In terms of supplements that deliver the greatest for the buck, creatine would probably rank as number one, but coming in a close second would probably be beta-alanine. And yet, even though the popularity of this supplement has exploded over the past two decades, many athletes have still never taken advantage of what it has to offer.
That can all change now, as after discovering what beta alanine can do for you, we are sure that you will be eager to get your hands on some of this powdered gold. Let’s check out what all the hype is about when it comes to this supplement.
What Exactly Is Beta Alanine?
Technically, beta alanine is classified as an amino acid, one that is naturally produced by the body, but which doesn’t display its full power until it is converted to another amino acid – carnosine. In fact, it is arguably carnosine that is responsible for the bulk of benefits attributed to beta alanine.
Here are the most noteworthy benefits of raising carnosine levels as it relates to your athletic goals
Increases Resistance To Fatigue
Muscular fatigue is inevitable. This is extremely true the longer a workout persists. This is nothing to be ashamed of, since every single athlete under the sun will experience muscular failure, but what is within your control is the ability to delay how fast you experience the fatigue.
This is where a beta alanine supplements stand supreme. To appreciate this, we need to briefly discuss a bit of biochemistry that goes on within muscle cells.
As the muscle contracts, it produces by-products. Among these are lactic acid, and positively charged hydrogen ions. For years, it was believed that lactic acid was the reason why muscular fatigue ensues, but it has since been revealed that it is accumulation of positively charged hydrogen ions that brings about the inability of the muscle group to contract.
Carnosine is known as a proton sponge, helping to buffer the rate of accumulation of these ions[i] that cause failure. The end result? Muscle fibres are able to contract for longer. Of course, this effect is still finite, and appears to be most beneficial to athletes that partake in activities that last about 2 to 4 minutes per session.
This means most strength athletes and high-intensity exercise variants.
Supports Body Recomposition
If you’ve ever actively tried to lose weight, then you inevitably know that a significant amount of muscle can also be lost in the process. This is extremely frustrating, as muscle loss contributes to metabolic decline, impairing your desire to lose excess fat.
However, beta alanine may help ameliorate this muscle loss, as studies have investigated supplementation while performing HIIT activity that favours fat loss. The results indicate that muscle is not only preserved, but even gained, while simultaneously yielding a net reduction in body fat. And best of all, these results are not limited to hard-core athletes, but even recreationally active men.
Increases Lean Muscle Accrual
The majority of athletes that opt for beta alanine, do so not for its body recomposition benefits, but rather its ability to help pack on tons of lean muscle. And so far, the studies tend to agree.
One study[ii] conducted in Oklahoma compared 45 men split into two groups, with one given placebo and the other 6 grams of beta alanine daily. Even though this study still revolved around HIIT workouts, at the end of six weeks, the beta alanine gains 2 pounds of lean mass, whereas placebo did not change.
Studies conducted on women[iii] have also yielded similar results. Overall, there is a general consensus that beta alanine positively benefits muscle mass, even though the direct mechanism is unknown.
There is, however, a very good chance that this is due to increased workout capacity.
Increases Power Output
In order to increase power output, you need to have a more efficient engine. Yes, this includes muscles, but also an efficient cardiopulmonary system. The cardiopulmonary system includes organs of the circulatory and respiratory system, which essentially means that your body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood needs to be upgraded
Beta alanine supplementation can help to do just that. That exact study conducted in Oklahoma on the 45 men found that subjects’ VO2 Max increased over the course of six weeks, to a maximum of 115%, which means that the amount of oxygen the lungs were saturated with enhanced significantly over the baseline.
Oxygen and nutrients delivered to muscles more efficiently translates to increased power generation, and subsequently strength.
Enhances Mental Clarity
Although beta alanine is not a stimulant per se, it does possess some qualities that can be considered as such. While carnosine is found heavily in muscles, it is also saturated in the brain. The brain can also benefit from its fatigue reducing properties, making it very helpful for those days when you feel less than sharp.
A study published in the international Society of sports nutrition journal even found its use was beneficial in elite combat soldiers, improving reaction speed and accuracy[iv]. If it could be relied on by the men and women of the Armed Forces, it can definitely contribute to effective gym workouts by helping you win the mental game.
How To Use Beta Alanine
Beta alanine needs to first help saturate carnosine stores before its effects become evident. Just like creatine, it takes a number of weeks for carnosine saturation to reach levels of 60%, but on average four weeks seems standard.
It is also great idea to split the recommended daily intake of between 4 and 6 g of beta alanine into three or four doses to avoid the tingling sensation in the face and neck some people are prone to. While not dangerous, it can be uncomfortable to experience.
Beta alanine can be considered the other side of the coin to creatine. Used in conjunction, they possess great synergy and can help take your workouts to new levels. If you haven’t tried it before, we are optimistic that you are now intrigued.
[i] Caruso J, Charles J, Unruh K, Giebel R, Learmonth L, Potter W. Ergogenic effects of ?-alanine and carnosine: proposed future research to quantify their efficacy. Nutrients. 2012;4(7):585–601. doi:10.3390/nu4070585
[ii] Smith AE, Walter AA, Graef JL, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:5. Published 2009 Feb 11. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-5
[iii] Kresta JY, Oliver JM, Jagim AR, et al. Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine supplementation on muscle carnosine, body composition and exercise performance in recreationally active females. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):55. Published 2014 Nov 30. doi:10.1186/s12970-014-0055-6
[iv] Hoffman JR, Landau G, Stout JR, et al. ?-alanine supplementation improves tactical performance but not cognitive function in combat soldiers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):15. Published 2014 Apr 10. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-15