If you do endurance exercise then you may have considered supplementing with beta alanine to improve your performance – here is your summary guide.
Table of contents:
What is Beta Alanine?
Beta alanine is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the liver.
When consumed it combines with another amino acid, histidine, to form a substance named carnosine. Carnosine is found in the muscle, predominantly in the fast twitch (type II) fibres. During high intensity exercise training it is involved in helping your muscle fibres to contract and to keep you going during those high intensity intervals, and it also has antioxidant activity (1).
Beta alanine is used as a supplement because it increases muscle carnosine levels! Levels of beta-alanine are the rate-limiting step to carnosine production (1,4) and supplementation with beta alanine is shown to significantly increase muscle carnosine concentrations (1, 5).
By elevating levels of carnosine in the muscle, the capacity to perform high intensity exercise during training may increase, leading to greater training adaptations and performance.
Why not just take carnosine or histidine?
Research indicates that ingested carnosine may be mostly metabolised before it reaches the muscle cells, and therefore supplementation with carnosine may be less effective at increasing muscle carnosine levels (17).
Whilst carnosine is found in animal sources of food such as turkey, chicken, beef and pork, it may not be possible to consume enough carnosine via diet alone. Additionally, for a vegetarian or vegan, they may have lower muscle carnosine levels.
Additionally, there are already high levels of histidine within the cell so supplementation may not further help. It is the beta alanine levels that determine whether carnosine can be made or not.
How can beta alanine help me?
Beta alanine supplementation is shown to be most effective for near maximal output training of intervals lasting 1-4 minutes.
Supplementation may reduce becoming fatigued (associated with increased lactic acid levels (6)), improving the recovery period and overall performance in high intensity training (HIIT) (7,8).
Supplementation with beta alanine for a minimum of 4 weeks delays time to exhaustion and subsequently improves performance in cycling (1,11,12). Supplementation is also shown to enhance sprint (13), swimming and boxing performance (14,15).
Research indicates that supplementation may also benefit resistance training outcomes (11) resulting in significantly higher training volumes and lower subjective feelings of fatigue (16).
A meta-analysis concluded that an average supplementation of 179g of beta alanine taken over a 4 week period provides an average improvement of 2.85% in the outcome of an exercise measure (18).
It should be noted that the research mostly explores the impact of beta alanine in the context of time to exhaustion style trials and therefore may be most beneficial in training that replicates this.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan then you are likely to have lower levels of muscle carnosine due to carnosine mainly being found in animal products such as turkey, chicken, beef and pork.
Is beta-alanine safe?
Beta alanine supplementation currently appears to be safe for individuals who are healthy. There are reported side effects of a tingling sensation (paraesthesia) – but reports indicate that this can be reduced by taking a lowered dosage of 1.6g (20).
How much should I take and when?
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends a daily supplementation of 4-6g for at least 4 weeks to see improvements in performance (20). This is in line with the current research above which indicates that approx. 2-5g of beta alanine are sufficient to increase muscle carnosine levels.
Whilst you do not need to worry about taking beta alanine at specific times, having it with a meal is better than taking it solo – increasing levels of muscle carnosine further (19).
For endurance athletes: if you do 1-4 min periods at near maximal output, then there is strong evidence that beta alanine may enhance your performance.
If you’re an athlete and are a vegetarian/vegan: then supplementation with beta alanine may benefit you due to carnosine being found in animal sources of protein.
If you’re trying to gain muscle strength and size: then whether supplementation with beta-alanine may be of benefit remains unclear.
Supplementation guidelines: are to take a daily dose of 2-6g for 2-12 weeks to see benefits & consider taking your dose with your meal.
Do you take beta-alanine? What are your thoughts on it? Would love to hear in the comments below.