Where it comes from: Beta alanine is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid that is converted to other chemicals that can then affect muscles. “It’s needed for the production of carnosine,” explains Roberta Anding RD, American Dietetic Association spokesperson and sports dietitian for the Houston Texans. “Carnosine is needed by muscle cells to act as a buffer to control intracellular Ph.” Too much acid accumulation by muscles is thought to contribute to fatigue.
What it’ll do for you: “Beta alanine is a relative newcomer to the sports scene,” says Anding. Research suggests that, during high intensity weight training or sprint work, beta alanine can reduce the symptoms of fatigue. Additionally, supplementation with beta alanine may improve the muscular endurance of older adults, as carnosine declines with age.
- May reduce the symptoms of fatigue
A 2008 study at The College of New Jersey examined collegiate football players on a 30-day schedule of beta alanine supplementation. The players were randomly divided into a supplement or placebo group three weeks before preseason football training camp. Performance was measured on the first day of camp by a 60-second anaerobic power test and three line drills. Throughout the duration of camp, logs recorded resistance training volumes, and subjects completed questionnaires on feelings of soreness, fatigue and practice intensity. The group that took the beta alanine supplements had a lower fatigue rate and a higher training volume throughout the exercises.
In a double-blind 2007 Belgium study, fifteen male sprint-trained competitive athletes were either given beta alanine supplements or placebos for four weeks. Muscle carnosine concentration was tested and performance was evaluated. The men taking the supplements showed an increase in muscle carnosine and a decline of fatigue. However, the increase in muscle carnosine did not improve isometric endurance or race time among the sprinters.
A handful of additional studies have found similar results and beta alanine is generally considered effective for offsetting feelings of fatigues.
- May enhance the benefits of creatine
Another study at The College of New Jersey (this one, performed in 2006) looked at the effects of beta alanine when combined with creatine. During a 10-week resistance-training program, 33 college football players took either creatine, creatine plus beta-alanine or a placebo. The group taking the beta alanine saw the most significant gains in lean body mass as well as reduction of body fat percentage.
Suggested intake: “Vegetarians have lower carnosine levels and may benefit from supplementation,” Anding says. The dose of beta alanine shown to be effective is between four and five grams per day. “However, side effects occur at this dosage and the supplement needs to divided into to six doses, separated by at least two hours.”
Associated risks/scrutiny: The most common side effect associated with supplementation is parathesia, or the feeling of pins and needles—the effect can be minimized by dividing the doses. No long-term studies have been performed on beta alanine supplementation, although studies up to eight weeks showed no adverse effects.