Beta-alanine: Benefits, Safety and Dosage.
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This guide will show you the benefits of beta-alanine, the safety aspects, and the recommended dosage. Beta-alanine is an increasingly popular supplement with fitness enthusiasts. People trying to lose weight, build muscle or train for a marathon reported taking this supplement.
Manufacturers and supplement companies claim that it improves your strength and muscular endurance. Research has shown that it can, in fact, increase the time to exhaustion and reduce lactic-acid build-up in skeletal muscle.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that your body can synthesize or obtain from food sources. The chemical name is 3-aminopropanoic acid, meaning that the amino group of the molecule is in the beta position relative to the carboxyl group. It’s synthesized by your gut-microbes or made in a lab. Chemically, its a component of vitamin B5, anserine and carnosine.
Carnosine is a compound that is associated with decreasing the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles. Lactic acid is responsible for the burning and cramping sensation after rigorous exercise.
In addition to that, it reduces the pH of your muscle cells, which in turn decreases your muscle’s ability to deliver adequate power output. This article explains everything about the safety, benefits, and dosage of beta-alanine.
How it works
During exercise, glucose is used as an energy source in your muscle cells. As a product of this reaction lactic acid is formed, which in turn splits off into lactate and an H+ ion.
This reaction reduces the pH of your muscle cells, making them a lot more acidic. Due to this acidity, glucose uptake is limited and muscle fatigue, decreased power output and cramping sensations start.
This is where beta-alanine comes into play. Your muscle cells contain a compound named carnosine, which is made of histidine and beta-alanine. Carnosine acts as a buffering compound for the acidic H+ ions, thus reducing the acidity of your muscle cells and thereby increasing your power output.
While the body’s muscle cells usually have more than enough histidine, beta-alanine concentrations are low. This is where supplementation comes in. When consumed as a sports supplement beta-alanine enters the bloodstream and gets taken up by your skeletal muscle cells.
Due to the fact that the amino-group of the molecule is in the beta-position, the amino-acid is not used for muscle protein synthesis and will be stored in high concentrations in the muscle cells. Here it reacts with histidine to raise the levels of carnosine and thus improves power output and decreases muscle fatigue.
Taking carnosine supplements will not yield the same results due to the fact that the gastrointestinal tract will break down carnosine into its components, beta-alanine and histidine.
Various researches have reported beta-alanine benefits in terms of athletic performance and perceived muscular fatigue. A review paper from 2013 showed that blood acidity is decreased after ingesting beta-alanine as a supplement. In contrast to that, research from 2012 showed that beta-alanine had no effect on blood acidity in trained cyclists and swimmers.
Additional research that reviewed papers published between 2007-2012 differentiated between exercise with exertion times lower than 1 minute such as strength training and exercise with exertion times between 1 and 6 minutes such as cycling.
They showed that there is a response and a non-response group. The response group experienced benefits such as increased power output, less muscle fatigue, and lower blood acidity, while the non-responder group experienced no benefits.
The responding group was characterized by people who usually experience a large amount of cramping and muscle fatigue. This group benefited from supplementing with beta-alanine and increased their strength-output during strength-training and also increased their endurance during cardio-based exercises such as cycling and swimming.
Strength training (anaerobic exercise)
The main effect that was observed in individuals that performed strength-based exercise, was increased time to exhaustion (TTE) and lower blood acidity. Longer time to exhaustion improves the total power output and thus increases the total work volume that can be done.
This, in turn, can theoretically increase muscle growth. Effects of up to 15% increase in work volume were found.
Beta-alanine generally enhances high intensity exercise lasting over 60s, with greater effects on open end point exercise bouts, such as time to exhaustion (TTE) tasks.International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine
Cardio (aerobic exercise)
For aerobic exercise such as cycling, running and swimming an increased time to exhaustion, in combination with a lower blood acidity and lower perceived fatigue was found.
Improvements in terms of total work performed were on the range of a 13% increase and another 4% increase after 10 weeks of supplementation. In addition to that, 5-10% increases in time to exhaustion was observed in the test subjects.
Beta-alanine may improve exercise duration during tasks requiring a greater contribution from aerobic energy pathwaysInternational society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine
Research has shown that pre-workout supplements (get yours here!) containing 2 to 4 g of beta-alanine are safe and efficacious when taken acutely, or chronically for up to 8 weeks. However, beta-alanine might interact with some erectile-dysfunction medication and blood-pressure medications.
No long-term safety studies (> 5 years) have been performed to date but due to the natural abundance and the body’s own mechanism of synthesis, no ill side effects are expected with long term use.
The only reported effect of beta-alanine supplementation is the possibility of taurine deficiency. This is due to the fact that beta-alanine and taurine both compete for uptake in the gut. Naturally, supplementing one will exclude the uptake of the other. From the authors:
Over the long term, there is a possibility that high-dose beta-alanine use in the absence of dietary taurine MAY lead to health and performance complicationsAAmino Acids, Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis
The beta-alanine itch
Many users of beta-alanine report tingly, itching sensations after ingestion. This is called paraesthesia and is no concern, there is no evidence that the beta-alanine itch is harmfull.
The tingling, itching sensation is most observed in people who consume over 800 mg of beta-alanine in a non-sustained release form. Various studies using an instant release supplement, paraesthesia was reported to disappear within 60 to 90 minutes.
Many consumers wonder if beta-alanine is a stimulant due to the itch, this is not the case. Beta-alanine is a legal and non-stimulant performance enhancer.
The standard recommended beta-alanine dosage is 3-6 mg per day. This is what was found to be the most beneficial in various research papers. In addition to this, a dose-dependent carnosine increase was found, suggesting that a higher dosage is better for saturating the skeletal-muscle carnosine levels faster.
Cycling of beta-alanine dosages was found to not be more beneficial than keeping one steady dose. The carnosine level increase was found to be only dependent on the total amount of beta-alanine consumed. Therefore it is most beneficial to take beta-a
In summary, the increase in carnosine is only dependent upon the total BA consumed and is not dependent upon the daily amount of supplemented BA. Faster saturation of carnosine levels was found with dosages between 3 and 6 mg/day. Therefore it is most beneficial to also take beta-alanine on non-training days.
Beta-alanine works best in exercises in which time to fatigue is important such as high-volume strength-training and cardio. It is only logical to combine it with supplements that are also beneficial for that purpose such as caffeine and creatine. Get yours here! Read the author’s beta-alanine buying guide here.