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Beta-alanine is a modified version of the non-essential amino acid alanine. In the muscle, beta-alanine is turned into carnosine, a natural acid buffer that can slow the build-up of lactic acid. 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 work capacity in training athletes across many athletic disciplines (1).
Where your body gets beta-alanine from
Beta-alanine is used in the body to make carnosine, a natural lactic acid buffer
We get about 1g/d beta-alanine from eating foods like meat and fish
Research shows that you need an additional ~4-6g/d beta-alanine to improve performance
What will taking beta-alanine do for you?
Beta-alanine can increase power output when doing high intensity interval training like Airdyne sprints (7)
When doing strength based training, beta-alanine increases the volume of training (number of reps), an athlete is capable of achieving (8)
Beta-alanine may also be an antioxidant and have other health benefits (9)
When should you take beta-alanine?
When it works best.
It has been found to be much more effective in training bouts that last between 1-4 mins at high intensity, and seems to work better in older athletes. It may also sharpen the mind a little.
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).
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.
How does beta-alanine work?
During any training that depends on the anaerobic (short duration, high intensity) 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 h+ ions make the muscle more acidic, which in turn, is thought to interfere with the ability to break down glucose for fuel and the ability of the muscle to contract. It is also thought that this acid build-up causes the all-so-familiar muscle burning sensation right before fatigue sets in.
Beta-alanine converted to carnosine in the muscle is thought to buffer lactic acid, preventing its buildup in the muscle. This extends the time you take to fatigue, improving your performance.
The supplementation strategy to maximize the performance effects of beta-alanine is to consume 2-3 grams, twice daily. Research has shown that doing this will increases muscle carnosine by 64% after 4 weeks (11), and up to 80% after 10 weeks (1,4).
Beta-alanine improves 10k run time in trained athletes
Blood lactic acid build up was lower after 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation
Work capacity before and after consistent beta-alanine supplementation
Is beta-alanine a pre-workout?
Beta-alanine is sometimes added to "pre-workout" supplements because of the paraesthesia (skin tingling) it causes. This gives the user a tangible feeling that the pre-workout supplement is doing something for them, even though it's simply a harmless side effect.
Beta-alanine's positive impact on performance is shown to be from taking it daily to build up carnosine in the muscle. Taking only as a pre-workout will likely not work as well.
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.
Ready to experience the results for yourself?
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
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