Although beta-alanine is an amino acid, it doesn’t build muscle directly like BCAAs and other commonly used amino acids. Still, many athlete-targeted supplements include beta-alanine as a performance boosting ingredient.
How does beta-alanine affect exercise performance? Here’s a look at beta-alanine’s side effects, both positive and negative.
Negative Side Effects of Beta-Alanine
In years of research, study participants have experienced no dangerous side effects from supplementing with beta-alanine. However, beta-alanine causes some minor side effects in certain dosages.
One common negative side effect is paraesthesia, or tingling sensations. Often people describe this as being similar to the “pins and needles” sensation you get when your foot falls asleep. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s basically harmless.
The higher the dosage of beta-alanine, the more likely it is this side effect will occur. Tingling usually occurs in people who take more than 800 mg beta-alanine at once. Scientists calculated this dosage based on research data. Commonly, paraesthesia resulting from beta-alanine intake lasts 60 to 90 minutes.
High beta-alanine dosages also sometimes cause flushing. Flushing makes skin turn red so it appears blushed. This flushing usually appears on the face, scalp, or ears. Like paresthesia, flushing is harmless and subsides quickly. It is not entirely clear how much beta-alanine causes flushing, but dosages are likely similar or higher than those that induce paraesthesia.
Luckily, avoiding these beta-alanine side effects is fairly easy. Spacing beta-alanine dosages out every 2 hours or more throughout the day usually minimizes the occurrence of these side effects. Taking beta-alanine on a full stomach is another way to reduce side effects.
Positive Side Effects of Beta-Alanine
Dozens if not hundreds of sports supplements contain beta-alanine as either a major ingredient or a proprietary blend component. Although popularity isn’t always a reliable indicator an ingredient works, in the case of beta-alanine science clearly indicates its positive effects.
Beta-alanine’s main positive effect is an increase in carnosine production. Muscles use carnosine to control acid buildup. The amount of available beta-alanine determines how much carnosine can be produced.
In one study, scientists measured increases in muscle carnosine after 4 weeks of beta-alanine use. The two specific leg muscles studied had increases of 37% and 47%. Those taking the placebo had only 16% more carnosine in one muscle and no carnosine increase in the other. And, these participants were highly trained 400-meter sprinters with already healthy leg muscles, so beta-alanine clearly caused the carnosine increases, not just improving their level of activity.
In fact, another study confirms exercise alone cannot raise carnosine levels as quickly or effectively as taking beta-alanine does. Despite 10 weeks of resistance training, the placebo group had no improvements in muscle carnosine. In contrast, the beta-alanine group had significant carnosine concentration increases, nearly 13 mmol per kg of muscle.
Having more carnosine enhances exercise in multiple ways. For instance, several beta-alanine studies show it increases muscular power and strength.
College football players at training camp increased training volume by taking beta-alanine. The longer they used it, the more they increased their training volume. In a separate study, men had longer hold time and bigger impulse (a measure of momentum) after taking beta-alanine for 4 weeks.
Beta-alanine also improves endurance due to its fatigue-reducing effects. Both the sprinters and the college football players in the studies I described above experienced decreased fatigue after taking beta-alanine.
Taking beta-alanine even builds and maintains lean muscle. College wrestlers and football players taking 4 grams beta-alanine every day for 8 weeks gained 1.1 and 2.1 pounds of lean mass. The wrestlers also lost weight. In another study, women combined a daily dose of 6 grams beta-alanine with high-intensity interval cycling. Lean body mass increased and body fat percentage decreased.
Lastly, recent ongoing research suggests beta-alanine may also act as a neurotransmitter. In this capacity, beta-alanine likely gives an energy boost similar to caffeine. Many beta-alanine users already anecdotally report this effect, but more research is necessary.
The Final Word on Beta-Alanine Side Effects
It’s hard to decide what’s better about beta-alanine: its minimal negative side effects or its consistent positive side effects. After all, beta-alanine’s negative side effects are harmless and easily avoided with proper dosing. And, its positive side effects are reliable, noticeable, measurable, and nearly innumerable.
In my opinion, beta-alanine’s positive side effects definitely outweigh its minor negative ones. Every serious athlete can benefit from making beta-alanine a part of his or her sports supplement regimen.
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