Beta-alanine is a fairly new supplement that has become popular in pre-workouts to aid performance. But how does it actually help? We’re going to break down the basics of beta-alanine, explaining some of the chemical and physiological changes that can occur when you take this supplement.
- What is Beta-Alanine?
- What are the Benefits of Beta-Alanine?
- How does Beta-Alanine Work?
- Beta-Alanine Dosage
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-Alanine is a common ingredient in many pre-workout supplements because of its effects on fitness and overall health benefits. While it can be used as a part of a mixed pre-workout, beta-alanine can also be bought as its own supplement and taken alone.
Beta-alanine has the ability to increase your power output and working capacity, while decreasing fatigue and can even impact body composition.1 Read on to learn more about the benefits of Beta-alanine, and why it gives you the “tingling” feeling when you take it.
What are the Benefits of Beta-Alanine?
Beta-Alanine Can Increase Your Power
The effects of Beta-alanine were studied in a group of cyclists. After four weeks of supplementation, the cyclists who took Beta-alanine and achieved higher output and higher average power than those who did not during a high-intensity trial.2 Another study showed higher average power and total work when trialled in high-intensity upper body lifts.3 This shows that beta-alanine is effective for short burst type training like HIIT or heavy lifts.
Beta-Alanine Can Increase Exercise Capacity
Exercise capacity is a measure of how long you can perform an aerobic activity at your max level before experiencing fatigue. When tested in endurance athletes, a study found that in both males and females that beta-alanine increased their exercise capacity during continuous cardio exercise.4
Beta-Alanine Can Reduce Fatigue
A study of untrained (non-athlete) subjects who took Beta-Alanine for 28 days showed reduction in neuromuscular fatigue.5 When we take longer to fatigue, we can increase our volume of exercise (reps or duration) and this can lead to improved, quicker results from our workouts.
Beta-Alanine May Improve Body Composition
College level wrestlers and football plays were given beta-alanine for eight weeks and their performance and body composition were measured. While the wrestlers lost weight and the football players gained weight, both groups gained lean mass with the addition of a beta-alanine supplement.6 This shows that beta-alanine can be helpful whether you want to lose fat or gain mass.
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How does Beta-Alanine Work?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that combines with L-histidine (another amino acid) to create carnosine in our muscles.7 Carnosine is responsible for adjusting the acidity levels in our muscle tissue (like lactic acid) which can improve performance.7
Lactic acid builds up in our muscles when we exercise – and higher intensity workouts make it build up at a faster rate, leading to the feeling of fatigue and soreness post-workout.8 The action of carnosine help regulate the balance of lactic acid in our system and help to improve our ability to work harder or longer.
While our body has plenty of L-histidine available for the creation of carnosine, the levels of beta-alanine are typically low.1 Therefore, taking beta-alanine as a supplement and building up the body’s levels over time can lead to higher levels of carnosine to support performance when we need it most.
Taking the science out of this and looking at the boldest statements, in a best-case scenario you might be able to get an extra rep on your 10 RM, an extra interval into your sprint training, start your sprint finish a little earlier or improve your sports performance. All of this can overload the muscles and lead to a training effect where your muscles will adapt to the new stimulus.
One known side effect of beta-alanine is paraesthesia, which is a tingling of the skin that might be felt on your hands, neck, or back. While research supports that it is not a dangerous side effect, it’s more common with larger doses (800mg or more in one dose).7
Researchers have tested daily total dosages between 1-6 grams per day, and recommend taking it either every three hours in smaller doses (of 0.8g) until the desired dose is reached, or choosing a controlled release formula which can be taken in doses up to 1.6 grams 4 times a day without paraesthesia.4
Take Home Message
If you’re struggling with fatigue or not reaching the power or intensity you’re looking for in your workouts, using beta-alanine may be a good solution for you. Consistent supplementation supports reducing fatigue, increasing capacity and even improved body composition when combined with a solid gym routine.1