[Editor's Note: For bodybuilders, every rep they can conceivably press out before muscle failure is a victory. It's those last reps, the ultimate refusal to submit to fatigue, that result in the greatest percentage of muscle growth. Of course, for athletes in competitive sports, delay in the onset of fatigue is often the difference between winning and losing a contest. For years now, scientists have been drawing conclusive connections between enhancements in endurance and beta alanine supplementation.
Here at ProSource, we've long been adherents to the notion that beta alanine is an essential tool for maximizing workout performance and the muscle growth that results from sustained endurance. Superior quality beta alanine content is a key ingredient in our legendary multi-pathway anabolic/anti-catabolic Aminodrol and the pump complex SynthaTrex Xtreme. It is also a powerful factor in BioQuest's next-generation muscle enhancement catalyst Alpha Fury. The ProSource line also includes a stand-alone Beta Alanine powder, the industry's purest, most potent, premium grade of this key amino. In the article below, supplementation science guru Dwayne Jackson takes a look at some exciting recent developments in the science of muscular endurance enhancement and beta alanine.]
Fatigue resistance, clearly, is very important for muscle growth. After all, the less you tire, the more reps and sets you can complete, and the greater the drive for muscle growth. There are number of supplements on the market that claim to decrease muscular fatigue, but none have received more scientific support than beta alanine. Here is a primer on the research backed benefits to beta alanine supplementation.
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Beta alanine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid, meaning that it is not involved in synthesizing proteins. As a dietary source, foods don't generally contain beta alanine in high concentration. Rather, it is formed in the body by the hydrolysis of di-peptides (i.e., carnosine, anserine, and balanine) when we eat protein-rich foods (like fish, chicken, and beef). The liver is also capable of synthesizing beta alanine from pyrimidine neucleotides, through uracil and thymine degradation.
How does it work?
Carnosine is produced in skeletal muscle from beta alanine and histidine, where beta alanine is the rate limiting factor; thus, when beta alanine is available in surplus (i.e., supplemented) it elevates the body's muscle carnosine levels. In fact, it has been shown that dietary supplementation of beta alanine for only 4 weeks can increase muscle carnosine levels by more than 60%.
Scientists were first motivated to understand how elevating muscle carnosine levels may help exercise performance based on the following: 1) animals who have a great capacity for prolonged high intensity exercise also have high intramuscular carnosine levels; and 2) carnosine levels are relatively higher in fast-twitch versus slow twitch muscle fibers. Since then, research has also found that bodybuilders have elevated carnosine levels in quadriceps (vastus lateralus) muscle.
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The main mechanism by which high muscle carnosine levels aid in muscle function and performance is through its ability to significantly buffer skeletal muscle pH (acidity) during high intensity/fatiguing exercise. Since one of the primary causes of fatigue during exercise is metabolically mediated decreases in pH (or acidosis), then it follows that increased intramuscular carnosine levels would be beneficial to bodybuilders. It must also be mentioned that muscle carnosine also acts as a potent antioxidant and metal chelator. As such, through its effects on free radical scavenging, many scientists hypothesize that high carnosine levels prolong neuromuscular excitation-contraction coupling.
Beta alanine and fatigue resistance
Since beta alanine acts to increase muscle carnosine levels and buffer changes in pH, then it follows that its erogogenic potential would be most apparent during high intensity exercise where there are increases in lactic acid. In one study, beta alanine supplementation was shown to improve anaerobic threshold and increase the power output achieved at lactate threshold. In a congruent study, it was observed that women who took beta alanine had an almost 14% increase in the ventilatory threshold during maximal cycling exercise. These data indicate that beta alanine supplementation leads to a great decrease in acidity in muscle cells, which allows you to workout harder with less lactate build-up, thus delaying fatigue. In resistance trained men, 4-weeks of beta-alanine supplementation led to a 22% increase in the number of reps they could complete during an experimental resistance-training session (compared to a placebo group). Additionally, in football players undergoing a strength-training regimen, 30-days of beta alanine supplementation, resulted in significantly higher training volume and lower subjective indices of fatigue compared to those who took a placebo.
Beta alanine and sports performance enhancement
A recent study looked at beta alanine supplementation on rowing performance in elite level rowers. Rowers either took 5g of beta alanine or a placebo and were evaluated during a 2000 m rowing ergometer test. The researchers found that those who took beta alanine completed the 2000 m test 4.3 seconds faster than those who took the placebo. The performance benefits in the beta alanine group correlated with up to 45% greater carnosine content in their calf muscles. In another investigation, elite cyclists were given either beta alanine (2-4g) or a placebo for 8 weeks and tested on cycling sprint performance after a 110-min simulated endurance road race. It was found that average power and peak power (during sprinting) increased by 5 and 11% respectively in the beta alanine group compared to placebo.
Beta alanine and body composition
It should come as no surprise that training with beta alanine supplementation has been associated with improvements in body composition. After all, with delayed or decreased fatigue and increased training volume, your training sessions become more laborious. In a recently published study, it was found that those who completed a high intensity interval training program combined with beta alanine supplementation had improved gains in lean mass and fat loss compared to those who trained while taking a placebo. In an earlier study, researchers found stacking beta alanine with creatine led to synergistic increases in lean body mass in college football players undergoing a resistance-training regimen.
This amino acid is generally safe to take in moderate doses; however high single doses (>800 mg) have been shown to cause tingling/numbness (paresthesia) in hands and skin that disappear within an hour of ingesting. One other concern is that high doses of beta alanine may create an osmotic gradient that can decrease the body's taurine levels (taurine is important for the maintenance of healthy heart function). As such, using a moderate dosing schedule will assure that you get all of the performance benefits, with no side effects.
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As you can see, beta alanine is an interesting ergogenic supplement that has received a ton of scientific investigation over the past 5 years. Although there is little to no evidence showing its direct effects on anabolism or strength gains, there is an abundance research illustrating its positive effects on fatigue resistance.
Putting this into perspective---based on the overload principle, in an effort to build muscle, you must increase the amount of work completed as you progress from workout to workout. The work equation states: work = force x distance, where force is determined by strength (or the amount of weight you push) and distance is determine by training volume (or the number of sets and reps completed). While most supplements (like creatine) focus on increasing force production (or strength), very few have been scientifically proven to increase training volume-. Beta alanine is the exception. It should now be clear that beta alanine is an ideal supplement for bodybuilding, especially during training periods where you are focusing on increasing volume (i.e., training with high reps and many sets).
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Harris RC, Tallon MJ, Dunnett M, Boobis L, Coakley J, Kim HJ, Fallowfield JL, Hill CA, Sale C, & Wise JA (2006). The absorption of orally supplied beta alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids 30, 279-289.
Hill CA, Harris RC, Kim HJ, Harris BD, Sale C, Boobis LH, Kim CK, & Wise JA (2006). Influence of beta alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids.
Tallon MJ, Harris RC, Boobis LH, Fallowfield JL, & Wise JA (2005). The carnosine content of vastus lateralis is elevated in resistance-trained bodybuilders. J Strength Cond Res 19, 725-729.
Zoeller RF, Stout JR, O'kroy JA, Torok DJ, & Mielke M (2006). Effects of 28 days of beta alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on aerobic power, ventilatory and lactate thresholds, and time to exhaustion. Amino Acids.