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Beta-Alanine: The Ultimate Protection and Performance Enhancer?
This amino acid is classified as 'non-essential,' but once you are aware of the science, you'll realize that it is pretty important if your goal is to improve performance. So how does beta-alanine work? By buffering the build-up of what us science types call 'hydrogen ions' or H+. For instance, have you ever felt that nasty burn as you eek out the last few reps on the leg extension machine? Or have you ever tried a quarter-mile sprint? Or tried paddling in the open ocean for 2 hours? (Okay, yours truly did that and the beta-alanine I took really helped!). That pain is partly the result of the build up of H+ (i.e. hydrogen ions). Because acidic buildup occurs in all types of activity, in all muscle fiber types, and beta-alanine can buffer it, it makes sense that by supplementing with beta-alanine, your workouts become better, more intense, with the end result that you become bigger, faster, and stronger.

Science Says
Beta-alanine is used to make something called carnosine. It is actually carnosine, in your muscles, that acts as a buffer. Carnosine is a dipeptide (i.e. two amino acids bound together) found primarily in fast-twitch muscle. With higher carnosine levels in muscle, however, you prevent the drop in pH. With H+ buffered, you continue to squeeze out reps, continue to run at a high intensity, or you simply lift heavier weights for more reps. In fact, according to the world's expert on beta-alanine, "dietary supplementation with 3.2 grams and 6.4 grams per day of beta-alanine (as multiple doses of 400 or 800 mg) for 4 weeks resulted in significant increases in muscle carnosine of 42% and 64%."(1) So taking the stuff does elevate muscle carnosine. Interestingly, athletes who do a lot of anaerobic exercise have high levels of carnosine in muscle. But taking beta-alanine makes the concentration of carnosine go up even further in the elite athlete.

It Does What?
First off, one of the interesting 'other' effects of carnosine and beta-alanine is that it exerts an immunoregulatory effect by activating cells of the immune system. Scientific research has indicated that carnosine and beta-alanine not only promote tissue repair but also help maintain homeostasis and accelerate spontaneous healing.(2) Another study found that the enhancement by carnosine of wound healing may be ascribed to "stimulation of early effusion by histamine and of collagen biosynthesis by beta-alanine."(3) So beta-alanine helps your immune system and wound healing. Very interesting. Recently, a study in mice looked at supplementation with beta-alanine (3%) in drinking water for one week. Beta-alanine intake reduced hepatic taurine levels, but elevated cysteine levels significantly. Hepatotoxicity in mice fed with beta-alanine was decreased as determined by changes in serum enzyme activities. Therefore, the enhanced availability of cysteine for synthesis of glutathione and/or taurine appears to account for the hepatoprotective effects of beta-alanine against liver injury.(4) Here's the best part though. Performance!

Unless you've been stuck in a cave or have your eyes glued on 'The View' waiting for Rosie to say something even dumber than a monkey born without a cortex, then you've certainly heard that beta-alanine is one remarkable performance aid. For instance, a recent study looked at the effect of beta-alanine (beta-Ala) alone or in combination with creatine monohydrate (Cr) on aerobic exercise performance. The study examined the effects of 4 weeks of beta-Ala and Cr supplementation on indices of endurance performance. Fifty-five men (average age 24.5 yrs) participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study and randomly assigned to one of 4 groups; placebo (5), creatine (Cr), beta-alanine (beta-Ala), or beta-alanine plus creatine (CrBA). Prior to and following supplementation, participants performed a graded exercise test on a cycle ergometer to determine VO2 peak, time to exhaustion (TTE), and power output, VO2, and percent VO2 peak associated with ventilatory threshold and lactate threshold. According to the authors, "CrBA may potentially enhance endurance performance."(6) Another study had 13 male subjects who consumed beta-alanine for 4 weeks, 8 of these for 10 weeks. Muscle carnosine was significantly increased by 59% and 80% after 4 and 10 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation. Carnosine, initially 1.71 times higher in type IIa fibers (i.e. your fast twitch muscle fibers), increased equally in both type I and IIa fibers. No increase was seen in control subjects. Also, 4 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation resulted in a significant increase in total work done (+13.0%); with a further +3.2% increase at 10 weeks. TWD was unchanged at 4 and 10 wks in the control subjects. The increase in total work done with supplementation followed the increase in muscle carnosine.(7) But wait. There's more. Recently, scientists examined the effects of 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation on the physical working capacity at fatigue threshold (PWC(FT)), ventilatory threshold (VT), maximal oxygen consumption and time-to-exhaustion (TTE) in women. Twenty-two women (age 27 years) participated and were randomly assigned to either the beta-alanine or Placebo (PL) group. Before (pre) and after (post) the supplementation period, participants performed a cycle ergometry test to exhaustion. Ouch! That's a painful test. They found that beta-alanine supplementation delays the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and the ventilatory threshold (VT) at submaximal workloads, and increases the time to exhaustion during maximal cycle ergometry performance. Therefore, beta-alanine supplementation improves submaximal cycle ergometry performance and time to exhaustion in young women.(8)

How to Use it
The most effective way to consume beta-alanine is with food at a dose of three to six grams daily, divided into 4 to 8 doses, for at least two weeks to see its first effect. The minimal dose seems to be in the 3 gram range. But why take it in divided dose throughout the day? One, there is a slight flushing / tingling effect with high doses (at or greater than 1.6 grams) called paraesthesia. This is resolved by taking smaller doses 8 times per day instead of 4 or by mixing it with food. Most people, however, are not bothered by paraesthesia. The second reason for taking multiple doses is to ensure a constant presence of beta-alanine which helps drive it into the muscle cell where it synthesizes into carnosine.

Weight Watchers
If you are in a sport in which gaining body weight is a detriment (e.g. wrestling, boxing, paddling, running, etc), beta-alanine is superior to creatine in this regard. It is just one of a handful of ergogenic aids that will improve performance relatively quickly (i.e. after a couple weeks of loading) without any concomitant weight gain.

Case Study
I have been supplementing with 2-3 grams daily of beta-alanine for 3 months now. As a 'pseudo-competitive' paddler (, I've noticed that doing interval type exercise (i.e. high intensity paddling interspersed with lower intensity paddling for recovery) is somewhat easier. Also, my drop in body weight (subsequent to stopping creatine use and maintaining beta-alanine use) has helped my performance. In an outrigger canoe, carrying too much body weight (even if it's muscle) can be detrimental to performance.

What's the difference between beta-alanine and L-alanine?
beta-Alanine is the only naturally occurring beta amino acid; however, it is not used in the synthesis of any major proteins. Also known as: 3-aminopropionic acid.

L-Alanine (Ala) is a non-essential-amino acid. L-alanine is one of the 20 amino acids most widely used in protein synthesis, second to leucine D-alanine occurs in bacterial cell walls and in some peptide antibiotics. Also known as:2-aminopropanoic acid