What is Beta Alanine? Does it Work?
The body building supplement industry is built largely upon hype, with an occasional secondary nod to science-based results. But every once in a great while a supplement like beta alanine comes along; a supplement that actually has some real, supporting evidence behind it.
Here’s the “Quick and Dirty” low down on beta alanine (click each point for more details):
- What is it?
- What does the science say?
- Dosage information.
- When should you take it?
- Beta Alanine side effects.
- Product recommendations.
- Taking a product that contains it?
- Conclusion and bottom line.
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So what exactly is beta alanine?
It’s a naturally occurring amino acid that the body uses to make carnosine. Muscle carnosine, in turn, buffers hydrogen ions produced during exercise. Theoretically, taking additional beta-alanine can boost muscle carnosine stores and improve performance and / or endurance.
Thus, it has found its way into the formulas of many popular pre-workout supplements (like Labrada’s SuperCharge Xtreme, Nutrex’s HemoRage and VPX’s NO Shotgun… these are but a few examples).
It can also be purchased in isolation.
This is a good option, as it allows you to ensure you’re getting a dosage that corresponds with positive clinical studies.
Other products, like the now discontinued H+ Blocker from Isatori could be considered primarily as dedicated beta alanine supplements.
What do the Scientific Studies say about Beta Alanine?
They say several important things.
First, they confirm a direct correlation between carnosine levels in the muscles and athletic performance (J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Nov;19(4):725-9).
Incidentally, this increase in performance is not restricted to activities primarily performed by Type II muscle fibers.
In other words, aerobic capacity seems to be increased as well.
In practical terms, this means beta alanine may be a useful supplement for runners, swimmers, cyclists and any athlete for whom an increase in aerobic capacity would be useful.
Second, they corroborate the claim that supplementation with beta-alanine increases levels of muscle carnosine (see Amino Acids. 2007 Feb;32(2):225-33. Epub 2006 Jul 28, and this animal study; Equine Vet J Suppl. 1999 Jul;30:499-504).
This is important, as the entire argument for supplementation hinges on this.
One study (Amino Acids (2007) 32: 381-386) concluded…
“Beta-alanine supplementation appears to improve submaximal cycle ergometry performance and TTE (time to exhaustion) in young women, perhaps as a result of an increased buffering capacity due to elevated muscle carnosine concentrations.”
And lastly, they add credence to the advertising claims that proclaim beta-alanine supplementation is helpful for athletic performance.
In other words, beta alanine actually works! HOORAY!
(See Nutrition Research, Volume 28, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 31-35, J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009; 6:5, J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008; 5:21)
This is good news, and validates what many athletes can already confirm… supplementation helps their training programs, almost regardless of what that program happens to be.
Not everyone will experience dramatic effects from supplementation. Low responders are people who for whatever reason – muscle fiber type, or already elevated levels of muscle carnosine – don’t get the same increase in muscle carnosine, and accordingly, don’t experience the same benefits.
Dosage: How Much Beta Alanine should You Take?
Does the study data reveal an optimal dosage for beta-alanine supplementation?
Well, sort of.
Study dosages have been all over the map…
- This study used 4.8 grams per day for 6 weeks..
- This study, performed on CarnoSyn, used 3.2 grams of a sustained release beta alanine formula taken twice daily.
- This study measured performance between 3.2 grams/day for 4 weeks followed by 1.6 grams for 4 weeks against 1.6 grams/day for 8 weeks.
- And finally, this study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, used 6 grams per day (1.5 grams taken 4 times daily) for the first 21 days, and 3 grams the following 21 days.
All studies showed a significat increase in muscle carnosine.
So what’s the bottom line on dosage for best performance?
Loading phase? No loading phase? 1.6 grams? 3.2 grams? 6 grams?
This study, published in the journal “Amnio Acids”, gives us a clue. It concludes that…
“…the absolute increase in muscle carnosine is only dependent upon the total BA consumed and is not dependent upon baseline muscle carnosine, the muscle type, or the daily amount of supplemented BA.”
In other words, beyond 1.6 grams per day, the actual amount you consume is not critical – as long as you consume enough Beta alanine over the long haul.
It’s just going to take longer for you to obtain maximum muscle saturation at a lower dose than it would if you were taking a higher one.
One thing I would say, however, is that most studies used divided doses. In other words, whatever the dosage was, it was usually divided up and taken a couple of times throughout the day.
Most people will be fine using 3.2 grams per day in two divided doses.
If you want to experience the results quicker, trying a 3 week loading phase of 6 grams per day (in 4 divided doses), and then cut the dosage in half, and take it in two divided doses.
What about Cycling?
Studies show it takes 6-15 weeks (based on whether you’re a high or low responder) for muscle carnosine levels to return to their baseline levels after you stop supplementing.
So you can take a 2-4 week break after 8 weeks of supplementation without worrying about muscle carnosine levels dropping too dramatically.
When Should You Take Beta Alanine?
Most studies performed on this supplemented have used multiple divided doses or time-released formulas. As a result, it’s best to divide your dose up into 2 equal doses and take them at separate times throughout day, and try to be consistent day to day. If you’re using a higher loading dose (5-6 grams per day), use 4 daily equal doses if possible.
What about Beta Alanine Side Effects?
The most common side effect associated with beta alanine supplementation is an itching or tingling in the extremities.
This is called “paraesthesia.”
This is normal and not dangerous, and tends to diminish in severity over time.
If the side effects bother you, divide your doses up into smaller amounts and take them more often through the day.
Another alternative is a timed-release formula. Studies show that people taking these sustained formula products don’t experience the effect at all.
No long term studies have been performed on beta alanine supplementation, although studies up to 8 weeks in length showed no adverse effects.
There’s also little known about its safety when combined with other ingredients/compounds as it often is in various supplements. However, as a naturally occurring amino acid it is unlikely to offer much to be concerned about it.
What are Some Recommended Products?
I recommend that you purchase it isolation and not as part of a product formula (that way you can ensure you are getting an ideal dose).
Here’s some options from BodyBuilding.com, which offers very competitive prices…
- San CarnoSyn: Contains 5 mg of CarnoSyn, a patented water soluable form of beta alanine. 50 days worth for under $25. Good deal! Click here to learn more!
- Allmax Beta Alanine: 400 grams of powder for around $30. If you take an optimal 5 gram dose daily, this will last 80 days. Very affordable!
- Powerbar’s Sustained Release Beta Alanine: if you’re not a fan of the tingling and itching that comes with beta alanine, then a timed or sustained release solution is the answer. CarnoSyn also makes a sustained release beta alanine (SR CarnoSyn), but I haven’t seen it widely available yet.
Are you already Taking a Pre-workout Supplement that Contains It?
Make sure you’re getting an optimal dosage. At least 3.2 grams.
Most readily available pre-workout supplements that contain beta alanine in their formulations do not contain anywhere near an optimal dosage.
Accordingly, it’s not a bad idea to add a couple of grams to your regular pre-workout shake and see how that works for you!
Wrapping it Up; The Conclusion
In conclusion, beta alanine is relatively safe and is backed by some credible scientific data validating its effects on athletic performance.
It’s definitely a supplement worth experimenting with, if you’re interested in taking your training to the next level. I’ve used it for years, and highly recommend it!