Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that should be a part of your nutritional armoury.
We derive little free foam beta-alanine from out daily diet, and much of this amino acid is produced via the breakdown of animal proteins when digested within the body.
Beta-alanine is in many work out supplements or can be bought as a stand-alone product.
Structurally, Beta-alanine is a combination of the strong neurotransmitters L-glycine and GABA, and this will explain the ‘buzz’ and ‘tingle’ that many people feel post exercise.
Fundamentally, beta-alanine raises muscle carnosine levels and increases the amount of weights that you can pump at higher intensities.
How does Beta-alanine work?
Your body can make beta-alanine via three methods. These are as follows:
- During the breakdown of carnosine
- A by-product of converting L-alanine into pyruvate
- During digestion when carbon is removed from L-aspartate.
When ingested beta-alanine enters into the skeletal via the bloodstream and binds with the amino acid L-histidine to create carnosine.
There is a strong correlation between carnosine concentrations and type II fast twitch muscle fibres. You find higher levels of carnosine within mesomorphs and ripped up athletes, and men tend to have higher levels of carnosine than women.
What is the big deal about carnosine you may be thinking? Well, carnosine is a very strong anti-oxidant that is the primary line of defence that stops the accumulation of hydrogen ions during high intensity exercise.
This rise in hydrogen ions within the muscle significantly reduces the pH levels. This has a knock on effect of reducing enzyme function/potential and muscle activities/movement that is needed to support the body at high intensities.
In a nutshell, a reduction in muscle pH levels is a huge catalyst for fatigue during high intensity exercise.
Current research has indicated that beta-alanine is very effective at supporting high intensity exercise that last longer than 1 minute.
All of the valid research that has been conducted on beta-alanine supplementation has produced consistent results suggesting an increase in muscle power output muscular strength, training volume and high intensity performance.
Interestingly, a 6 gram supplementation of beta-alanine increased the punch force of amateur boxers by around 18 times and punch frequency by about 5 times when compared to the control group.
Another observation from the research is that when rest intervals are too long (120-300 seconds) the role of beta-alanine was deemed as insignificant.
Therefore, beta-alanine supplementation is probably best suited to a high intensity cross fit style of training with little bouts of rest between the exercises.
When should you supplement with Beta-alanine?
As mentioned previously, beta-alanine can produce a buzz or tingle that is very similar to a caffeine boost.
For this reason it would be a great candidate to be consumed pre-work out but the real performance benefits are related to building up carnosine levels over a longer period of time.
Therefore, for the best results it is best to continuously stack up the beta-alanine levels and this will impact of the amount of carnosine levels that can be used when exercising at high intensities.
It is all about supply and demand, whilst maintaining the beta-alanine levels and thereby replenishing after a heavy weights session.
Your genetics in terms of your muscle make up and the amount of carnosine that you already have within your muscles don’t have any impact when supplementing with beta-alanine.
Similarly, the size of the individual doses ingested will not impact on the amount of maximal concentration of muscle carnosine. But, the total dose over a longer period of time will affect the overall amount of carnosine that the muscle can hold.
This potential or dose response to beta-alanine does increase over time because of the longer clear out times caused by an increase in the muscle carnosine concentration levels. This is a positive adaptation caused by taking beta-alanine supplements of a lengthy period of time.
Potential side effects of Beta-alanine
1200 mg of beta-alanine taken every 3-4 hours can produce pins and needles. It can also produce a burning and itching sensation on the scalp and ears.
Consuming beta-alanine on an empty stomach will increase the blood concentrations but unfortunately this does increase the risk of pins and needles.
However, taking beta-alanine on an empty stomach does increase its stimulation effects, but if you are taking it to enhance performance; then this doesn’t really matter.
Due to the fact that the single doses of beta-alanine adds to the previous doses which increase the muscle carnosine concentrations, regardless of whether your stomach is empty or not.
The current research has indicated that beta-alanine is a definite supplement that should be in your armoury, as it definitely boosts muscle endurance when exercising at higher intensity.
The main benefit of beta-alanine is the way that it boosts muscle carnosine levels and how important carnosine actually is when maintaining a status quo when exercising at higher intensities.