No pill can make you swole overnight, but the right ones can certainly help fast track that plan. One of the most promising supplements out there: Beta-alanine, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid which science shows can help push you past your usual wall to hit the gym harder. The amino acid is so powerful because of what it’s converted into—carnosine, a dipeptide that helps to reduce that fatiguing acid build up in your muscles when strength training. What can it do for you? Check out these six perks of popping beta-alanine supplements.
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It Boosts the Power of Creatine
Creatine is the posterchild for bulk-building supplements, but adding beta-alanine to the mix can help you gain lean muscle, reduce body fat, increase strength, and increase power when compared to just taking creatine alone, according to a study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
It Fights Muscle Fatigue
One of the most potent buffers against your muscles calling it quits is carnosine, a dipeptide that helps to reduce fatiguing acid build up when strength training. And since carnosine is composed, in part, by beta-alanine, the bigger the pool of this amino acid, the greater your body’s ability to fight muscle fatigue. In fact, a 2010 study in Nutrients found that taking 800 mg of beta-alanine multiple times a day elevated muscle carnosine levels by as much as 66 percent. What's more, your body doesn’t appear to build up a tolerance: In the same study, male sprinters who took increasingly higher doses of the amino acid over time saw just as much of a boost after five weeks on the stuff.
It Increases HIIT Endurance
If the amino acid helps reduce muscle fatigue, it stands to reason that you can work out harder, for longer. And in fact, Brazilian research has found that taking beta-alanine supplements can help your muscles’ endurance—specifically your performance during high intensity anaerobic exercises like sprinting, jumping, and weightlifting. The sweet spot is with intervals that last one to four minutes long—you won't see much of a boost in exercise lasting less than 60 seconds, says a study in Amino Acids.
It Increases VO2 Max
When researchers from the University of Oklahoma combined beta-alanine supplementation with high-intensity interval training, they found that male athletes were able to train at 90 to 110 percent of their VO2 max—the maximum volume of oxygen your body can use—for the first three weeks, and then at 115 percent of their VO2 max for another three weeks. Not only did their threshold increase, but they also reached their peak oxygen consumption faster after the first three weeks.
It Increases Strength
Guys were able to complete 22 percent more squats at 70 percent of their one-rep max after taking beta-alanine supplements for 30 days compared to before they supp'ed up, according to a study in the International Journal of Sport Medicine. What's more, they had greater mean power after a month of loading up on the amino acid.
It Helps You Bulk Up
A study in the European Journal of Experimental Biology found that when non-athlete guys took beta-alanine supplements for eight weeks while adhering to a pyramid training program, they saw a significant increase in muscular hypertrophy—the academic term for muscle growth. While the researchers can’t pinpoint the exact mechanism, there are probably at least two factors at play: Beta-alanine is an amino acid, and amino acids are necessary for building muscle, so an increase in one would certainly offer the muscle more of a pool of building blocks to pull from. Secondly, beta-alanine and subsequent carnosine helps you work out harder, for longer, which may be enough to explain the bulking up.