What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid.
Unlike most amino acids, your body does not use it to synthesize protein.
Instead, it works with histidine to create carnosine. Carnosine is then stored in your skeletal muscles.
Carnosine can reduce the accumulation of lactic acid in muscles during exercise, thereby improving exercise performance.
How does it work?
In your muscles, histidine levels are typically higher and beta-alanine levels are lower, which limits carnosine production.
Beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to increase carnosine levels in muscles by 80%.
This is how carnosine works during exercise:
- Glucose is broken down: Glycolysis is the breakdown of glucose, the primary source of fuel during high-intensity exercise.
- Produce lactic acid: When you exercise, your muscles break down glucose into lactic acid. It is converted into lactic acid, producing hydrogen ions (H+).
- Muscles become more acidic: Hydrogen ions lower the pH in muscles, making them more acidic.
- Fatigue sets in: Muscle acidity blocks glucose breakdown and reduces the muscle's ability to contract. This can lead to fatigue.
- Carnosine Buffer: Carnosine acts as an acid buffer, reducing muscle acidity during high-intensity exercise.
Because beta-alanine supplements increase carnosine levels, they can help your muscles reduce acid levels during exercise. This reduces overall fatigue.
Athletic performance and strength
Beta-alanine improves athletic performance by reducing fatigue, increasing endurance, and improving performance during high-intensity exercise.
Increase time spent tired
Research shows that beta-alanine helps extend your time to exhaustion (TTE).
In other words, it helps you exercise for longer at a time. One study of cyclists found that taking the supplement for four weeks increased total work done by 13%, and by 3.2% after 10 weeks.
Similarly, 20 men performed a similar cycling test and found that taking beta-alanine supplements for 4 weeks increased their time to fatigue by 13-14%.
Benefits of short-term exercise
In general, muscle acidosis limits the duration of high-intensity exercise.
Therefore, beta-alanine is particularly helpful in improving performance during high-intensity, short-duration exercise lasting one to several minutes.
One study showed that taking beta-alanine for six weeks increased TTE by 19% during high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
In another study, 18 rowers who supplemented for seven weeks were 4.3 seconds faster than the placebo group in a 2,000-meter race that lasted more than six minutes.
For older adults, beta-alanine can help improve muscle endurance.
In resistance training, it can increase training volume and reduce fatigue. However, there is no consistent evidence that beta-alanine improves strength.
Some evidence suggests beta-alanine may benefit body composition.
One study showed that supplementing for three weeks increased lean muscle mass.
Beta-alanine may improve body composition by increasing training volume and promoting muscle growth.
However, some studies show no significant differences in body composition and weight after treatment.
Other health benefits
Beta-alanine increases carnosine levels, which may have multiple health benefits.
Interestingly, animal and test-tube studies show that carnosine has antioxidant, anti-aging, and immune-boosting properties. However, human studies are needed.
The antioxidant benefits of carnosine include neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress.
Additionally, test-tube studies show that carnosine can increase nitric oxide production. This may help fight the aging process and improve heart health.
Finally, carnosine can improve muscle quality and function in older adults.
main food source
The main food sources of beta-alanine are meat, poultry, and fish.
It is part of larger compounds (mainly carnosine and anserine), but is broken down during digestion.
Vegetarians and vegans have about 50% less carnosine in their muscles than omnivores.
Although most people can get adequate amounts of beta-alanine from their diet, supplements can further increase its levels.
The standard dose of beta-alanine is 2-5 grams per day.
Consuming beta-alanine with meals can further increase carnosine levels.
Beta-alanine supplements appear to replenish muscle carnosine levels more than taking carnosine itself.
Safety and side effects
Taking too much beta-alanine may cause paresthesias, an unusual sensation often described as "skin tingling." Usually occurs on the face, neck, and back of the hands.
The intensity of this tingling sensation increases with dose size. This can be avoided by taking small doses (about 800 mg at a time).
There is no evidence that paresthesias are harmful in any way.
Another possible side effect is a decrease in taurine levels. This is because beta-alanine can compete with taurine for absorption into the muscles.
Combined with sports supplements
Beta-alanine is often combined with other supplements, including sodium bicarbonate and creatine.
Sodium bicarbonate or baking soda can enhance exercise performance by reducing acid in the blood and muscles.
Many studies have examined the combination of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate.
The results suggest there are some benefits to combining the two supplements, especially in sports where muscle acidosis affects performance.
Creatine helps improve high-intensity exercise performance by increasing ATP availability.
When used together, creatine and beta-alanine have been shown to benefit athletic performance, strength, and lean muscle mass.
Beta-alanine improves performance by increasing exercise capacity and reducing muscle fatigue.
It also has antioxidant, immune-boosting, and anti-aging properties.
You can get beta-alanine from foods or supplements that contain carnosine. The recommended dose is 2-5 grams per day.
Although overdose may cause skin irritation, beta-alanine is considered a safe and effective supplement for improving athletic performance.