How Can Beta-Alanine Boost Exercise Performance?

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If you’re on a quest to improve exercise performance, then you may have heard about the supplement beta-alanine. This supplement is believed to have significant benefits for endurance performance. But what exactly does it do in the body? Does beta-alanine only benefit certain types of endurance work, or is it beneficial to all forms of workouts?

Before investing in a new supplement, it’s a good idea to understand what is does, along with its potential benefits and side effects. In this article, we’re going to dive into what beta-alanine is, how it works, how it might benefit your performance, and how to use it strategically.

What Is Beta-Alanine?

Beta-alanine is an amino acid. It’s considered a non-essential amino acid, which means it is made in the body. While most amino acids serve as the building blocks for protein, some – like beta-alanine – serve other functions within the body.

Beta-alanine is a building block of carnosine, a natural antioxidant that is stored in the body’s skeletal muscle. Carnosine is made up of beta-alanine and histidine, an amino acid utilized during protein synthesis. Carnosine helps to prevent the release of excessive hydrogen ions in the muscles during periods when pH levels drop.

In addition to being found in the human body, beta-alanine is also found in the bodies of other animals. Dietary sources of beta-alanine include meat, poultry and fish.

How Beta-Alanine Works

When too many hydrogen ions are released in skeletal muscle, the result is acidosis, which is what causes the decrease in muscular pH levels. This acid buildup can cause fatigue, impacting performance at high intensities. Beta-alanine may delay the onset of this fatigue and help with overall pH management. Individuals who undergo rigorous training have been shown to possess higher muscular carnosine levels.

If we can increase the amount of beta-alanine available in the body and improve the resources available for carnosine, then carnosine levels may increase within the muscles. This leads to the suggested endurance benefit beta-alanine may have when it comes to performance.

Beta-Alanine: What the Research Shows

In theory, beta-alanine sounds like the perfect supplement for prolonging fatigue onset during high-intensity exercise. It doesn’t work perfectly in every active setting, however.

A 2012 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Amino Acids analyzed 15 studies that assessed beta-alanine’s benefits for exercise. Authors wanted to investigate how beta-alanine influenced performance across multiple studies that involved a variety of testing criteria.

Upon their analysis, the authors made a few notes about beta-alanine and its best-suggested uses for active individuals.

  • Beta-alanine has negligible benefits for activity that lasts for less than 60 seconds.
  • Beta-alanine could be beneficial for activities lasting between 60-240 seconds.
  • Beta-alanine’s effects vary depending on multiple factors and may have an ergogenic impact on exercise capacity.
  • Research is limited on beta-alanine’s impact on exercise lasting more than 240 seconds.

To wrap up their meta-analysis, the authors noted that research on beta-alanine is still in the infancy stage and more thorough studies need to be conducted before drawing definitive conclusions.

So, beta-alanine may benefit high-intensity exercise spanning from 60-240-seconds, but what about strength and power?

A study published 2018 explored how beta-alanine influenced power output with subjects following a 5-week resistance training program. Authors tested 30 trained individuals – some taking a placebo and some taking beta-alanine – and had them follow a leg training workout three times per week consisting of a back squat, barbell step-ups and loaded jumping lunges.

Throughout the five weeks, the workload was gradually increased along with volume. Upon the end of the fifth week, the author retested the subjects and found that the beta-alanine group showed superior power output to the group taking a placebo.

Other Benefits of Beta-Alanine

Carnosine’s antioxidant properties have been shown to benefit more than just athletic performance. By neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress, supplementing with beta-alanine may have anti-aging benefits and enhance the body’s immune system response as well.

Studies have also shown that beta-alanine may help with muscle quality and function in older individuals. This could help prevent falls and lead to a better quality of life for people of advanced age.

How to Use Beta-Alanine

Suggested Dosage

In general, beta-alanine levels will vary within products like pre-workout formulas, amino acid supplements, and other blends. If one wants to ensure they’re obtaining enough beta-alanine, then they should consider the use of a standalone beta-alanine supplement.

When it comes to optimal dosage, it has been suggested that 2g-6g is the most beneficial for active individuals. Research is still thin on how much certain individuals need, so this range will vary based on factors like activity level and body composition.

Timing of Beta-Alanine

When it comes to timing beta-alanine consumption for exercise benefit, the general rule of thumb is to take it about 30-45-minutes pre-activity. This is similar to the recommendations for most pre-workout formulas as well.  

While 30-45-minutes pre-activity tends to be the norm, it’s not the only methodology that can be applied for consuming beta-alanine. The 2018 study referenced above that explored beta-alanine’s effects on power output had users consume doses of 800mg six times a day, or every 1.5 hours. It’s important to note that the total amount given to participants each day was 6.4g, slightly higher than the suggested range.

Potential Side Effects of Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is generally considered safe. One thing to note about beta-alanine is that in high doses, it may cause paresthesia, which is a tingling sensation of the skin. Active individuals will often experience this phenomenon around the face, neck and hands when supplementing with beta-alanine.

The amount of tingling experienced generally corresponds with the overall dosage of beta-alanine taken. And while it’s not exactly a comfortable feeling, paresthesia is not dangerous and generally fades within 5-10 minutes.

Beta-alanine is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

In conclusion, beta-alanine has suggested benefits for high-intensity exercise ranging from 60-240-seconds, and it may also improve power output. Before choosing to supplement with beta-alanine, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your overall workout goals and to get dosage recommendations.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374095/
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235906030_Carnosine_From_exercise_performance_to_health
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5918575/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18992136/

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