Your Expert Guide To Beta-Alanine
Beta-alanine is technically a non-essential beta-amino acid, but it has quickly become anything but non-essential in the worlds of performance nutrition and bodybuilding. Also known by its trademarked name CarnoSyn, it has become a shining star due to claims that it raises muscle carnosine levels and increases the amount of work you can perform at high intensities.
Beta-alanine is also famous for producing a certain "tingle" you probably felt—and possibly freaked out about—the first time you tried a pre-workout supplement containing beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine can offer real performance benefits, but it has unique chemical properties that need to be understood. It may also have a unique push-and-pull relationship with our old friend taurine that should be taken into account.
Beta-alanine could earn a permanent place in your nutritional war-chest. I'm here to provide you the science-based intel you need to decide if it's right for you.
What Is It?
Beta-alanine, or 3-aminopropionic acid is a naturally-occurring beta-amino acid and a component of the histidine dipeptides carnosine and anserine, as well as vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid. Structurally, beta-alanine is a hybrid between the potent neurotransmitters L-glycine and GABA, which may explain why consumers often claim to experience a caffeine-like response from it. Beta-alanine is even gaining support within the scientific community for being secondarily classified as a neurotransmitter.
Your body can produce beta-alanine in at least three ways. It can be released during the breakdown of histidine dipeptides, such as carnosine or anserine, or it can be formed as a secondary byproduct of a reaction that converts L-alanine to pyruvate. Additionally, beta-alanine can be formed during digestion, when intestinal microbes remove a carbon atom from L-aspartate, releasing both beta-alanine and CO2. But don't tell Al Gore that, or he'll try to argue that you should be charged for increasing your carbon footprint.
When consumed as a dietary supplement, beta-alanine passes from the bloodstream into skeletal muscle via a beta-alanine and taurine transporter that's dependent upon both sodium and chloride availability. Once it enters a skeletal muscle cell, it binds with the essential amino acid L-histidine to form the dipeptide carnosine. That's where the fun really begins.
What Does It Do?
The sports benefit of supplementing with beta-alanine lies mostly in its ability to raise muscle carnosine concentrations. In fact, beta-alanine is the limiting amino acid in carnosine synthesis, meaning that its presence in the bloodstream is directly tied to muscle carnosine levels.
To date, every study in which beta-alanine has been supplemented to human subjects has resulted in a significant increase in muscle carnosine. This stands in contrast to other iconic supplements like creatine, for which distinct responders and non-responders have been observed. But beta-alanine doesn't just work broadly; it also works well. Supplementation with beta-alanine has been shown to increase muscle carnosine concentrations by up to 58 percent in just four weeks, and 80 percent in 10 weeks.
What's so special about carnosine, you ask? Well, aside from being a potent antioxidant, this peptide is one of your muscles' first lines of defense against the buildup of hydrogen ions (H+) during high-intensity exercise. This rise in H+ dramatically lowers the pH within muscle cells, negatively effecting enzyme function and muscle excitation-contraction coupling events that support continued, high-intensity output. Put simply, a drop in muscle pH is a major contributor to muscle fatigue.
Muscle carnosine concentration is also linked with having a high percentage of Type II fast-twitch muscle fibers. For this reason, you'll find higher levels of muscle carnosine among sprinters and natural muscle freaks. Men also generally have higher muscle carnosine concentrations than women, most likely because the enzyme that breaks down carnosine is more active in women.
What Are The Sources Of Beta-Alanine?
You derive little free-form beta-alanine from the foods you consume. Most comes in the form of the dipeptides carnosine, anserine or balenine, each of which contribute to raising beta-alanine availability when broken down during digestion. Unless you are vegetarian, you derive these from the animal proteins in your diet. Specifically, pork and beef are good sources of carnosine, whereas tuna and venison are high food sources of anserine.
Just how tied is carnosine to being a carnivore? Well, carnosine synthase (the enzyme that produces carnosine) expression has been shown to be significantly reduced in response to just five weeks of a vegetarian diet. As you might expect from that, muscle carnosine concentrations are significantly lower in vegetarians than in the muscles of their carnivorous or omnivorous counterparts.
Beta-alanine is also a standard ingredient in many pre-workout supplements, in addition to being available on its own. When purchasing a beta-alanine supplement, however, look for the brand name CarnoSyn® on the label.
Natural Alternatives International, Inc. is the patent-holder on the manufacturing process by which beta-alanine is made, and its product is the only one protected by use patents and is the one that has been suggested to be effective in repeated research trials.
Buyer, be wary if you don't see CarnoSyn® on the label! You may instead just be consuming regular L-alanine or something altogether different.
What Are The Performance And Physique Applications?
If you're looking for a boost in short-to-medium duration high-intensity muscle performance, few supplements to date have fit the bill as consistently as beta-alanine.
Specifically, beta-alanine seems most effective for supporting exercise lasting longer than 60 seconds. It has not been shown to be significantly or consistently effective in shorter duration bouts of exercise, where the ATP-phosphocreatine energy system is in highest demand.
For example, in one of the first published studies on beta-alanine and human athletic performance, subjects received either a placebo, 20 g per day of creatine monohydrate, 800 mg of beta-alanine four times per day, or the same dose of beta-alanine plus 20 g of creatine monohydrate. Maximal power output in a four-minute all-out cycling test was significantly increased in the two groups receiving beta-alanine, versus those receiving the placebo or only creatine. The most significant improvement was noted in the first and fourth minutes of cycling.
Since that early trial, beta-alanine has been consistently suggested to increase muscle power output, strength, training volume, high-intensity exercise performance and peak oxygen uptake (aerobic capacity). Most recently, when players consumed 3.2 g per day of beta-alanine for 12 weeks during a competitive soccer season, their performance was shown to improve by 34.3 percent, compared to a -7.6 percent change in those consuming a placebo. In fact, when all subject responses were analyzed, those consuming beta-alanine improved by a range of 0 to 72.7 percent, whereas those consuming the placebo had a response range of between -37.5 and +14.7 percent.
Similarly, researchers out of the U.K. presented evidence that just four weeks of six grams per day of beta-alanine (1.5 g, four times per day) increased the punch force of amateur boxers by an amazing 20 times, and punch frequency by four times, as compared to a placebo. However, when long rest periods (2-5 minutes) were provided between sets of a high-intensity strength training session, the effects of beta-alanine were insignificant.
Therefore, for the effects of beta-alanine to be most noticeable, I would recommend a high-intensity bodybuilding-style training program, HIIT or interval training, CrossFit, or all-out 1-5 minute bouts to exhaustion, with short rest periods of less than 2 minutes.
When Should I Take It?
Beta-alanine can provide an acute stimulant response and is therefore a good candidate for being consumed pre-workout. If you take a pre-workout supplement, you might already be taking it this way. However, the performance benefits from beta-alanine are based upon raising muscle carnosine concentrations over time. Thus, the time of day you consume beta-alanine isn't nearly as important as consistently consuming beta-alanine each day.
Your muscle fiber makeup and the amount of muscle carnosine you have when you start supplementing with beta-alanine do not appear to impact how you will respond to supplementation. Likewise, the size of individual doses doesn't appear to affect the maximal concentration of muscle carnosine that you can achieve. Instead, the total dose over a period of time affects the final muscle carnosine concentration that you can achieve.
The dose response to beta-alanine increases exponentially over time because of the long clearance time of elevated muscle carnosine concentrations. Once you build up your carnosine concentration with beta-alanine, those elevated levels have been shown to drop by just two percent every two weeks after you cease supplementing.
How Should I Combine It?
I recommend consuming taurine when supplementing with beta-alanine. Not only is taurine an underutilized super-nutrient, it's also incredibly important for neuromuscular, cognitive and lung function, blood glucose utilization, and as an antioxidant. Since beta-alanine and taurine compete for uptake and the concentration of one affects the other, consuming one of them consistently while dosing the other is just common sense.
If common sense isn't enough for you, then let's get specific. Over the long term, there is a possibility that high-dose beta-alanine use in the absence of dietary taurine may lead to health and performance complications. Data in mice seem to indicate that pushing either supplement in the absence of the other can lead to neurological and neuromuscular decreases in performance tests. With beta-alanine, the result was an angiogenic (stress-inducing) response as serotonin production was compromised.
Other research in rats seems to indicate that significant taurine deficiency, in response to chronic, high-dose beta-alanine, reduces nitric oxide production and response. However, no long-term studies have been conducted to determine the likelihood of such problems with humans in response to typical beta-alanine dosing.
Aside from taurine, what you choose to stack with beta-alanine will depend most upon your goals. Remember, beta-alanine works best when exercise is of a high-intensity and lasts at least 1-5 minutes. So if your goal is exercise improvement for sessions lasting less than 60 seconds, aim for ingredients that support the ATP-PCr energy system. These include creatine, oral ATP, caffeine, and betaine.
If you are training for sports, then also consider adding ingredients such as DL-malate and similar energy system intermediates such as alpha-ketoglutarate, citrates, aspartates, in addition to carbohydrates, BCAAs, glutamine, citrulline, and Co-Q10.
Should I Periodize My Consumption?
Based upon the available data, I don't see a need for cycling beta-alanine, as long as you're also supplementing with taurine.
If you're not consuming supplemental taurine, then it may be prudent to cycle your beta-alanine every so often. Since taurine uptake is only affected by rises in plasma beta-alanine, and because muscle carnosine remains elevated for up to three months after ceasing beta-alanine supplementation, a 4-9 weeks "on" to 4-9 weeks "off" cycling strategy should allow you to consistently reap the performance benefits of beta-alanine. However, this is just conjecture on my part, and it's a moot point if you just supplement with taurine.
One complication in the task of providing dosing duration and/or cycling direction is the lack of human performance studies assessing the affects of beta-alanine beyond 12 weeks. Beyond that point, it's unclear if muscle carnosine concentrations will continue to rise, or if a ceiling is eventually reached. Additionally, since the clearance time of muscle carnosine is so slow, more research needs to be performed to determine what carnosine concentration increases are necessary to observe significant improvements in performance.
To put it another way: Is an 80 percent increase in muscle carnosine any more effective than a 50 percent increase? Also, is cycling beta-alanine helpful or necessary after a certain threshold of muscle carnosine concentration has been achieved? Until we have answers to these questions, we can only suggest general guidelines over the long-term.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Beta-alanine comes with its own built-in dosing regulator. You might recall feeling it in your neck or arms the first time you tried a pre-workout supplement that contained beta-alanine.
The scientific name for this "pins and needles" feeling is acute paresthesia. It can also produce a burning, itching, or flushed feeling on the scalp or ears. Beta-alanine doses greater than about 800 mg-less than half of the amount contained in a single scoop of some popular pre-workouts-have generally been reported to cause moderate to severe paresthesia lasting 60-90 minutes. In one study, in which subjects consumed 3 grams of beta-alanine in one dose, the parasthesia effect was reported as significant and severe.
If paresthesia is a concern, then I would recommend you limit your initial consumption to no more than about 800-1200 mg of beta-alanine, every 3-4 hours, for at least four weeks. This will be sufficient to derive the supplement's performance benefits and your reaction to its use.
If you take beta-alanine on an empty stomach, blood concentrations will indeed increase faster, but you're also more likely to experience the paresthesia side effects. Additionally, consumers who use beta-alanine for its stimulant response tend to report more consistent effects when they consume it on an empty stomach. If however, you're just taking beta-alanine for its performance effects, then this matters less, since every dose of beta-alanine simply adds to the previous dose's raising of muscle carnosine concentrations regardless of being consumed in the presence or absence of food.
What's The Bottom Line?
As probably the most consistently effective performance-enhancing supplement to hit the sports nutrition market since creatine, beta-alanine is an ingredient I strongly recommend athletes to keep in their arsenal.
Time and more research will help refine dosing and delivery, giving us a clearer picture of beta-alanine's long-term safety and effectiveness, as well as what ingredients may boost its benefits. For now, there is ample evidence to suggest that athletes—especially vegetarians, ectomorphs (hard-gainers), and women—can benefit by consuming beta-alanine regularly.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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I started with Amin.O. which contains Beta-Alanine I was so energized through my workouts and my gains were great. Now iv been off it for a few weeks im starting to feel like I am not working out the same as I used to. Reading this has helped me discover it was because of the Amin.0. I was taking which gave me some great energy and gains. Thank you I will start cycling it into my routine.
Can somebody answer that question? How much Taurine a day for about 3grams of Beta Alanine?
I have to default to the Taurine effective dosing studies b/c there are simply no studies that have looked at the dose-dependent response to varying doses of Taurine vs beta-alanine supplementation. I.e., no research has provided subjects 2.4g-6.0g of Beta-alanine AND varying doses of Taurine, AND have additionally assessed intracellular Carnosine and Taurine concentrations over time. Qualifying statements aside, I recommend 100-500 mg of Taurine per kg of bodyweight, per day, in divided doses (i.e., at least 7g of Taurine per day, if you're 175 pounds /-).
Seeing as beta-alinine passes from the bloodstream into skeletal muscle via a beta-alanine and taurine transporter that's dependent upon both sodium and chloride, would it help to drink salt water before taking it? Sounds grim but if it helps then what the hell!
Simply combining with a Gatorade, Powerade, Scivation Xtend, Cera Sports CeraLyte, or the like will be fine. Or, feel free to add a small amount of table salt to your pre-, during-, or post-workout drink. Rule of thumb is that if you remain hydrated, chances are very good that you're body will already have ample Na and Cl- available for transporter function and cell excitability. Thanks
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My name is Jacob Young and I am a professional bodybuilder of 17 years. It is a fact that all supplements and pills that say they will make people have big muscles are lying to get peoples' money. This formula could be different. People might get results from it. I did not get my huge muscles from any supplement or pill, I got them for working out for 17 years. There is no magic pill that will magically transform someone's body overnight. Good luck everyone!
I was asked not to worry about attaching all of my references to these simple ingredient scripts/articles. Let me know if you'd like the complete list or are just curious about specific research that I've referenced. Am happy to send you my entire EndNote file if you get EndNote, and would like to double-check my interpretation of the data. Just send me your email and reference this question so that I know who you are. I get a couple hundred emails each day (which is why I apologize that I don't get on here and respond immediately to reader comments); thus, please allow me a few days to respond if I don't immediately get back to you. Thanks - chris
I'd love to hear feedback from the author of this article regarding the Galloway study which finds "Seven days of oral taurine supplementation does not increase muscle taurine content or alter substrate metabolism during prolonged exercise in humans". Is it just that 7 days is not an adequate amount of time to do so? If you can not in fact raise Taurine levels by supplementing directly with Taurine, then how else can we raise our Taurine levels?
Most evidence points to an efficacious dose of 100-500mg of Taurine, per kg of bodyweight, per day, consumed in the presence of glucose to improve performance and/or related dependent variables. Thus, the dose used in the study, though high enough to elicit significant rises in circulating levels (5g/d), doesn't appear to match-up well with what has previously been shown effective for improving performance or related measures.
Another methodological limitation may be that they used only 7 subjects; 4 men and 3 women. I believe firmly that if you're going to test such a small sample size, then stick to one sex or the other. There are simply too many examples whereby male and female physiological responses are significantly different, especially when we're talking about glucose and fat metabolism. Also, as a rule of thumb, I recommend keeping age ranges used under tighter control (e.g., many researchers forget how horribly inconsistent the dietary and lifestyle habits are for the college-aged persons they typically recruit versus adults above age 30 that are typically set in their daily patterns). Regardless, when you have such a small sample size, variance increases. Even though this is a cross-over, whereby subjects serve as their own control, even then the sample size is too small to provide good statistical power when you consider that you're essentially looking at 4 men vs 3 women. Furthermore, lumping men and women together, without covariate analysis to correct for prior fitness level (no mention of whether these were trained subjects or not; if trained, were some recreational and others competitive cyclists; if untrained, did subjects go through an introductory training period to bypass the neuromuscular learning curve present in untrained subjects or those embarking on a radically new training program; etc), muscle mass should have also have been assessed to use as a covariate for statistical purposes.
All that said, I'm not bagging on the data. The group out of McMaster does beautiful work!! Just from a practical standpoint, I think they could have made some easy modifications to have collected data more applicable to the effects of Taurine vs the suspect confounding variables that I believe weakened their data set.
Wow! Thanks for the reply! If I had actually read closer into the study I may have seen the key points which help to interpret the results. Thanks for laying it out here in black and white. So, aside from the fact that the study was ONLY conducted on 7 people, is it also likely that it just takes a longer period of time to see levels rise?
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