For decades, lactic acid was blamed for everything from muscle soreness to fatigue. If an athlete "hit the wall" during a marathon, barely making it to the finish line, lactic acid buildup was to blame.
However, this theory, still spread like gospel among uneducated weekend warriors, was put to rest years ago by Dr. George Brooks. It really isn't the lactate or lactic acid that causes the problem but instead the build up of hydrogen ions and subsequent drop in pH that occurs during intense exercise, leading to fatigue. This is where beta-alanine comes into play.
What Is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is the rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of carnosine. In other words, the amount of carnosine your body produces is directly dependent on the amount of beta-alanine available. Without sufficient beta-alanine, carnosine synthesis is limited. So why is carnosine important?
Carnosine, which is composed of histidine + beta-alanine, helps buffer the acidity produced by hydrogen ion accumulation. Delaying acid production helps delay muscular fatigue allowing you to train at a higher intensity while also improving recovery between high-intensity exercise sets or intervals.
Carnosine is naturally found in the brain, heart, kidney, stomach and skeletal muscle (type II, fast twitch muscle, the kind that is engaged in sprinting and other explosive movements).
In theory it would make more sense to go straight for the good stuff and ingest carnosine without fooling with beta-alanine. However, when carnosine enters the digestive system, it's broken down then reformed.
Therefore, carnosine can't be taken up into the muscle intact. In addition, studies suggest that taking beta-alanine produces more carnosine in the muscle than if you tried to supplement with carnosine itself.
How The Bodybuilding Supplement Beta-Alanine Can Buffer Muscle Fatigue
1 Beta-Alanine May Increase Carnosine Levels In The Body
When conducting a supplement study, it's critical to make sure that it is the supplement and not some co-founding variable (the food they are eating for instance).
However, studies suggest that beta-alanine supplementation may increase intramuscular carnosine levels. In one study, 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation at a dose of 4-6 grams per day resulted in an increase in intramuscular carnosine levels by approximately 60%.
2 Beta-Alanine Supplementation Works In Women
Most supplement studies are conducted in men for a variety of reasons (no need to control for time in the menstrual cycle, men typically want to bulk up etc.) but beta-alanine is one supplement that has been tested in women.
In one study examining the effects of this supplement on neuromuscular fatigue in women, twenty-two females were randomly assigned to receive either beta-alanine or a placebo for 28 days.
Before and after the supplementation period, participants performed a stationary bike test to exhaustion. Dr. Jeff Stout and his lab at the University of Oklahoma suggested that beta-alanine may delay the onset of neuromuscular fatigue during sub-maximal cycling and may increase time to exhaustion in women.
3 Beta-Alanine May Delay Fatigue In Endurance Athletes
In one of the initial studies examining the ergogenic potential of beta-alanine, 13 males with an average age of twenty-five, were supplemented with 4-6 mg of beta-alanine or a placebo everyday for 10 weeks. An exhaustive cycling test at 110% maximum power was completed before supplementation, at 4 weeks and after 10 weeks.
After 4 weeks and 10 weeks respectively, the supplemented group was able to cycle for a longer period of time in comparison to the group taking a placebo.
4 Beta-Alanine May Work Synergistically With Creatine
In one double blind, placebo controlled study the combination of 1.6 grams/day beta-alanine + 5.25 g/day creatine suggested significant improvement in five of the eight indices of cardio-respiratory endurance measured.
The creatine-only group and beta-alanine only group both showed improvements in just two of the eight indices measured. There were, however, no significant differences between the beta-alanine + creatine group and the creatine-only and beta-alanine only groups.
Additional Tips To Buffer Muscle Fatigue
- Try Creatine. After all, just gaining strength and power can help you train harder which will build endurance.
- Train Hard. Hardcore training boosts your body's production of carnosine.
- Rest. Though it's important to train hard when you are training, junk miles are just that - junk.
- Don't put in extra time going through the motions in an effort to get stronger, boost performance or lose weight. You'll end up over trained, tired and your performance may suffer.
- Eat Enough Protein. Athletes need 1.2 - 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram body weight to build and repair muscle tissue.
If you are looking to go that extra mile and fight fatigue, beta-alanine may help you push through that barrier. If you supplement, choose a time released formula or opt for 800 mg doses eight times per day for at least one month.
Beta-alanine may work to delay the muscular fatigue that results from exercise. Though intense training increases muscle levels of carnosine, supplementation, over time, may raise the levels even higher.
- Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16(4):430-46.
- Amino Acids 2007;32(2): 225-33.
- Amino Acids 2007;33(3):505-10.
- Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Aug;16(4):430-46.
- Amino Acids. 2006 May;30(3):279-89. Epub 2006 Mar 24.
- Amino Acids. 2009 Dec 20. [Epub ahead of print]