Beta-alanine (BA) is a version of the amino acid alanine which serves as the precursor to carnosine(β-alanyl-L-histidine) in skeletal muscle. Supplementing with BA is a highly effective means of increasing muscle carnosine content. What’s so great about carnosine? Increased muscle carnosine content has been linked to improved exercise performance at higher intensities in both trained and untrained individuals in events lasting 1-4 minutes. Think 400 m run, 200 m swim, and so forth. In the muscle, carnosine is believed to act as a buffer against the accumulation of hydrogen ions (acid build-up) during intense exercise, thereby regulating intracellular muscle pH levels, delaying the onset of peripheral (muscular) fatigue, and ultimately increasing work capacity. Carnosine is found in greater concentrations in type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers than type I (slow twitch) muscle fibers, which may partially explain the benefits of BA supplementation for short duration, high-intensity exercise. BA supplementation is also reported to reduce perceived exertion and feelings of fatigue during exercise, which could account for the increase in total work performed before exhaustion.
For untrained populations, BA is reported to increase total work done, time to exhaustion, and physical working capacity at the fatigue threshold during exercise performed at maximal and supramaximal intensities…Wingates, anyone? For the trained athlete, BA may also be beneficial for anaerobic, high intensity efforts of short duration. Improvement in muscular endurance has been observed in experienced resistance trained men supplementing with BA, which led to an increase number of repetitions and total volume lifted per workout. In short, BA supplementation appears to allow people to work harder for longer (in events lasting 1-4 min) before fatiguing.
Paresthesia, a tingling sensation of the skin, may occur in the face, neck, chest, and hands as a result of high single-dose (> 1 g) pure BA intake. This effect is generally considered harmless and may be avoided by taking smaller doses (< 10 mg/kg bodyweight) multiple times per day, or by using a time-release formulation of BA.
WHO SHOULD/SHOULDN’T TAKE BETA-ALANINE:
Both trained athletes and untrained individuals may benefit from BA supplementation, and will respond well in terms of elevated muscle carnosine content following chronic daily ingestion of at least 2 weeks. Vegetarians may particularly benefit from BA supplementation, as they do not typically receive BA in the diet (found primarily in meat products). Weight class athletes (wrestlers, boxers, etc.) looking for a competitive edge, yet not wanting the weight gain that can accompany creatine supplementation may also benefit from BA in the weeks leading up to competition. Those who are sensitive to paresthesia should consider taking a lower dose or not take BA at all.
To increase muscle carnosine content, supplementation periods of several weeks is suggested, with daily ingestion of 4.8 – 6.4 g BA shown to increase carnosine levels by 60% after 4 weeks, and by 80% after 10 weeks. A total daily intake of 2-6 g BA (depending on the size of the person) is considered an effective dose. However, the absolute increase in muscle carnosine content is more dependent on the total amount of BA consumed over time than the daily amount taken. So, if you are taking less daily, it’s probably a good idea to supplement for a longer period of time than if you were taking a higher daily dose. Once “loaded” in the muscle, carnosine levels decline rather slowly (about 2% per week) if BA supplementation ceases.
If taken in pure (non time-release) form, single doses of 10 mg/kg bodyweight spread throughout the day (at least two hours apart) are recommended to avoid the tingling sensation that larger doses may cause. Often, BA is included in multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, in which case the manufacturer’s dosage instructions should be followed. Worth noting, BA and creatine are commonly taken together to achieve an “additive” effect.
BA supplementation appears to benefit both trained and untrained individuals seeking improved muscular endurance and performance in short-duration, high-intensity efforts lasting 60 – 240 seconds. Supplementation with BA may be beneficial for vegetarians or those who don’t consume very much meat as part of their regular diet and athletes with a high concentration of type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers, such as sprinters, rowers, weightlifters, and others with a high power output component in their sport.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Roxanne Vogel, EP-C, CSCS, CISSN, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (NSCA), exercise physiologist (ACSM), and sports nutritionist (ISSN) currently completing her graduate coursework for an M.S. in Applied Exercise Science with a dual concentration in sports nutrition and human movement science. She works as a research assistant at MusclePharm Sports Science Institute in Denver, CO.
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