What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning it is not essential for synthesising protein in the body. Instead, it’s used to produce a substance called carnosine. Beta-alanine is naturally produced by the liver. Beta-alanine is also a common supplement many gym-goers and athletes use.
What does beta-alanine do?
As muscles work during exercise, particularly intense exercise, there may not be enough oxygen available and this is when a substance called lactate is produced. Lactate can be converted into energy without using oxygen. But, a build-up of lactate in the blood during this process can lead to some annoying side effects. If you’ve ever exercised at high intensities and felt a burning sensation in your muscles, and potentially even a little bit of nausea, this was likely due to a build-up of lactate! While it’s normal, and generally not harmful, these side effects may hamper performance as you struggle to maintain intensity and effort as fatigue starts to set in. So, this is where beta-alanine comes in!
Together with histidine, beta-alanine helps to produce carnosine. As the acidity in the muscles increases with the production of lactate during high-intensity exercise, carnosine then acts upon this environment, buffers against the acid, reducing the acidic environment, to reduce the onset of fatigue during exercise.
Generally, histidine levels are high in muscles and beta-alanine is low, so this is why supplements can come in handy for many people as this helps with increased production of carnosine to help buffer lactic acid in the muscles during exercise.
What are the benefits of beta-alanine?
You can start to see how beta-alanine benefits performance! By helping to produce carnosine, which acts as a buffer in the muscles, you’ll have less build-up of lactic acid during high-intensity exercise. This can delay the onset of fatigue and improve endurance during high-intensity exercise. Supplementation with beta-alanine has been found to improve performance, particularly in efforts of 1-6 minutes duration or in exercise where training or competition will reach near maximal capacity. This is when its pH buffering role will have the most profound effect.
You might be wondering why we can’t just take a carnosine supplement instead if that’s what beta-alanine is helping to produce anyway? So far, research indicates that carnosine supplements aren’t able to effectively enter muscles to provide the proposed benefits. On the other hand, beta-alanine provides plenty of promising evidence that supplementation can be effective in increasing muscle carnosine levels when consumed consistently for 4-10 week periods. Beta-alanine is considered the ‘rate-limiting factor’ in the production of carnosine. This means that there is generally enough histidine available in the body, but not enough of the beta-alanine to produce carnosine.
How to supplement with beta-alanine
Beta-alanine is generally available in capsule or powder forms to be mixed into water. In studies, 2-6g/day is generally researched and recommended. The benefit of beta-alanine is seen when taken daily over consistent periods of time, which increases carnosine levels in muscles. Most studies have been carried out for 4-12 weeks, and it appears that peak muscle carnosine levels are still not reached at the 10-week mark, so recommendations for durations of a cycle and also the most effective dose may change in the future.
A large amount of beta-alanine can cause a harmless yet uncomfortable skin tingling side effect (known as paraesthesia). This is a little uncomfortable for many people so you can split your dose of beta-alanine into smaller doses across the day to avoid this skin tingling effect. Consistency is key with beta-alanine, so it does not need to be timed before your workouts for its benefits, as the idea is to build up carnosine levels in the muscles over time.
Like with any supplement, we recommend touching base with a Sports Dietitian and your GP first to assess if it’s something that you need and if there are any contraindications. A Sports Dietitian can help you to work out the optimal timing and dose for supplements such as beta-alanine through a personalised supplement protocol plan.
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