Beta-alanine is one of those ingredients that seems to find its way into just about every pre-workout on the market. And although lots of people absolutely rave about its effects, very few of them actually know much about it. 

In fact, a 2017 survey of 570 athletes who took beta-alanine found that 65 percent of them couldn't identify its benefits, and only 12 percent took it every day as recommended.[1] Most of the athletes also grossly underestimated the time required for beta-alanine to take effect. (It takes 4-6 weeks before you notice any benefits.)

If you're going to supplement with beta-alanine, here's what you need to know about this widely used, but poorly understood, ingredient.

What Exactly is Beta-Alanine?

Beta-alanine is a nonessential beta-amino acid that increases muscle carnosine levels. It has no effect on muscle strength itself. Taking beta-alanine won't increase your 1RM or how much you can bench press.[2-4] But the role it plays in increasing the amount of carnosine in your muscle tissue is important to understand.

The Buzz About Beta-Alanine: What Exactly Is Beta-Alanine?

Carnosine helps your body "buffer," or remove, hydrogen ions caused by intense exercise. Hydrogen ions make your muscle tissue more acidic—and muscles don't work very well in that environment. By helping get rid of those ions, carnosine helps your muscles work better so you can delay fatigue and do more reps, sets, and intervals.

Although your body produces its own supply of carnosine, it can't produce enough to keep you working out at peak performance. You might be tempted to cut to the chase and take a carnosine supplement on its own. Not a good idea; your body will break down most of the supplement before it ever reaches your muscles. The best way to get the carnosine you need is by taking beta-alanine. 

Not Your Average Performance Booster

Don't expect beta-alanine to help you break a world record or shatter your old PR for squats. What it can do is improve exercise capacity (or volume), especially during activities that last 2-4 minutes. Do anything that takes less time than that—say, a set of 10 reps on the bench press—and you won't see much benefit. That's because your body doesn't accumulate enough hydrogen ions within that time period to affect muscle fatigue. 

To get the full benefit of beta-alanine, you need to take it every day for at least 28 days. When you do, you may well find yourself with more energy throughout your workout, in need of less rest time between sets, and with the ability to work out longer before the hydrogen ion buildup sends you crumpling to the floor.[5-7] 

The Buzz About Beta-Alanine: Not Your Average Performance Booster

You'll feel these benefits most acutely in high-intensity activities:

  • CrossFit
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Running
  • Team sports like soccer, hockey, and basketball
  • Weight training
  • HIIT and Tabata

What About "the Tingles"?

Some companies may put a gram or two of beta-alanine into pre-workouts just to give you an instant physical sensation. But contrary to popular belief, that tingling sensation you get (also known as paresthesia) has little effect on your performance. 

In fact, the typical dose of beta-alanine used in most pre-workouts is far too little to have any immediate effect on performance, which is why you have to take it every day and give it time to build up inside your system. 

The Buzz About Beta-Alanine: Creatine

If you're serious about improving training volume, add creatine to your training stack. Creatine's ability to improve high-intensity exercise makes it a perfect complement to beta-alanine's ability to help you extend your workouts. In one study, athletes who consumed both creatine and beta-alanine demonstrated better endurance than those who took only one.[8]

A second study found that athletes who followed a 10-week resistance-training program and supplemented with creatine and beta-alanine saw greater improvements in muscle mass and body fat.[9]

How Much and What Kind?

Research suggests that supplementing with 4-6 grams of beta-alanine daily for 28 days can lead to a 40-60 percent increase in carnosine concentrations.[10] As with creatine, you won't see any immediate performance improvements with just one dose, so make sure you take it every day.

If you're not a fan of the tingling sensation you can get when you take larger doses of beta-alanine, split them into smaller doses of 1.6 grams. Or you can choose products with the sustained-release form of beta-alanine, which has the same effect of increasing carnosine stores, but with little or no tingling. 

References
  1. Kelly, V. G., Leveritt, M. D., Brennan, C. T., Slater, G. J., & Jenkins, D. G. (2017). Prevalence, knowledge and attitudes relating to β-alanine use among professional footballers. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(1), 12-16.
  2. Hoffman, J., Ratamess, N., Kang, J., Mangine, G., Faigenbaum, A., & Stout, J. (2006). Effect of creatine and ß-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 16(4), 430-446.
  3. Hoffman, J., Ratamess, N. A., Ross, R., Kang, J., Magrelli, J., Neese, K., ... & Wise, J. A. (2008). β-Alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29(12), 952-958.
  4. Kendrick, I. P., Harris, R. C., Kim, H. J., Kim, C. K., Dang, V. H., Lam, T. Q., ... & Wise, J. A. (2008). The effects of 10 weeks of resistance training combined with β-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino Acids, 34(4), 547-554.
  5. Stout, J. R., Cramer, J. T., Zoeller, R. F., Torok, D., Costa, P., Hoffman, J. R., ... & O'kroy, J. (2007). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women. Amino Acids, 32(3), 381-386.
  6. Hill, C. A., Harris, R. C., Kim, H. J., Harris, B. D., Sale, C., Boobis, L. H., ... & Wise, J. A. (2007). Influence of β-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids, 32(2), 225-233.
  7. Zoeller, R. F., Stout, J. R., O'kroy, J. A., Torok, D. J., & Mielke, M. (2007). Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on aerobic power, ventilatory and lactate thresholds, and time to exhaustion. Amino Acids, 33(3), 505-510.
  8. Zoeller, R. F., Stout, J. R., O'kroy, J. A., Torok, D. J., & Mielke, M. (2007). Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on aerobic power, ventilatory and lactate thresholds, and time to exhaustion. Amino Acids, 33(3), 505-510.
  9. Hoffman, J., Ratamess, N., Kang, J., Mangine, G., Faigenbaum, A., & Stout, J. (2006). Effect of creatine and ß-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 16(4), 430-446.
  10. Hill, C. A., Harris, R. C., Kim, H. J., Harris, B. D., Sale, C., Boobis, L. H., ... & Wise, J. A. (2007). Influence of β-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids, 32(2), 225-233.

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