Unless you are a fitness enthusiast or athlete, you may not have heard of beta alanine. It is a popular fitness supplement that improves sports performance and can have positive effects on your overall health as well.
This article will look into all the facts about beta-alanine.
Beta Alanine Explained:
Beta-alanine is characterised as a non-essential amino acid. The non-essential label refers to the fact that it is not used in the body to synthesize vital proteins.
How Does Beta- Alanine Work?
Higher levels of Beta-alanine in the body, normally from supplements work to increase carnosine levels. This in turn lessens the lactic acid build up in muscles when you undertake high-intensity exercise.
Carnosine works to improve performance through reducing lactic acid. The below steps outline how this compound achieves this:
Your body needs energy and so glucose begins to be broken down in a process called Glycolysis. Glucose is the leading fuel source for your muscles especially during high intensity work outs. Then lactic acid begins to be produced.
As your muscles are burning glucose, the by product is the lactic acid. This converts into lactate, a compound that produces hydrogen ions in your body. Those hydrogen ions change the pH levels in the muscle fibres, creating an acidic environment
This is when fatigue starts to sets in. The lactic acid build up in your muscles inhibits the process of glucose breakdown – cutting off the fuel supply to the muscle.
Carnosine is essentially a buffer in your muscles. What it does is prevent the lactic acid from accumulating, stabilising the pH of your muscles during that high intensity workout and allowing you to continue performing for longer. (13,14).
To summarize it to one sentence
Beta alanine supplements actively increase the carnosine levels in your body. Higher levels of carnosine reduce lactic acid accumulation, this accumulation directly leads to less fatigue.
Does Beta-Alanine Have Affects On Athletic Strength?
Beta alanine works to reduce fatigue as already discussed. It also increases endurance and therefore improves performance especially during high intensity exercise.
- Beta alanine increases length of work out before exhaustion.
There was a study conducted on cyclists who were given a supplement of beta alanine. After four weeks they were improving their output by 13%. After ten weeks of taking the supplement, they added another 3.2% increase to their output. (18).
Another study saw 20 adult men improve their time to exhaustion by 14% after taking a beta alanine supplement for 4 weeks. (19).
There are also benefits during shorter durations of exercise too.
Generally the lactic acid build up in the muscles (muscle acidosis) is what limits the duration of high-intensity physical out-put.
This is why beta-alanine is so successful at improving athletic performance in highly intense, short duration exercise that lasts spans for up to several minutes.
Research on the effects of beta alanine in HIIT work outs (high-intensity interval training) found that the time of exhaustion increased by 200 seconds after a six week supplement course. (20).
Another study used 18 rowers. They took a supplement for seven weeks and the result was a 5 second increase in speed over 2000 meters which took on average six minutes. This was measured against a placebo group.(21).
Other Sports Related Benefits
During resistance training, beta alanine improves power output and reduces muscle fatigue. However there is no evidence to prove that the supplements actually improve the overall strength of your muscles (24,25,26)
Another benefit is that for older people it helps to improve muscle endurance.
The Affect Of Beta Alanine On Body Composition
Beta Alanine has the potential to alter body composition, especially as it increases your work out performance.
Compositional changes might include reduced body fat and increased muscle mass however the evidence is not strong at this point.
There has been a study that showed supplements of beta alanine increased muscle mass in just three weeks (27).
Another more robust study saw that beta alanine supplements over a four week period resulted in reduction of body fat, overall weight and increases in lean muscles in the group of 32 women (28).
Beta-alanine supplements may improve body composition due to it’s ability to increase training lengths to exhaustion as well as its ability to promote lean muscle growth.
What Are the Health Benefits Of Beta-Alanine Supplements?
As we have discussed the main use for Beta-alanine is to increase the levels of carnosine and this can have several health benefits.
There have been some interesting studies on animals as well as test tube studies which have shown carnosine is an antioxidant.
The results also showed promise in the anti aging and immune boosting fields. Studies on humans are needed to understand the effects on the human system though.
The anti aging properties of beta alanine comes from the carnosine. It works by preventing changes to the structure and therefore the functions of proteins in the body.(34).
Carnosine also increases production of nitric oxide and this has been known to both inhibit aging processes as well as improve immune system responses.
Natural Food Sources Of Beta Alanine
Meat, poultry and fish are the main natural sources of beta alanine. Most people get a decent dosage of beta alanine from their diets however if you are looking to improve your performance or are an athlete, supplements are necessary for the best possible benefits.
Vegans or vegetarians tend to have over 50% less beta alanine in their systems compared to people who eat meat, so they will benefit from supplements as well.
In natural form, beta alanine is produced when the larger compound structures of anerine and carnosine are broken down during digestion..
Dosage Advice For Beta Alanine
The general safe recommendation is a dosage of 2-5 grams of a beta alanine supplement each day.(37).
Taking the supplement at the same time as a meal has been shown to increase the absorption and result in higher carnosine levels in your muscles (38).
In takes about 4 weeks for the benefits of a supplement to become noticeable. After four weeks, you will likely see a 40-60% increase in the carnosine levels in your muscles which will have positive benefits during exercise.
Does Beta Alanine Supplements Have Side Effects?
The research is somewhat limited but initial finding are that beta alanine supplements are perfectly safe. A common side effect is something called paraesthesia, or a sensation of your skin tingling, normally on the back of the hands, face or neck areas.
How intense the paraesthesia sensation does increase or decrease depending on the dosage. Once you reach doses higher than 800 mg you will likely experience this tingling and it will stop after about 90 minutes (39).
The good news is that paraesthesia is in no way harmful(40).One other known side effect of Beta alanine supplements is that it competes in your body with taurine, meaning taurine is not absorbed as easily.
Is It Safe To Combine Beta Alanine With Other Sports Supplements?
Sports supplements are often a combination of compounds. This is to make each compound more effective and so is quite safe. Beta Alanine is often mixed with sodium bicarbonate, creatine and other pre work out supplements.
This makes it a great supplement to take alongside beta alanine because they complement one another. Each supplement is working to reduce the process of muscle acidosis, the main cause of fatigue (42,43).
Creatine increases the availability of ATP and therefore increases performance during high-intensity exercise. When combining these supplements, it has been proven that they improve performance and strength (44,45,46).
Summary Of Beta Alanine
Beta-alanine is a compound that occurs naturally and works to enhance physical performance specifically by increasing muscle capacity and decreasing the time to exhaustion in muscles..
Beta alanine also has the potential for being an antioxidant, anti-aging as well as having immune-boosting properties.