Beta-Alanine as an Ergogenic Aid?

Athletes in sports ranging from football to bicycle racing have looked to supplements such as beta-alanine to try to find a competitive edge.  However, without adequate information, it’s likely that many athletes who use this supplement may not be using it properly.

Recently, a new article published in the journal, Sports Medicine, reviewed beta-alanine supplementation in relation to carnosine metabolism and athletes (Everaert et al, 2010).  Beta-alanine, a naturally occurring amino acid, is a rate-limiting precursor in carnosine synthesis.

Tour de France Cycling Race

Carnosine itself is one of the most abundant metabolites in muscle cells.  Carnosine is absent from plants, so vegetarians can have lower levels of this metabolite. 99% of the body’s stores of carnosine are found in muscle tissue.  With respect to exercise performance, carnosine may act as a an antioxidant, pH buffer, and in anti-glycation.

Determinants of Muscle Carnosine Content:

  • it is lower in women (25% lower in women)
  • decreases with age
  • lower in vegetarians
  • higher in sprinters than marathon runners
  • increases with beta-alanine supplementation

*Daily doses of 4.8-6.4 grams of beta-alanine can elevate human muscle carnosine content by 60% in 4 weeks and 80% in 10 weeks.

Important! **Exceeding the recommended maximum dose of 1 g per 2 hour period can result in acute paresthesia.

Ergogenic effects of beta-alanine are relatively small and likely to be of most benefit to those who have already optimized other training modalities.  In previous studies, test subjects have shown improvement in peak and mean power output along with time to exhaustion.  Unlike creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine supplementation is not particularly useful for increasing muscle mass.  The study authors also noted that loading of carnosine takes several weeks which contrasts with the 1-week loading phase of creatine.

Key Points

  1. If you supplement with beta-alanine, side effects reported have been few except for paresthesia, but it hasn’t been well studies in combination with other supplements or for durations longer than 10 weeks.
  2. Carnosine loading takes weeks, so beta-alanine supplementation isn’t useful taken in a single dose before an athletic event for example.
  3. Beta-alanine should be taken in divided doses not exceeding 1 g/2 hour period
  4. Daily doses of 4.6 to 6.4 grams per day are typical in studies.

Reference:

  1. Derave W, Everaert I, Beeckman S, Baguet A.  Muscle carnosine metabolism and beta-alanine supplementation in relation to exercise and training.  Sports Med. 2010 Mar 1;40(3):247-63