You’ve heard the claims. It seems to be the latest and the greatest. But, is beta alanine right for you? We have the info you need to help you decide.
Going to the gym is part of your routine.
But what about taking supplements to enhance your workout?
Supplements have been in use for years. They help bodybuilders and other pro athletes get more out of their workouts and perform better. However, the use of supplements has become increasingly common for people who don’t even have pro trainers and that simply go to the gym just to exercise.
One reason people use supplements is so that they can work out just as hard, but get better results than they would without them. There is one mainstream supplement that increases a person’s energy so they can work out harder and longer in order to get better results.
Beta alanine is a supplement that allows people to workout longer and harder, but it is not because it gives you more energy. Instead, beta alanine is an essential part of producing carnosine. The more beta alanine in your body, then the more carnosine it can produce.
What is Carnosine?
Carnosine is commonly found in muscles while they are in use. It helps regulate acid buildup in muscles, a key cause of muscle fatigue. At present time, there are not very many studies about it. The studies that have been done on carnosine, however, show that there may be more benefits from it than just regulating acid buildup.
Carnosine concentration is also linked with having a high percentage present at Type II fast-twitch muscle fibers. As a result, it is commonly found in higher amounts among sprinters, basketball players, and other highly agile sports stars.
Supplementing with carnosine alone is not nearly as helpful as supplementing with beta alanine.
Simple, because when taken orally, it is broken down during digestion into many components, only 40% of which is beta alanine. This makes it so that ingesting the building blocks such as beta alanine is better for you than supplementing with carnosine.
What is Beta Alanine?
Where Do You Find Beta Alanine?
If you are interested in adding more beta alanine to your diet, you can find natural sources of it in animals, much like other amino acids. The sources with the most amount of it are ham, beef, fish, turkey, soybeans, chicken and veal.
One cup of chopped chicken breast contains over 2 grams of beta alanine. To mirror the amount consumed in the studies, you would need to take between 4 to 6 grams per day. In other words, you would need to eat about two or three cups of chopped chicken breast.
If two or three servings of meat per day are not in your diet, then a typical supplement form found on the shelves of the gym or health store would suit the need. Most come in powder or capsule form and mixed in sports beverages or water.
The difference between a capsule and the powder is usually the time that it takes for it to be released into your body. With that said, beta alanine is not timing-dependent. That means you do not have to take it right after or right before a workout to get the maximum benefits. This makes the mode of ingestion a preference more than a science when it comes to deciding between a capsule and powder.
Some pros suggest combining beta-alanine with other amino acids or electrolytes for increased benefits. There are plenty of options on the market, most of them fairly inexpensive and easy to find. When it comes to consistency of taking beta-alanine, it does not really matter if you switch between capsules, powder or sports drink. You should try to be consistent with how many servings you take throughout the day and that you take it every day.
Should You Take Beta-Alanine Supplements?
Like most supplements for exercise enhancement, people usually hear about beta alanine at the gym or on one of their favorite media sites. With all the research being done by institutions, supplement businesses and third party testers for beta alanine, it is easy to find info online.
Some sources are better than others.
For example, when people search online about supplements that can help boost performance, beta alanine has become a more popular supplement because it is new. But, when a product is new, the amount of sources is still limited. As a result, poor info may be easy to find.
There simply may not be enough good info out there to drown out the poor info, as is the case with the more seasoned products. Beta alanine is believed to boost the production of carnosine. That, in turn, should boost sports performance. But, studies have shown that is not necessarily true.
Beta Alanine Studies Show?
Research that is being published about beta alanine often shows that it boosts exercise outcomes for short duration and intense exercises. For long duration exercises, however, beta alanine does not have the same beneficial effects.
For example, what follows are three studies. There is one study for each exercise type (high intensity, short duration, and long duration) that proves how beta alanine affects a person differently depending on the type of exercise.
Study 1: High Intensity
This study followed 27 regularly trained young males and females over 8 weeks. They were randomly allocated 4 to 5.6 grams of beta alanine supplements or a sugar pill. Participants performed high-intensity training of two sessions per week over the 8 weeks. Fatigue was evaluated after consecutive jumping movements (like squat and countermovement jumps).
They found the beta-alanine group slightly outperformed the placebo group in the fatigue test. In other words, they could perform more continuously with the jumping movements.
Study 2: Short Duration
A recent study followed nine competitive alpine skiers who race between 45 seconds to 150 seconds. These skiers consumed 4.8 grams of beta alanine over five weeks. Before and after supplementation, they performed 90-second countermovement jumps followed by 90-second box jumps.
They found that those taking the supplementation had more energy and improved bursts of performance.
Study 3: Long Duration
In one more study, 27 cyclists were given 6.4 grams of beta alanine or placebo over six weeks. Completion time and physiological variables for a one-hour cycling time trial were evaluated between pre and post supplementation. Time trials performed after supplementation showed times significantly slower in the beta-alanine group as opposed to the sugar pill group.
These findings suggest beta alanine does not necessarily help longer duration exercise performance.
What Are Your Fitness Habits?
Though beta-alanine has been shown to boost performance for short duration and high-intensity workouts, it has also shown to decrease the performance for those doing a long duration exercise. With that said, it is vital to identify what kind of exercising you do before choosing to purchase beta alanine supplements.
The International Journal of Sports and Exercise Metabolism did a review of 19 studies related to the beta-alanine supplement. The review was published in 2014. There are moderate to high-quality studies that appear to support that beta alanine may boost power output and working capacity, decrease the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion, and have a positive effect on body composition and carnosine.
What about the rest of us that are healthy, but not always training?
Most of the people in the studies shared in this article have regular exercise routines. But, many of the studies have been on non-regular gym goers. Non-regular gym goers are defined as those who don’t do high-intensity workouts.
This does not necessarily mean that most of the studies are relatable, however. For example, the studies tend to include more males than females. Since men tend to have higher muscle carnosine concentration baselines, this makes it hard to accurately measure average results when the results are for both men and women, instead of separate averages for each. With that said, most of the research has been done on trained athletes, with more men than women so it doesn’t reflect much on general health populations.
One other thing to keep in mind is the number and size of these studies. The problem with this is that a study of 30 people does not accurately represent the general population. Also, the studies have mostly been targeted toward specific exercise routines that are often on one muscle group and not necessarily a large range of muscle groups. The problem with this is that different muscle groups may experience different levels of carnosine due to size and stamina.
Side Effects of Beta-Alanine And Safety Concerns
Like many supplements, there are risks involved when taking beta alanine. It does not seem to have a long list of side effects or risk factors right now, but keep in mind that usually symptoms or side effects become known in experiments and studies. The studies are still on a small scale for the most part, so the accuracy of the risk/safety assessment may not be comparable to actual side effects or risk factors.
There are short-term risks.
For example, some people have reported tingling of the skin mostly located near the hand or face after taking large doses. This symptom usually subsided after about 90 minutes. The range and intensity of this symptom vary depending on the person. Some have noted that they purposely take beta alanine right before exercising because they like that side effect and it makes them feel motivated to train hard. Others have said that it can be pretty uncomfortable and distracting.
Beta-alanine may interact with some heart medication and with drugs for erectile dysfunction. Also, its safety measures have not been established for children, people with certain diseases or conditions, or for women who are pregnant. It is advised to talk to your doctor before you take beta-alanine, just as you should before taking any other supplement.
There have not been many long-term studies with beta alanine. As a result, long-term risks have not been thoroughly assessed. There are also insufficient studies beyond a 12-week time period. As a result, whether or not the carnosine levels in your body continue to rise, or if there is a maximum amount of how much of it can present in your body at one time is unknown. Also, there are not many studies about if there is any harm to having a particular amount of carnosine present at one time.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate diet supplements. But, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug companies, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are effective or safe before selling them.
Should You Take Beta Alanine?
A good rule of thumb is that if you are a beginner in exercising, then you should allow your body to get to a good performance level on its own through more exercise and a better diet. Even as an intermediate level exerciser, you should try to improve your performance naturally. Once you get to an advanced stage and have tried many natural means of improving but still find yourself hitting a wall, then it may be time to start looking at beta alanine as a supplement to help you get to the next level.
Since there is insufficient evidence examining the safety of beta-alanine supplementation and it’s side effects you should use caution before starting to take it. The International Journal of Sports and Exercise Metabolism study review backs that up.
It may be a good idea to review your daily diet of food and water before deciding to start using supplements because the little boost you are looking for may just be something you could get from protein or carbs. If that is not the case, with caution in mind, the use of beta-alanine may be the right supplement for you.
By Emily Oches