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
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
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
can buffer it, it makes sense that by supplementing with
, your workouts become better, more intense, with the end result that you become bigger, faster, and stronger.
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
(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
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.
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
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
for 4 weeks, 8 of these for 10 weeks. Muscle carnosine was significantly increased by 59% and 80% after 4 and 10 weeks of
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
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
How to Use it
The most effective way to consume
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.
If you are in a sport in which gaining body weight is a detriment (e.g. wrestling, boxing, paddling, running, etc),
is superior to creatin
e 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.
I have been supplementing with 2-3 grams daily of
for 3 months now. As a 'pseudo-competitive' paddler
(www.kanaluimiami.com), 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
use) has helped my performance. In an outrigger canoe, carrying too
much body weight (even if it's muscle) can be detrimental to
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