Beta Alanine

Beta-Alanine: Usage, Health Benefits & Side Effects

Beta-Alanine (BA) is a non-essential amino acid. It can either be synthesized in the liver or obtained from your diet.

Beta-alanine is a popular ingredient on the labels of many dietary supplements as an ergogenic aid. Ergogenic aids are substances or techniques that give one an edge in their physical performance.

Is Beta-alanine as remarkable in enhancing performance as popular websites suggest; or is all the talk just a marketing ploy? Well, science is the true litmus test.

In this article, we will look at the popular benefits of Beta-alanine and test each benefit against related scientific studies.


 

What is Beta-Alanine?

Beta-alanine is one of 11 non-essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are those that are synthesized by the human body and therefore not necessary in your diet [1].

Beta-alanine is synthesized in the human liver. It can still be acquired from your diet, particularly from white and red meats. Foods like poultry, fish, and grass-fed red meats are rich in Beta-alanine.

Beta-alanine, just like other amino acids, is a building block for protein. It is part of a larger group of amino acids called alanine. Alanine was first discovered in 1875.

Alanine is highly concentrated in the muscles. It is one of the most important amino acids released by the muscles as an energy source [2].

Beta-alanine is popular among people with an active lifestyle as well as the rest of the population. Its popularity is credited to its ergogenic property as well as other health benefits.

Beta-Alanine


 

Is Beta-alanine Safe?

Beta-alanine is a key active ingredient in many pre-workout supplements. Due to its non-essential nature, the likelihood of any side effects is rather low.

The only side effect established so far is paresthesia. Paresthesia is characterized by a burning or prickling sensation on the skin; mainly on the face, neck, and back of the hands.

The rare cases of paresthesia are linked to the consumption of more than 800mg of BA without a sustainable release form.

Some people are also more predisposed to paresthesia than others although there isn’t sufficient research to suggest why [3].

But the symptoms of paresthesia often clear when the affected person switches to a more sustainable release form.

Note, however, that there is no data on the long-term use of Beta-alanine. More research studies need to be conducted on the same.


 

How Beta-Alanine Works

To understand the benefits of Beta-alanine supplementation, we need to understand how Beta-alanine functions in the body.

The key to Beta-alanine’s ergogenic mechanism is in its augmentation of intramuscular carnosine levels [4]. Carnosine is a dipeptide molecule made from alanine and histidine amino acids [5].

Carnosine was originally discovered in the skeletal muscle. It has also been found in the brain and skeletal tissue but most of its physiological roles occur in the skeletal muscle [6] [7].

The fact that beta-alanine is one of the amino acids that make up carnosine explains why beta-alanine supplementation leads to elevated carnosine levels in the muscles.

Studies also suggest that the combination of beta-alanine supplementation and exercise has a cumulative effect of increasing carnosine content in the body.

Carnosine is involved in a series of metabolic reactions that have therapeutic effects on the body. The therapeutic effects of carnosine are some of the benefits linked to beta-alanine supplementation.


 

Health Benefits of Beta-Alanine

What is Beta Alanine

Beta-alanine has many benefits, especially for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Its health benefits stem from its core function as an ergogenic aid.

Below are some of the health benefits associated with beta-alanine. Let us take a look at them and find out whether or not the claims have been scientifically proven.

1.     Endurance: Delays Neuromuscular Fatigue

Fitness enthusiasts say that beta-alanine supplementation enables them to endure rigorous workouts for longer periods than they would without supplementation. It helps increase the time to exhaustion.

What the science says

Neuromuscular fatigue refers to any exercise-induced reduction in force or power regardless of whether the task at hand is complete or not. It affects both physiological functions and neuromuscular transmission [8].

When neuromuscular fatigue sets in, it affects both the body and mind and one feels they cannot push any further either physically or mentally.

In one study, both men and women were on a 28-day beta-alanine supplementation. At the end of the period, there was demonstrated improvement in neuromuscular activity in both male and female subjects.

Neuromuscular fatigue is measured using the physical working capacity threshold (PWC). The PWC in the male subjects increased by 14.5% while among the female subjects it increased by 12.5% [9].

The delay in neuromuscular fatigue is credited to elevated carnosine levels in the muscles as a result of beta-alanine supplementation. Studies have shown that exercise alone does not affect carnosine levels.

The elevated carnosine levels enhance intermuscular buffering capacity. Buffering capacity refers to the body’s ability to neutralize the hydrogen ions produced by lactic acid during exercise.

Beta-alanine’s ability to bond with ROS may be credited for its buffering capacity [10].

2.     Enhances Recovery from Exercise. 

Post-exercise or post-workout recovery time helps the body to repair damaged muscle and tissue and to build strength. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts claim that beta-alanine supplementation cuts post-workout recovery time significantly.

What the science says

Recovery is the physiological process or state that occurs between the completion of exercise and the state of resting. It may take any time between 24hours-72hours depending on the intensity of the exercise [11].

A research study was carried out to establish the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle function during recovery from resistance exercise among young adults [12].

The study involved 24 healthy young adults who participated in a single session of high-intensity resistance exercise (RE) on the 28th day of beta-alanine supplementation. Among the 24 participants was a control group on placebo.

At the end of the study, there was no improvement in the markers of muscle recovery after the RE session.

The researchers posited that the effects of Beta-alanine’s buffering capability may not be enough to overcome the impact of RE on muscle injuries. This results in muscle function decline which requires 24h-72h for a full recovery.

The lack of effect on recovery time may also be attributed to the different carnosine elevation levels among individuals which may have minimized the effects.

The impact of beta-alanine on muscle recovery remains largely unknown [13]. More research needs to be conducted on this subject matter using diverse populations as subjects.

3.     Helps Modulate Body Composition. 

Body composition refers to the distribution of muscle and fat in the body. It is an important element of fitness and can affect performance.

Fitness enthusiasts often turn to Beta-alanine supplementation to help modulate their body’s composition for certain sporting and athletic activities.

What the science says

In one study, a population of women was given Beta-alanine supplementation over an eight-week duration. During this period, they undertook lower body exercises four days a week.

The results of the research study showed that beta-alanine supplementation had no additive effect on body composition [14].

Another study on the effects of Beta-alanine revealed that combining it with single or multi-ingredient supplements at the right dose can impact body composition. However, it was not easy to tell whether it was Beta-alanine or the accompanying ingredient that triggered the change [15].

Yet another double-blind placebo-controlled study featuring college athletes as subjects showed that Beta-alanine can stimulate lean mass accrual [16].

Research on the effects of Beta-alanine on body composition is rather inconclusive. But factors like training regimen and the workout history of an individual may influence body composition.

4.     Regulates Blood Sugar and Glucose Metabolism. 

Beta-alanine in pre-workout supplements is believed to help in the metabolism of glucose during workouts keeping insulin levels at a minimum.

What the science says

Animal studies on rats prove that carnosine has a suppressing effect on hyperglycemia or elevated blood sugar levels.

In one study experiment involving rats, a dose of L-carnosine, and a running wheel the following discovery was made.  L-carnosine released from the rat’s muscles as they ran on the wheel functioned to reduce blood glucose levels by regulating autonomic nerves [17].

Beta-alanine supplementation increases the level of carnosine in the skeletal muscle. Carnosine levels are further elevated during exercise.

Although animal research suggests that carnosine can be used in the management of blood sugar, even type 2 diabetes, human data on the subject is limited. While Beta-alanine is effective in maintaining blood sugar during exercise its efficacy on blood sugar in the long term is yet to be established.

5.     Helps with Lymphocyte Reproduction and Boosts Immunity

Beta-alanine is believed to improve the body’s immunity.

What the science says

A research experiment on the immune-regulatory effects of Beta-alanine and carnosine was conducted on mice. Beta-alanine and carnosine had the following effects on the non-placebo mice:

  • Increased cell generation.
  • Suppressed excess immunoreaction among immature mice.
  • Increased immunoreaction among aged mice.
  • Recovery of intentionally suppressed immune-function [18]

The experiment concluded that both Beta-alanine and carnosine promote tissue repair, homeostasis, and healing.

Note, however, that research on the immune-function of Beta-alanine on human subjects is limited [19].

6.     Is a Powerful Antioxidant. 

Beta-alanine is believed to have anti-oxidative properties that protect the body from exercise-induced oxidative stress.

What the science says

A study on the oxidative-protection properties of Beta-alanine was conducted among 25 men. They consumed either BA or a placebo for four weeks and then completed a 40-minute run to induce oxidative stress [20].

The impact of Beta-alanine on exercise-induced oxidative stress was insignificant in this case.

In a similar study involving women, and the use of a treadmill to induce oxidative stress; BA demonstrated no significant effect on the oxidative stress either [21].

Carnosine, which is a free radical scavenger has been proven to inhibit the oxidation of lipids. Beta-alanine supplementation increases carnosine concentration in the skeletal muscles [22].

Be that as it may, research is yet to link the anti-oxidation effects by carnosine to the supplementation of Beta-alanine.

Health Benefits of Beta Alanine


 

Beta-Alanine Side Effects

So far, the only side effect associated with Beta-alanine is paresthesia/twitching. It is characterized by a sudden abnormal sensation felt on the hands, arms, legs, or feet (pins and needles).

Instances of paresthesia have been linked to consumption of 800mg or more of Beta-alanine without a sustainable release form. Some people are more predisposed to paresthesia than others.

Body composition has been identified as another of the probable factors that induce paresthesia but the exact mechanism is unknown. People with less body fat experience it more than people with higher body fat while on Beta-alanine supplementation.

Though sudden, paresthesia is generally painless. Paresthesia from a non-sustainable release form is known to dissipate once the victim switches to a more sustainable release form.


 

Usage and Dosing Considerations

Research recommends a dose of between 3.2g-6.4g per day of Beta-alanine for enhanced physical performance. The total daily dose should be divided into single doses of 2g or less[23] [24].

Note, however, that there are other factors to consider when it comes to dietary supplementation. Consider the brand of Beta-alanine you are taking and follow the prescribed dose.


 

Risks and Precautions

Although Beta-alanine is considered safe, there is no data on its effects on children and adolescents under the age of 18. Do not give it to them altogether.

There is also no data on its effect on pregnant and or nursing mothers. They should avoid any supplements altogether.

If you are prone to allergies ensure beta-alanine will not trigger an allergic reaction before use.

If you have been diagnosed with a pre-existing condition and are on medication, consult your doctor to ensure that the beta-alanine supplementation will not interfere with the effectiveness of your medication.


 

FAQs

When is the best time to take Beta-alanine?

While there is a recommended daily dose for Beta-alanine, there is no recommended time to take BA. Some people take it pre-workout, others post-workout, and others both.

The best bet would be to follow the instructions on the product label. Also, consider your workout goals and establish the best time to take Beta-alanine to be able to meet these goals.

What are the long-term effects of Beta-alanine?

The research into the long-term effects of Beta-alanine is currently not sufficient. However, the fact that BA’s only side effect is paresthesia is encouraging.

How long does it take Beta-alanine to work?

According to research studies, a chronic loading Beta-alanine dose of 4g-6g per day for a minimum of two weeks should raise your carnosine levels by at least 20%.

Note, however, that some people are more predisposed to higher carnosine levels than others.

Is Beta-alanine natural?

Beta-alanine is naturally synthesized in our bodies by the liver. It can also be naturally acquired through diet when one eats white meats or red meat.

Note, however, that when it comes to Beta-alanine dietary supplements, each manufacturer has their own extraction/ production process. Look into the manufacturing practices of specific brands for better clarity on the nature of their beta-alanine.

Can you mix Beta-alanine with Creatine?

One study has shown that a combination of Beta-alanine and creatine is more effective in achieving certain results. In one experiment, the combination showed better body composition capabilities compared to Beta-alanine alone.

Note, however, that each active ingredient requires a specific dose to be effective. If you are to mix the two compounds, conduct thorough research on the effective clinical dose.


 

Summary

Beta Alanine Supplements

Beta-alanine is popular among athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts. It is a very common ingredient in dietary and pre-workout supplementation products.

Many people associate Beta-alanine with enhanced physical performance, endurance, and body composition among other health therapeutic benefits.

Note, however, that some of these purported claims have not been scientifically proven. On the bright side, however, Beta-alanine is very safe to take and has only one minor side effect which is paresthesia.

But bear in mind, however, that long-term effects of Beta-alanine have not yet been established.

If you chose Beta-alanine as your dietary supplement of choice, consider reputable brands, and take the prescribed dosage.

Manage your expectations because the increase in carnosine concentration varies from individual to individual.

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