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Beta-Alanine & Histidine: The Muscle Burning Fire Fighters!

As I write this, I am as an athlete and avid supplement user very excited about several brand new and potentially huge performance enhancing natural compounds. Find out what it is and what it can do for you!

By: Joey Rodrigues

As I write this, I am as an athlete and avid supplement user very excited about several brand new and potentially huge performance enhancing natural compounds. These compounds promise to help athletes take performance to the next level and to help close the gap between drugs and nutritional supplementation in augmenting human performance.

I spoke to many of you several months ago about Citrulline Malate and its performance enhancing effects. Well it has just started to make its way into the hands of athletes right now and it is continuing to prove what the literature says ? IT WORKS BIG TIME! Believe me, Citrulline Malate will be a household name with athletes very quickly, so if you are a serious athlete looking to boost performance, you do not want to miss out on this research proven compound.

Like I said, I'm very excited about several brand new performance enhancing compounds. What I want to talk you about today are the compounds Beta-Alanine and Histidine and its result ? Carnosine. Carnosine is relatively new to the sports nutrition world, but it has considerable amounts of scientific research to back its claims. And that is just what I like, compounds proven by science in the lab and proven by MAN in the real world. So let's get a better understanding of what these compounds are and just exactly what they mean to athletes in the trenches serious about performance.


Carnosine? What's That?

It's hard to believe that it's the year 2004 and we are talking about an amino acid dipeptide discovered in Russia all the way back in 1900... But it's true. Carnosine is a dipeptide comprised of the amino acids, Histidine and Beta-Alanine. Naturally occurring in brain, cardiac muscle, kidney, and stomach and in large amounts in skeletal muscles, the past 100 years or so Carnosine has been widely studied for its effects on improved wound healing, antioxidant activity and its anti-aging properties.

Now there are many nutrients documented in literature for their anti-aging benefits but as a red-blooded athlete in his 20's (yes, I'm hanging on to my last years in my twenties) quite honestly, that is not what has me completely stoked about Carnosine, Beta-Alanine and Histidine. What does makes me salivate when looking at developing new products is finding new nutrients that help me lift more weights, run faster and jump higher or at least help me build my body so that I look like I can.

So why has it taken this long to discuss Carnosine's potential as a sports supplement in respect to exercise performance? As previously stated, most studies on Carnosine are on its antioxidant and anti-aging affects. It wasn't until 1995 that two human papers were released indicating Carnosine's potential as a sports supplement in relation to exercise performance, and that is why I am talking to you about Carnosine right now.


What Does Carnosine Mean To Athletes?

One of the things that really stood out to me when studying Carnosine is the fact that it is found in high concentrations in skeletal muscles. Primarily the type IIx muscle fibres1. These are the "fast-twitch" muscle fibres used in explosive movements like weight training and sprinting. In fact it has also been concluded that Carnosine levels are found in higher concentrations in athletes whose performance demands serious anaerobic output.

Let me explain; a study examining intramuscular buffering capacity found that sprinters and rowers possessed larger Carnosine levels in their muscles than did marathoners whose Carnosine content were comparable to untrained subjects2. Obviously sprinters and rowers have to use explosive muscular force in order to perform their tasks. This study demonstrates the fact that athletes in anaerobic sports have a potentially greater demand for skeletal muscle Carnosine stores.

Many of you reading this article right now have felt that intense burning sensation that weight training produces. This is because the pH in your muscles and blood decrease, causing them to become too acidic, hence the intense burning sensation. It is literally like your muscles are on fire! To briefly explain what is happening, during short-term, high-intensity exercise, lactate accumulates as the result of lactic acid production being greater than its removal.

It is the Hydrogen ions (H+) that are produced with lactic acid accumulation as part of the process of energy release rather than the lactate that causes pH to decrease and not the lactic acid, which is mistaken by many as the guilty party. As the pH in the muscles decrease so does your performance. As a result lactate accumulation is associated with acidosis for several reasons, but it is important to recognize that it is unbuffered protons like H+ that pose complications for the athletes.

So exactly what role does Carnosine play in all of this? By means of preventing some enzymatic reactions that lead to this increased acidic environment, it appears Carnosine may well be the definitive H+ buffering agent. Let me break it down another way. Carnosine helps to put out the burning fire in your muscles that is felt before reaching failure and as a result enhances muscular performance.

What this means is that it will allow you to perform that extra rep when it counts the most in the gym, or it will help you come on strong on the last leg of your sprint and propel you to victory. What it really comes down to is this. The more Carnosine in your muscles, the better you perform. Period!

Researchers also theorize that Carnosine enhances performance during the latter half of high intensity activity. This is typically when athletes' performance usually declines because of the accumulation of lactic acid. In the words of Carnosine researcher, Y Suzuki: "It has been shown that people whose muscle carnosine was high could exhibit high power during the latter half of the 30 second maximal cycle ergometer sprinting. These results suggested that the muscle carnosine concentration could be one of the important factors determining high-intensity exercise performance."3

Now the fact Carnosine is The Definitive Buffering Agent is enough for me to start adding this relative unheard of dipeptide to my supplement arsenal. But that's not it. Here are some other things that athletes out there need to know about Carnosine. It appears that Carnosine helps activate the enzymes responsible for generating muscle contractions (myofibrillar-ATPase). By generating this enzyme it appears that Carnosine prevents fatigue through yet another mechanism. And here is something else that many of the supplement companies out there are completely unaware of.

Just about anyone reading this knows that Nitric Oxide boosting supplements are hot topic. We also know that many supplement companies out there are just jamming Arginine into a tablet and charging you a grip. What is not known is that Carnosine is a natural substrate for the production of Nitric Oxide4. In fact it is the true substrate for NOS (nitric oxide synthase) activity, which is the true enzyme that is responsible for generating Nitric Oxide. Are you starting to see what a versatile and truly remarkable compound Carnosine is? There is more.

Carnosine prevents muscular injuries and speeds up recovery times in sports. An explanation to this is that high-intensity performance causes oxidative stress in the muscles and this result in depleted Carnosine stores. The free radicals produced through high intensity muscular activity cause lipid peroxidation as well as carbonylation of proteins and phospholipids.

This causes proteins to break up in a process known as proteolysis. Since protein carbonylation precedes the loss of membrane integrity, it may be associated with the toxic process leading to cell aging and fatality. Carnosine combats these reactions if there is enough of it in the muscles.


So Where Do Beta-Alanine and Histidine Fit In?

By now you're screaming "Carnosine, Give It to Me!" Well hold your horses... There is good news! It appears that athletes may be able to increase Carnosine levels through high intensity training as an adaptive response to the stressors of high intensity training. We can also boost our Carnosine levels through supplementation. Now here is the bad news.

As of right now the cost of Carnosine is still quite cost prohibitive in dosages that athletes would like to take to realize the physiological effects. And in my ever so humble opinion, direct Carnosine supplementation is not the most efficient method at increasing Carnosine concentrations. There is a definitive increase in plasma Carnosine following ingestion of meats and associated products that contain Carnosine, but still at low concentrations.

This is probably due to the relatively high activity of the Carnosinase enzyme, which is the enzyme that breaks Carnosine down into Beta-Alanine and Histidine. Remember me mentioning Beta Alanine and Histidine? Beta-Alanine and Histidine are taken up into the muscle where they are resynthesized back into Carnosine by an enzyme called Carnosine synthetase. There is sufficient data to believe that supplementation with Carnosine's constituent amino acids Beta-Alanine and Histidine are effective in increasing muscle Carnosine concentrations.

To illustrate my point, a deficiency in the amino acid Histidine reduces muscle Carnosine concentration, while supplementation of Histidine increases it5. Another study showed that after removal of Histidine from the diet for periods as short as 24 days and as long as 12 weeks muscle Carnosine levels are reduced 6, 7.

As for Beta-Alanine, this is where the news gets good for athletes, so listen up! One study in horses showed that after feeding a combination of Beta-Alanine and Histidine for 30 days increased muscle Carnosine by 13%8. Nice! And it gets even better. A recent study reported by Professor Roger Harris that showed that supplementation of Beta-Alanine + creatine when compared to creatine plus whey and creatine plus ginseng increased maximal power output.

Dr. Harris concluded: "probably as a result of increased hydrogen ion buffering by elevated carnosine concentrations. The use of beta-alanine to increase muscle carnosine offers a means to increase anaerobic exercise potential and, is likely to be additive to any effect of creatine in some exercise conditions."9.


So, What's The Final Word?

The final word is this; Carnosine holds great promise as a 100% natural and valuable performance enhancing compound for basically any athlete, especially those who train with high intensity.

Boxers, swimmers, sprinters, cyclists and just about any athlete will benefit from increased Carnosine concentrations and the explosive power and recovery and Nitric Oxide potentiating properties that it produces.

We know that we are able to increase our muscle Carnosine concentrations through anaerobic training and that continued oral supplementation of Beta-Alanine, Histidine or even Carnosine itself will result in increased Carnosine concentrations. We also know that Beta-Alanine and Histidine may be a more cost-effective method for increasing tissue Carnosine concentrations.


J-Rod and Muscle Mania Pro Matthias Herzog.

If you are like me, you are now asking yourselves "how do I get my hands on these compounds?" Well, fortunately as I write this, now available are several products here on Bodybuilding.com that contain Carnosine, Beta-Alanine and L-Histidine. Just run a search for these compounds on the site and make sure you are taking at least 3 grams of Carnosine a day, or 3 grams a day of a combination of Beta-Alanine and L-Histidine.

These compounds have the potential to become the most effective sports supplement since creatine, and can supercharge any creatine cocktail you are currently using. All in all it looks like 2004 is delivering some serious breakthroughs that we all will be able to obtain the benefits of. And we are just getting started. Trust me, there is more to come. So please stay tuned and remember to go and make things happen!


Scientific References

  1. Harris RC, Dunnett M, Greenhaff PL: Carnosine and Taurine contents in individual fibres of human vastus lateralis muscle. J Sport Sci 16: 639 -643, 1998
  2. Parkhouse WS, McKenzie DC, Hochacha PW: Buffering capacity of deproteinised human vastus lateralis muscle. J Appl Physiol 58: 14-17, 1995
  3. Suzuki Y, Ito O, Mukai N, Takahashi H, Takamatsuma K: High levels of skeletal muscle carnosine contributes to the latter half of exercise performance during 30s maximal cycle ergometer sprinting. Jap J Physiol 52 199 - 205, 2002
  4. Alaghband-Zadeh ym 2001 The natural substrate for nitric oxide synthase activity. Cell Biochem Funct. 2001 Dec;19(4):277-80.
  5. Salah, E, Garbilla, Alan j. Sinclair, Carnosine: physiological properties and therapeutic potential. Age and Ageing 2000; 29: 207-210
  6. Amend JF, Strumeyer DH, Fisher H: Effect of Dietary histidine on tissue concentrations of Histidine containing dipeptides in adult cockerels. J Nutr 109: 1779 -1786, 1979
  7. Easter RA &Baker DH: Nitrogen metabolism, tissue carnosine concentration and blood chemistry of gravid swine fed graded levels of histidine. J Nutr: 120-125, 1977
  8. Dunnett M & Harris RC: Influence of oral beta-alanine and L-Histidine supplementation on the carnosine content of gluteus medius. Equine Vet J 30: 499 - 504, 1999
  9. Harris, R. FASEB. Effect of Combined Beta-Alanine and Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation on Exercise Performance

Beta-Alanine & Histidine: The Muscle Burning Fire Fighters!
joey@manb2p.com

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