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What is Beta-Alanine?

Get the Facts About This Amino Acid

Wandering through the gym, you’ve probably overheard discussions of beta-alanine. Maybe someone bragged about how beta-alanine improved muscle gains, decreased fatigue, or boosted strength.

But, just what is beta-alanine? And how can it affect you? It’s time to get to know this up-and-coming supplement ingredient.

Beta-alanine, a Distinct Amino Acid

Technically, beta-alanine is an amino acid.[1] However, beta-alanine is not like most amino acids because your body doesn’t use beta-alanine to create muscle tissue.

Beta-alanine is also not an amino acid you can supplement naturally. Strictly speaking, most foods don’t contain any beta-alanine. Beta-alanine is inside some larger molecules commonly found in meat, but not enough to have a significant effect.[2] Instead, the body makes beta-alanine, and it functions fine without consuming supplemental beta-alanine.[2]

Nevertheless, serious athletes stand to gain some serious benefits from adding beta-alanine to their sports nutrition plan.

Beta-alanine and Carnosine

The most measurable and direct benefit of taking beta-alanine is more muscle carnosine. When it enters the bloodstream, beta-alanine combines with another amino acid to create carnosine.[2]

Carnosine is a molecule that reduces acid buildup in muscles.[3] Acid buildup induces the onset of muscular fatigue. Therefore, beta-alanine and carnosine reduce fatigue, allowing athletes to train longer and harder.[3]

All beta-alanine studies to this point have caused significant increases in carnosine levels.[2] For example, carnosine concentration increased by 58.8% after 4 weeks and 80.1% after 10 weeks in a 2007 beta-alanine study.[4] Most supplement ingredients produce more mixed results, making beta-alanine uniquely effective.

Beta-alanine and Exercise Performance

Beta-alanine provides a range of exercise benefits, from improving endurance to encouraging lean muscle gains.

Multiple research studies indicate beta-alanine produces the most noticeable effects on exercises that last between 1 and 4 minutes.[5] So, marathoners won’t see huge benefits from taking beta-alanine, but weightlifters or high-intensity interval exercisers will notice a difference.

Ready for some specifics to whet your appetite for beta-alanine? Let’s start by examining decreased fatigue. Athletes who participated in a 2008 beta-alanine study felt less fatigued during 60-second anaerobic power tests. Plus, they bench-pressed a “significantly higher training volume” than before they used Beta-Alanine.[6]

In a separate study, women performed cycling exercises to assess beta-alanine’s effects. They had a measured delay in muscular fatigue. And, they were able to work out longer at maximum effort before reaching exhaustion.[7] Essentially, beta-alanine allowed them to exercise harder and longer.

Interested in adding muscle to your frame? Beta-alanine helps with that, too. An 8-week beta-alanine supplementation regimen combined with high-intensity interval training and weight lifting allowed college wrestlers and football players to gain 1 to 2 pounds lean muscle.[8]

If you regularly use creatine, adding beta-alanine will amplify its effects. One study showed creatine plus beta-alanine caused greater lean muscle gains than creatine alone.[9]

That’s just a snapshot of the studies showing beta-alanine’s exercise benefits. Certainly, more research will follow these studies and provide more evidence of beta-alanine’s effects.

Beta-alanine’s Side Effects

Beta-alanine doesn’t cause any severe or dangerous side effects.

The most common side effect is a tingling, “pins and needles” feeling. Generally, doses greater than 800 mg cause this effect, though individual reaction may vary slightly.[10] Higher doses increase the occurrence and intensity of this feeling.[2] Consequently, people often take 800 mg or smaller dosages throughout the day to reduce side effects.

Another common side effect is flushing, a warm and sometimes itchy skin reaction similar to blushing.[2] This effect seems to be less common than the “pins and needles” feeling because specific data about flushing dosages is sparse.

How to Use Beta-Alanine

Exercise experts recommend taking beta-alanine supplements before working out. This is not only because beta-alanine reduces fatigue but also because it may provide a caffeine-like energy boost.[2]

But, it’s more important to stick to a beta-alanine regimen than to try and dose at optimal times. Similarly, the size of your daily dose isn’t as important as your total intake over time.[5] Repeated beta-alanine intake allows carnosine to accumulate over time and produce maximum benefits.[2]

Aim for 4 to 5 grams beta-alanine a day.[3] But, feel free to reduce this dosage if you experience side effects.

If you spend hours at the gym and haven’t used beta-alanine yet, it’s time to start. Who wouldn’t want to take an ingredient that amps endurance, improves body composition, and lets you work out longer and stronger? Research says beta-alanine provides all those effects, making it a reliable workout supplement.

    References

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