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Beta Alanine Review: The Ultimate Guide

In a recent post, MusclePharm Assault review, I listed that beta alanine was a key ingredient in Assault. I stated that I’d write an article on the benefits of beta alanine and why it is popping up in all the new supplements. I did my research in pubmed and surprisely, there has been quite a few studies done on beta alanine and its effectiveness.

Why Supplement With Beta Alanine

During moderate to intense exercise, such as weight lifting or HIIT, hydrogen ions accumulate as a by product of the working muscle. This increase intramuscular hydrogen ions caused by hard exercise leads to a decrease in the ph within the muscle. A drop in ph has been linked with muscular fatigue.

So in theory, if the drop in muscular ph could be delayed during intense exercise then fatigue could be delayed too. This is where beta alanine comes in. It has been shown that beta alanine can increase muscular carnosine levels, which buffer hydrogen ions produced during exercise. The buffering action of carnosine delays the drop in ph levels, allowing you to train longer and harder by delaying fatigue.

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Carnosine: The Buffer

Before I get into more about beta alanine, let me first discuss carnosine. Carnosine is a naturally-occurring histidine-containing compound that is most abundant in muscle tissue.  Carnosine has many functions including buffering, fighting free radicals, and calcium regulation.

Carnosine levels are generally higher in type II muscle fibers and can increase naturally in trained athletes. In one study, Tallon and coworkers (1) suggested the greater muscle carnosine content in bodybuilders may be due to the chronic exposure to lower pH environments due to their training, differences in their diet such as increased protein intake where carnosine can be found, supplementation use, and/or possible anabolic androgenic steroid use.

If you took any college cell biology classes, you may be wondering why carnosine is used as the buffer and not bicarbonate. Without getting to technical, carnosine acts as a buffering agent at ph values closer to the physiological norm and bicarbonate takes effect at lower values.

Bicarbonate still plays a huge role though. In an animal study (2), carnosine accounted for 40% of the buffering capability of skeletal muscle. In another study (3), researchers found that feeding active males chicken breast extract soup (contained small amount of carnosine) delayed the decrease in bicarbonate during intense exercise, but did not improve performance. The delayed decrease in bicarbonate supports the initial use of carnosine as a buffer instead of bicarbonate.

Why Not Just Take Carnosine Then?

If it’s carnosine we are looking for, then why are we taking beta alanine? When carnosine is ingested, instead of being shuttled to the muscles, it is broken down into its constituents, beta alanine and histidine, by carnosinase. In one study (4), researchers were able to account for only 14% of the ingested carnosine in urine suggesting this was due to absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.

Later research determined that beta alanine could be used instead.

Beta Alanine

Beta alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid and one half the duo that makes up carnosine. The other being histidine. Beta alanine is the rate limiting step in the synthesis of carnosine. That simply means that beta alanine is needed to make carnosine. If none is present, no carnosine is made.

Beta Alanine Effect On Carnosine Levels

One of the most cited studies that showed an increase in carnosine levels due to beta alanine supplementation was published in 2007. Physically active men were given 4-6.4 grams of beta alanine for 10 weeks. Muscle was taken from the vastus lateralis (quad) to measure carnosine content. Those taking beta alanine had increases of muscular carnosine of 58.8% at 4 weeks and 80.1% at 10 weeks compared to the group that didn’t supplement with beta alanine. (5)

Beta Alanine Effects On Weight Training

The results are conflicting when looking at the benefits of beta alanine and improved performance in the gym. One study that found  value in taking beta alanine looked at the effects of beta alanine on exercise performance and hormonal change in experienced resistance trained men (6). Beta alanine was dosed at 4.8 g/day for a duration of 30 days. The exercise program was the same between beta alanine takers and placebo. The subjects taking beta alanine were able to perform 22% more repetitions at the end of the 4 week period than the subjects who had not supplemented. Anaerobic power was also significantly higher in the beta alanine group. There was no effect on testosterone , growth hormone, or cortisol levels.

On the flip side, Kendrick and coworkers [7] examined the effects of 10 weeks of resistance training with and without beta alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine concentration and performance measures. Subjects consumed 6.4 g/day of beta alanine or placebo for 10 weeks.  The results showed that supplementation had no effects on whole body strength, isokinetic force production, muscular endurance, or body composition.

Beta Alanine’s Effect On High Intensity Interval Training

Smith and colleagues [8] recently examined the combined effects of 6 weeks of beta alanine on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in active males. Both groups, beta alanine and placebo, trained at 90–110% of their peak oxygen utilization (VO2peak) for the first 3 weeks, followed by 3 weeks of training at 115% VO2peak.

During the  training, the beta alanine users supplemented with 6 g/day for the first 3 weeks and 3 g/day for the second 3 weeks. Both groups showed improvement in VO2peak, time to reach VO2peak, and total work done. However, the group supplementing with beta alanine observed a greater increase in VO2peak and time to reach VO2peak during the second 3 weeks of the training protocol, with no change in the placebo group.

Interestingly, there was significant increase in lean body mass (LBM) for the beta alanine group after the first 3 weeks.  So there may be benefit to taking beta alanine for increasing muscle mass, even though the study in the section above resulted in no significant body composition changes. There is no way of knowing however, if the increase in LBM was due to increased muscle.

These results suggest that beta alanine supplementation may enhance the effects of HIIT and improve endurance performance.

Beta Alanine’s Effects On Fatigue

There are several theories on the reason why muscles fatigue. Some of the most popular theories are a disruption at the junction of the nerve and muscle, a decrease in calcium release leading to an inability for the muscle to contract, depletion of available ATP, and the accumulation of metabolites of the working muscle such as hydrogen ions. Carnosine is implicated to play a role in all the mechanisms listed above, especially as a buffering agent to increased hydrogen ion build up.

Derave et al. [9] examined the effects of beta alanine supplementation on isokinetic and isometric fatigue. The results indicated that beta alanine supplementation significantly improved the latter stages of exercise (sets 4 and 5 of the isokinetic test). The researchers noted that beta alanine effects were similar to that of creatine supplementation.

Beta Alanine And Creatine: The Power Stack

Creatine is the king of all supplements when it comes to improving muscle mass and strength. It turns out that combining creatine with beta alanine, a synergistic effect occurs.

In a study by Hoffman and colleagues [10], male power athletes supplemented their diet with creatine or a combination of beta alanine and creatine. Subjects resistance trained 4 times per week for 10 weeks.

The researchers reported significant improvements in body composition after 10 weeks of the combined supplementation of beta alanine and creatine compared to creatine alone or placebo. Additionally, they showed the addition of beta alanine to creatine was able to reduce fatigue rates during training compared to creatine alone. These findings suggest that there may be additive effects of supplementation of creatine and beta alanine.

Beta Alanine Side Effects

There are no harmful side effects associated with beta alanine. However, it tends to cause paraesthesia. This is the tingling or pricking sensation you get on the surface of your skin. Don’t worry though, this is not dangerous and usually subsides within a hour. The minute I start working out, the tingling goes away.

How Much To Take

3-6 grams per day is recommended. Don’t take all that at once though. Split it up into multiple doses throughout the day so you don’t get the craziest pricking sensations of your life.

Conclusions And Recommendations

Looking at the research, beta alanine is a very promising supplement for those involved in high intensity workouts. Even though, beta alanine has no direct effect of muscle mass, studies have shown that supplementing with beta alanine allows you to train longer and harder. Those extra reps you complete towards the end of your sets or that extra sprint definitely will make a difference in the long run.

If you decide to take beta alanine, also take creatine with it too. This combination enhances the effect of both supplements.

For me personally, I believe that adding beta alanine to my regime has improved my training.

You can get beta alanine as either a stand alone supplement or consume it through a supplement that contains it. Many pre workouts contain beta alanine, including jack3d and Assault.

Seeing positive results of beta alanine for myself and friends, I have no issues recommending beta alanine to others.

Resources

1.Tallon, M.J.; Harris, R.C.; Boobis, L.H.; Fallowfield, J.L.; Wise, J.A. The carnosine content of vastus lateralis is elevated in resistance-trained bodybuilders. J. Strength Cond. Res. 2005, 19, 725-729.

2.Davey, C. The significance of carnosine and anserine in striated skeletal muscle. Arch. Biochem. Biophysiol. 1960, 89, 303-308.

3.Suzuki, Y.; Nakao, T.; Maemura, H.; Sato, M.; Kamahara, K.; Morimatsu, F.; Takamatsu, K. Carnosine and anserine ingestion enhances contribution of nonbicarbonate buffering. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2006, 38, 334-338.

4. Gardner, M.L.; Illingworth, K.M.; Kelleher, J.; Wood, D. Intestinal absorption of the intact peptide carnosine in man, and comparison with intestinal permeability to lactulose. J. Physiol. 1991, 439, 411-422.

5. Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. C.A.  Hill et al. Amino Acids, 2007 Feb ;32(2):225-33

6. b-Alanine and the Hormonal Response to Exercise. J. Hoffman, N.A. Ratamesse al. Int J Sports Med 2008; 29:952-958.

7. Kendrick, I.; Harris, R.; Kim, J.J.; Kim, C.; Dang, V.; Lam, T.; Bui, T.; Smith, M.; Wise, J. The effects of 10 weeks of resistance training combined with beta-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino Acids 2008, 34, 546-554.

8. Smith, A.E.; Walter, A.A.; Graef, J.L.; Kendall, K.L.; Moon, J.R.; Lockwood, C.M.; Fukuda, D.H.; Beck, T.W.; Cramer, J.T.; Stout, J.R. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and highintensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a doubleblind trial. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2009, 6, 5.

9. Kendrick, I.; Harris, R.; Kim, J.J.; Kim, C.; Dang, V.; Lam, T.; Bui, T.; Smith, M.; Wise, J. The effects of 10 weeks of resistance training combined with beta-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino Acids 2008, 34, 546-554.

10. Hoffman, J.; Ratamess, N.; Kang, J.; Mangine, G.; Faigenbaum, A.; Stout, J. Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 2006, 16, 430-446.