Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that many people include in their pre-workout supplementation. Unlike the essential amino acids that we need to get from an outside source, non-essential amino acids are produced in the body.
Our body makes beta alanine in three different ways. It is a byproduct of the conversion of L-alanine to pyruvate, which happens when the muscle sucks the energy out of the amino acids in our body.
Beta-alanine is created when carnosine and anserine are broken down. Ironically, when you supplement with beta alanine, it helps to promote higher levels of carnosine, which is where most of the fitness benefits derive.
What are the benefits of beta-alanine?
As mentioned, the real benefits of beta-alanine come from its ability to increase the concentration of carnosine in the muscles. In fact, studies show that beta-alanine supplementation increases carnosine levels in the body by 80%. This comes with a number of benefits. It is important to note that most of the benefits of beta-alanine are seen in short bouts of high-intensity exercises between one to four minutes.
During an intense workout, glucose is broken down for energy and turns into lactic acid. This throws off the pH levels of your muscle tissue and blocks any more uptake of glucose for energy, causing muscle fatigue. Supplementing with beta-alanine increases your carnosine levels which in turn will block acid formation in your muscles, reducing fatigue. Another way that beta-alanine helps to reduce fatigue is by increasing your ventilator threshold. Because of this reduced fatigue, you can workout harder and longer. Which leads us to the next benefit on the list.
Because beta-alanine causes less fatigue in your muscles, you can increase your endurance or exercise for a longer time. Think about it, when you work out your muscles feel the pressure more and more as you continue to put stress on them. With less fatigue, you will be able to push your muscles longer before they reach the point of exhaustion. A study done on 13 cyclists for 10 weeks showed an improvement of 13% in the first 4 weeks and still showed improvement as the weeks went on but at a slower rate.
Beta-alanine doesn’t directly increase strength in the muscles but because it increases the duration and power behind your workout, it is only a natural sequence of events that you will increase your muscle strength, provided that you are actually using the beta-alanine benefits to the full and pushing yourself to exercise harder and longer.
Less muscle “burn” during training
Since beta-alanine increases the carnosine saturation in the muscles which in turn blocks the lactic acid formation. This will prevent that “burn” in the muscles that hurts so good. Eventually, the “hurts so good” feeling changes to “hurts too much!” feeling and you can’t complete the rep.
How to take beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is best taken with meals and like many supplements can be taken in a capsule or powder form.
It is also important to take into consideration that beta-alanine uptake competes with taurine uptake in the body. You can easily make sure this doesn’t result in a taurine deficiency by supplementing with taurine alongside the beta-alanine.
Lack of taurine can cause muscle cramping, which isn’t fun and if you can avoid it you would be wise to.
When determining dosage, its best to use scientific evidence. Studies have shown the best dosage of beta-alanine to be between 2-5 grams. It does no good to supplement with beta-alanine if you don’t use enough to see good results.
It’s also important to note that beta-alanine supplementation is most effective by beginning with a loading phase to really increase the carnosine levels in the muscles. After the loading initial loading phase, 10 weeks of normal supplementing, followed by another loading phase. This study showed that it took about 9 weeks for carnosine levels to return to pre-loading levels.
According to CarnoSyn, the leader in beta-alanine production, it is best to supplement with 3.2 grams for athletic performance, and 6.4 grams a day for weightlifters, for a consecutive 28 days. Obviously, if you engage in a high volume of weight training, you will need to use the higher end of the dosage spectrum. The more stress you put on your muscles, the more carnosine will be used to buffer the lactic acid and the more beta-alanine you will need to replenish lost carnosine.
If you are afraid of starting off with higher dosing of beta-alanine due to side effects, you can always start low and gradually increase, even in the loading phase. The point is to get 90 grams of beta-alanine into your system in 28 days. A more extreme choice is to get 179 grams of beta-alanine in your body in 28 days. Check out some sample dosing strategies here.
When to take beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is without a doubt a pre-workout supplement. It offers a stimulant effect that can be used to get pumped for a great workout. It will still be helpful in the long run if you supplement consistently but it is best taken before a workout.You can also break up your supplementation throughout the day if you have adverse effects from high doses. The main point to keep in mind is to saturate your muscles well with a good consistent loading phase followed by consistent upkeep.
You can also break up your supplementation throughout the day if you have adverse effects from high doses. The main point to keep in mind is to saturate your muscles well with a good consistent loading phase followed by consistent upkeep.
Beta-alanine vs. creatine
Many people believe that beta-alanine is just a substitute for creatine and if you take one then you don’t need the other but this isn’t true. It is actually better to supplement with both because what one doesn’t do, the other does.
Studies have been done to see the results of stacking creatine and beta-alanine with surprising results. A study done on collegiate football players showed that the combination of the two supplements caused a greater muscle gain than just creatine supplementation alone.
Beta-alanine helps to get your body pumped and keeps your muscles primed while creatine helps your muscles gain strength and mass. Combining the two with more creatine than beta-alanine gives you a great advantage if your goals are to gain mass. If you are just trying to get lean, I suggest taking more beta-alanine than creatine.
Another reason to mix the two is that of the timing of their benefits. beta-alanine is proven to be more effective in exercises ranging between 2-4 minutes. Creatine helps to recover between shorts bouts of intense work of less than a minute. If you put them together you have a full 5 minutes of increased performance.
Beta-alanine side effects and risks
Beta-alanine doesn’t have any dangerous side effects or risks but it does create a “tingling” feeling. This is called acute paresthesia and will be more severe with higher dosage. This condition can also cause itching, burning, or a flushed feeling in the arms, neck, scalp, or ears.
Some people are more susceptible to this feeling but that’s all it really is, just a feeling. There are no risks associated with acute paresthesia. It can be annoying and uncomfortable but it won’t harm your health.
To reduce this tingly feeling, you can either reduce your dosage or use a time-release capsule for a slow and steady release of beta-alanine. This would be effective during the loading phase to ingest higher levels of beta-alanine without severe paresthesia.
Again, beta-alanine supplementation may cause a taurine depletion. This lack of taurine can cause anything from depression to poor eyesight but that would be severe cases. Most often taurine depletion causes lack of endurance and sometimes muscle cramping because taurine helps the body to retain magnesium, an element that signals the muscles to relax.
What to look for when buying beta-alanine?
Many times beta-alanine is included with many other ingredients to make an all-inclusive pre-workout supplement. This can produce more results than beta-alanine alone but if you already have a pre-workout supplement than checking it to see if it includes beta-alanine. It might not have enough, though, so check the dosage.
When you do a search for beta-alanine supplements you find many proprietary blends that claim to include beta-alanine but don’t list the amount of beta-alanine it actually contains. Avoid these products. Don’t take anything that doesn’t list every ingredient it uses and how much of each it uses. Numbers are extremely important when you are determining how much to take. Your product should help you understand what you are taking, not make it a mystery.
When supplementing with straight beta-alanine, it is important to check the label to see if it uses CarnoSyn brand beta-alanine. This is the Rolls Royce of all beta-alanine. This company puts their patented product through rigorous testing and uses scientific studies to determine the perfect formulation.
If you can’t find CarnoSyn on the label, chances are the product uses l-alanine which doesn’t give you the desired benefits that beta-alanine does. Companies do this because it is cheaper but you get what you pay for because you won’t see the same results.