What IS beta alanine?
Beta alanine is a non-essential amino acid. This means that it’s produced by our body (in the liver) and it isn’t therefore essential to include it in our diet. However, weight lifters and body builders can, and do, benefit from taking it in supplement form to top up the levels naturally present in their bodies. It’s also naturally present in high protein foods such as meat and fish.
How does beta alanine work?
Most amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which helps give us a lean body. However, beta alanine does not help towards building protein, instead, along with histidine it is converted into carnosine which the body uses to increase stamina, improve strength and help build muscle. So, for more stamina, strength and muscle building, more beta alanine and therefore more carnosine is advantageous.
As we exercise, lactic acid builds up in our muscles, causing the pH to lower, in turn causing fatigue and the eventual end of our workout. Carnosine helps eliminate lactic acid and other by-products of intense physical exercise, and regulates the pH of the muscles allowing us to work out for longer. It also helps reduce post exercise recovery time, allowing for more rewarding workouts in quicker succession.
Due to its positive effects on muscle building and endurance, beta alanine also influences weight loss – the more muscle we build, the more fat we burn and weight we lose.
But is beta alanine actually proven to have these benefits?
These benefits aren’t just gym hearsay and legend; beta alanine supplements have been subject to numerous scientific studies that back up these claims.
Human studies have shown that 4 to 6g of beta alanine a day for at least four weeks increases carnosine levels in skeletal muscle by up to 64%. Carnosine has been proven to act as a pH buffer, which in turn improves exercise performance and reduces fatigue.
In these studies, how well a subject reacted to beta alanine supplementation appeared to depend on a number of factors. Greater percentage increases of carnosine levels between pre-to post-supplementation with beta alanine were seen in those with lower concentrations of carnosine to start with – the largest increase being seen in vegetarians who, due to the nature of the foods beta alanine is found naturally in (meat and fish), had the lowest baseline amounts.
Males were also found to have higher baseline levels than females as did younger subjects over older subjects. However, regardless of baseline levels, supplementation with beta alanine raised carnosine levels in all subjects. Interestingly, studies have shown that overall, subjects who trained regularly achieved higher percentage increases in carnosine levels than those subjects who didn’t train. This is probably due to the difference in muscle fiber concentrations. Proof that taking beta alanine supplements when we train is especially beneficial.
Beta alanine and creatine
Creatine is one of the most popular workout supplements, and over the past ten years, beta alanine popularity has increased greatly. Further scientific studies have shown that taking creatine and beta alanine together can increase aerobic capacity, endurance and strength, and body composition analysis showed an improved body fat to muscle ratio.
How should I take beta alanine?
For the best results, it’s recommended that you take 6g of slow release beta alanine a day, divided into four 1.5g doses with meals, for a loading phase of four weeks.
Does beta alanine have any side effects?
Beta alanine is considered safe for human consumption when taken at the recommended dose of up to 6g per day. However, some people may experience skin irritation and tingling (known as paraesthesia) in the face, neck and hands when taking beta alanine regularly.
This can last for about an hour and a half each time but can be prevented by taking a lower dose, taking it with food or taking a time-release formulation. It’s not recommended that you take 6g in one dose as this is more likely to cause skin irritation and tingling. Paraesthesia is not thought to be dangerous but it could impact on your ability to work out. It can take between six weeks and four months after stopping beta alanine supplements for carnosine levels to go back to normal.
About the author:
This post was written in its entirety by Kelly Crawford, who is passionate about health, well being, running and minimalist. As a competitive runner, she has insight into the struggles of balancing work-outs with good nutrition and injury prevention. She is a contributing writer for HardBoiledBody.com – a site dedicated to health,
nutrition and fitness advice.