01 The Basics
SO, WHAT IS BETA ALANINE?
Beta Alanine is a non-essential amino acid and modified version of the amino acid Alanine. Beta Alanine is the rate-limiting precursor of Carnosine, a natural muscle acid buffer found in the body. Because of this, the amount of Carnosine in the muscle is limited by the amount of Beta Alanine available.
Beta Alanine is found in foods such as meat and fish, and is also a popular and very well researched sports supplement. Supplementation has been shown to help increase muscular endurance in humans (1).
02 What will taking Beta Alanine do for you?
Research on Beta Alanine has investigated its impact on a number of athletic performance parameters.
These studies have shown that Beta Alanine supplementation can do the following:
Beta Alanine enhances rowing performance at shorter distances (500-2000m). (2)
Beta Alanine supplementation can improve 10km running times. (6)
When doing strength based training, Beta Alanine increases the volume of training (number of reps), an athlete is capable of achieving. (9)
Beta Alanine may also be an antioxidant and have other health benefits. (10)
Beta Alanine improves performance in a host of athletic endeavors, such as rowing, running, and interval, and may have additional health benefits.
03 How does Beta Alanine work?
During any exercise that depends on the anaerobic-lactic energy system, glucose is broken down into lactate. Lactate is primarily converted back to glucose in the liver, but if too much lactate is produced (for example when you are training at a high intensity), it becomes lactic acid, which releases Hydrogen (H+) ions. These Hydrogen ions make the muscle more acidic, which in turn, is thought to interfere with the ability to break down glucose for fuel, as well as the ability of the muscle to contract. It is also thought that it is this acid build-up that causes that muscle burning sensation right before fatigue to sets in. Beta alanine converted to carnosine in the muscle is thought to buffer lactic acid, therefore extending the amount of time you can perform at high-intensity, and slowing the onset of fatigue.
The supplementation strategy to maximize the performance effects of beta alanine is to consume a regular chronic dose of 2-3 grams, twice daily. Research has shown that this regular supplementation increases muscle carnosine by 64% after 4 weeks (11), and up to 80% after 10 weeks (4, ISSN).
05 Which type of athletes will benefit from Beta Alanine?
As beta alanine has been shown to delay the onset of lactic acid, it is ideal for the following types of athletes.
Runners (400m to 10km)
Soccer, hockey, and rugby players
Anyone who incorporates interval
training into their routine
06 Is Beta Alanine safe?
The only reported side-effect of Beta Alanine is paraesthesia, a harmless tingling most commonly experienced in the face, neck, and back of hands. This tingling is usually dose-dependent and tends to subside with regular use (1).
If you experience paraesthesia, start with a lower dose and gradually progress to the recommended dose. You can also check to see if another supplement (e.g. Your pre-workout) lists Beta Alanine as an ingredient, as you could be accidentally ingesting a larger dose than you think.
Beta Alanine has no established supplement or drug interactions, and due to the fact that it is produced in the body to some extent, the cause for concern is low. The International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that Beta Alanine is safe in healthy individuals at the recommended doses (1).
07 Is Beta Alanine a pre-workout?
Beta Alanine is sometimes added to "pre-workout" supplements because of the paraesthesia (tingling) it causes. This gives the user a "tangible" feeling that the pre-workout supplement is "working."
However, the performance benefit from Beta Alanine is realized with regular dosages (as opposed to only dosing prior to working out), and expressed in its ability to help buffer lactic acid (as opposed to any sort of "stimulant" effect).
Be weary that many pre-workout supplements can contain less than the 2x 2-3g/daily dose that the research suggests, and therefore may not be sufficient in helping buffer lactic acid.
08 Other interesting facts about Beta Alanine
Carnosine is referred to as the "sacrificial peptide" which reacts with certain molecules to prevent damage to proteins. This may be the reason why Beta Alanine is thought to have anti-aging and immune enhancing properties (1).
From test tube and animal studies, Beta Alanine is thought to be an antioxidant, but more research needs to be conducted in humans (1).
Humans also have carnosine in their brain, eyes, and heart tissue, and there is current research exploring the effect of Beta Alanine concentration in these tissues (1).
Beta Alanine's effects are most noticeable in short-duration, high-intensity training.
1. Trexler et al. (2015): The official position paper of the International Society of Sports Nutrition on Beta Alanine. Beta Alanine is one of the few supplements considered to be both safe and effective by the society. Read the research
2. Baguet et al. (2010): 7 weeks of Beta Alanine supplementation improved 2,000m row time in trained rowers. Read the research
3. Hill et al. (2007): 13 males improved their total work done on a cycling capacity test after 4-10 weeks of Beta Alanine supplementation, vs. a placebo. Read the research
4. Sale et al. (2011): Beta Alanine supplementation increased cycling capacity vs. placebo in 20 men. Read the research
5. Danaher et al. (2014): Beta Alanine increased cycling work capacity after 6 weeks of supplementation. Read the research
6. Santana et al. (2018): Beta-Alanine improved 10-km running time in physically active adults. Read the research
7. Ghiasvand et al. (2012): Beta Alanine increased time to exhaustion in endurance athletes doing an incremental cycling test. Read the research
8. Stout et al. (2006): Beta Alanine prolonged time to exhaustion after 28 days of supplementation. Read the research
9. Hoffman et al (2008): Bench press training volume was increased in soldiers who took Beta Alanine for a three week period. Read the research
10. Hipkiss et al. (2013): Beta Alanine and carnosine have a number of potential health benefits in humans. Read the research
11. Harris et al. (2006): The absorption of Beta Alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine levels. Read the research
12. Baguet et al. (2009): Carnosine loading and washout in human muscle. Read the research