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. 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. Instead, the body makes beta-alanine, and it functions fine without consuming supplemental beta-alanine.
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.
Carnosine is a molecule that reduces acid buildup in muscles. Acid buildup induces the onset of muscular fatigue. Therefore, beta-alanine and carnosine reduce fatigue, allowing athletes to train longer and harder.
All beta-alanine studies to this point have caused significant increases in carnosine levels. For example, carnosine concentration increased by 58.8% after 4 weeks and 80.1% after 10 weeks in a 2007 beta-alanine study. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. Higher doses increase the occurrence and intensity of this feeling. 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. 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.
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. Repeated beta-alanine intake allows carnosine to accumulate over time and produce maximum benefits.
Aim for 4 to 5 grams beta-alanine a day. 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.
-  WebMD. “Beta-Alanine”
-  Lockwood, Chris. “Your Expert Guide to Beta-Alanine.” BodyBuilding.com. 2012 Oct 23.
-  Freedman, Lisa. “Supplement Guide: Beta-Alanine.” Men’s Fitness.
-  Hill, CA, RC Harris, et al. “Influence of Beta-Alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity.” Amino Acids. 32.2 (2007): 225-33.
-  Hobson, R.M., B. Saunders, G. Ball, R.C. Harris, and C. Sale. “Effects of Beta-Alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis.” Amino Acids. 43.1 (2012): 25-37.
-  Hoffman, JR, NA Ratamess, et al. “Short-duration Beta-Alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players.” Nutrition Research. 28.1 (2008): 31-5.
-  Stout, JR, JT Cramer, et al. “Effects of Beta-Alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women.” Amino Acids. 32.3 (2007): 381-6.
-  Kern, Benjamin, and Tracey Robinson. “Effects of Beta-Alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 6 (Suppl 1) (2009): P2.
-  Hoffman, J, N Ratamess, et al. “Effect of creatine and Beta-Alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes.” International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 16.4 (2006): 430-46.
-  “Beta-Alanine.” Examine.com. 2013 May 29.