential” amino acids, it can also be synthesized in the liver and produced from scratch.
Its main function (at least when it comes to exercise), is to combine with histidine to produce a dipeptide called carnosine.
Basically, it works like this. When you exercise intensely, your body releases a number of hydrogen ions.
These hydrogen ions decease the PH balance in your muscles, raising acidity levels and causing fatigue to set in (if you’ve ever been through a particularly gruelling set in the gym and felt that “burn out” sensation in your muscles, this acidity is what’s causing it).
This is where carnosine comes in. High levels of carnosine will act as a “buffer” on those hydrogen ions, decreasing the acidity levels in your muscles and reducing fatigue.
How Do Beta-Alanine Supplements Work?
Given that carnosine plays a huge role in regulating acidity, it stands to reason that supplementing directly with it will lead to a decrease in acidity, and thus reduce fatigue…right?
Well, in theory that would work. Practically though, it’s a little more complicated.
The problem with supplementing directly with carnosine is that most of these supplements are poorly absorbed by the muscle fibres.
This is where beta-alanine supplements come in, which do get absorbed very well by the muscles.
Once ingested in the body, all this extra beta-alanine will interact with histidine, resulting in a much more efficient way to raise your carnosine levels, decrease muscular fatigue and increase your ability to workout longer and harder.
How Does Beta-Alanine Increase Performance?
Research on beta-alanine supplementation has been very promising. The increase in carnosine levels that comes from supplementation has been shown to have a direct effect on your endurance levels.
Specifically, beta-alanine seems to show the greatest enhancements in performance during the 60-240 second point of exercise duration, with one meta-analysis showing a statistically significant performance improvement in this range.
Who Should Take Beta-Alanine?
Since beta-alanine has shown the most promise in improving performance at the 60-240 second mark of exercise, trainees who work primarily in this range will see the greatest improvements. These include sports like crossfit, boxing, and any other activity that has you working out vigorously during this time period
It’s also beneficial for athletes concerned with longer endurance times, thanks to the reduction in lactic acid in the muscles (ask any runner and they’ll tell you all about the “burning” sensation in the legs when they’re training hard).
This decrease in lactic acid will translate into a better performance with greater endurance (beta-alanine has also been shown to have a positive effect on your VO2 max).
Finally, beta-alanine may be beneficial for weight training, especially for those who train at higher volumes.
Can Beta-Alanine Be Taken In Through Diet?
Theoretically, yes. Beta alanine is found in a number of dipeptides. This includes carnosine, but it also includes anserine and balenine, all of which are found in protein rich foods such as chicken, beef and fish.
However, the question isn’t so much whether or not beta-alanine can be taken in through diet, but whether or not it can be taken in the quantities necessary to enhance performance.
And much like creatine, most trainees simply find that it’s far easier to supplement with beta-alanine rather than depend on getting it through food (you already have enough to worry about when it comes to accounting for calories and macros without having to worry about balancing your diet for specific amino acids).
How Should You Take Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine supplements can really be taken any time. Like creatine, much of the benefits come from having consistently elevated levels.
Beta-alanine supplements can either be taken alone or included with other products. That’s why we’ve included it in our Pre-Workout+. By taking it as part of a pre-workout, you not only ensure that your beta-alanine levels are high during exercise, but you also get the immediate stimulation effects on your nervous system.
For best all round performance, consider taking both beta-alanine and creatine. The beta-alanine will cover you for exercises lasting from 60-240 seconds, while creatine has been shown to improve performance in exercise durations shorter than that. That’s why Pre-Workout+ has both of these powerful compounds, as well as 15 other scientifically-backed ingredients to help you push yourself harder in the gym.
Does Beta Alanine Have Any Side-Effects?
If taken in a responsible dose, beta-alanine is both effective and safe (anywhere from 2-5 grams per day is more than enough), however, certain people do report a “tingling” sensation immediately after taking it.
The technical term for this is “acute paresthesia”, and it’s a mostly harmless, temporary sensation that will go away on it’s own. While most trainees enjoy this sensation (especially as part of a pre-workout “buzz”), if it’s a concern for you, consult with your doctor before taking beta-alanine and products containing it.
Is Beta-Alanine Right For Me?
When used in conjunction with a solid training plan and intelligent supplement routine, beta-alanine has tremendous potential to boost your performance. Whether you’re a CrossFitter, MMA fighter, or just a regular guy or girl looking to “cover all your bases” in the gym, beta-alanine is an effective, safe choice for your fitness goals.