In 2018, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that beta-alanine supplementation was effective at increasing power output when lifting loads equivalent to the individual’s maximal strength or when working at maximum power output. Maybe you’ve heard talk about beta-alanine over the past few years being used to enhance performance? It even got a mention on the Restore Hyper Wellness 9 Elements Podcast.
“Beta-alanine will produce endurance benefits and I think anyone who is running (which we all should be), that is very useful,” says strength and conditioning trainer Jacob Zemer on a recent 9 Elements podcast episode.
Before hearing Jacob speak about beta-alanine, I was a little in the dark about the supplement. And before I went out and immediately bought something just because it was mentioned on a podcast, I did a little digging to see what beta-alanine was all about. And it turns out, Jacob Zemer and every other proponent of beta-alanine is onto something.
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid that is produced endogenously in the liver, and alongside histidine, it synthesizes the dipeptide carnosine.
How Does Beta-Alanine Work?
In your muscles, histidine levels are normally high and beta-alanine levels low, which limits the production of carnosine. Supplementing with beta-alanine has been shown to elevate carnosine levels in muscles.
During exercise, carnosine acts as a hydrogen ion buffer since hydrogen ions are released during physical activity and raises acidity within your muscle fibers, reducing the PH levels. Having high concentrations of carnosine is able to counteract the acid buildup within your muscles, allowing you to increase performance.
Exercises lasting 60-240 seconds benefit the most from carnosine, allowing you to squeeze in extra reps during high intensity interval training and assorted tabata workouts.
Can’t I Just Take Carnosine?
Unfortunately, carnosine supplements are not very good at increasing carnosine levels in muscles. But beta alanine is rapidly absorbed by muscles and able to produce carnosine.
Who Uses Beta-Alanine?
Author, adventurer and endurance swimmer Ross Edgley, the person responsible for the longest sea swim at 1,780 miles, uses beta-alanine for summer training. “Back on the beta alanine during summer training. One of the best (also under appreciated) supplements. This is because it was found that beta alanine and creatine improved aerobic power, ventilatory and lactate thresholds and time to exhaustion” after 4 weeks of supplementation.”
Five time CrossFit Games champion Mat Fraser is in full agreement, calling beta-alanine a “third lung” on the Joe Rogan Experience. “Love that stuff. I can’t believe more people don’t take it. I found where I could buy it on my own, not mixed in a pre-workout and kept it in my gym bag, just a scoop before every training session. It makes me feel like I have a third lung. I felt like I had a third lung when I took it,” said Fraser.
Edgley and Fraser are not alone. In fact, a 2015 review by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the ISSN concluded:
- Four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation (4–6 g daily) significantly augments muscle carnosine concentrations, thereby acting as an intracellular pH buffer.
- Beta-alanine supplementation currently appears to be safe in healthy populations at recommended doses.
- The only reported side effect is paraesthesia (i.e., tingling) but studies indicate this can be attenuated by using divided lower doses (1.6 g) or using a sustained-release formula.
- Daily supplementation with 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks has been shown to improve exercise performance, with more pronounced effects in open end-point tasks/time trials lasting 1 to 4 min in duration.
- Beta-alanine attenuates neuromuscular fatigue, particularly in older subjects, and preliminary evidence indicates that beta-alanine may improve tactical performance.
- Combining beta-alanine with other single or multi-ingredient supplements may be advantageous when the dose of beta-alanine is sufficient (i.e., 4–6 g daily) and the treatment duration is at least 4 weeks.
- More research is needed to determine the effects of beta-alanine on strength, endurance performance beyond 25 min in duration, and other health-related benefits associated with carnosine.
Should You Be Taking Beta-Alanine?
If you want to swim like Ross Edgley or CrossFit with the ferocity of Mat Fraser, it’s worth looking into. But in case you’re just a weekend warrior with some sore muscles, beta-alanine might be the missing link in your pre and post workout routine. As with all nutritional supplements, consult a physician before starting a new supplement. And here’s to those extra 1-2 reps!