Beta-Alanine, B-ALA, or β-Alanine, is an amino acid that supports skeletal muscle. Beta-alanine is an endogenous amino acid that is not essential, meaning the body can produce it on its own. Poultry and beef contain great amounts of this amino acid. Beta-Alanine, unlike most amino acids is not used as a building block for proteins. Instead, it works to support skeletal muscle. It does so by combining with histidine – an essential amino acid – to form carnosine. Carnosine reduces lactic acid accumulation in your muscles during exercise, leading to improved athletic performance. This is why Beta-Alanine is present in many Preworkout Supplements and Energy Drinks.
Why would you supplement with a non-essential amino acid?
Histidine, the essential amino acid, is actually abundant in muscles, making Beta-Alanine availability the rate limiting step in forming carnosine. It would seem reasonable to think that taking carnosine as a supplement may be more effective than Beta-Alanine – to bypass the production step of this important protein/compound. Unfortunately, your body is full of an enzyme called carnosinase, which breaks down carnosine before it can reach your skeletal muscles – rendering it ineffective as an oral supplement.
You can think of these as muscles that help you explode in the first few steps of a sprint as type 1 and muscles, and the muscles that keep your posture, like your back and abdominal muscles, as type 2 slow twitch muscles. Within muscles, carnosine primarily works to buffer the hydrogen ions created under anerobic metabolism as a byproduct of lactic acid production. It is more powerful than the other two major buffers, sodium bicarbonate and inorganic phosphate – making up 40% of the buffering capacity within muscles.
H+ accumulation disrupts the resynthesis of phosphorylcreatine – the compound within muscles that offers phosphate to make ATP under sustained activity. ATP is necessary as an energy molecule to fuel muscle contraction and relaxation. High levels of H+ in your blood also cause increased feelings of fatigue and exertion. H+ reaches peak accumulation at about 4 minutes of exercise, the same timeframe in which carnosine is most effective.
Antioxidants work to scavenge free radicals and singlet oxygen, effectively reducing muscle fatigue and exercise-induced muscle damage. Cnosine chelates transition metals – like copper and iron. These metals can be harmful by creating free radicals – another culprit of oxidative stress. So, carnosine is a multi purpose antioxidant. Carnosine also acts as a powerful anti-glycating agent – meaning it stops sugars from attaching to unwanted structures in your body. Glycated compounds are highly associated with poor effects of aging and complications of diabetes mellitus, as well as kidney and eye damage.
Beta-Alanine significantly increases time to exhaustion by up to 15% – meaning you can exercise longer at higher capacity and has been shown to boost training volume and reduce subjective fatigue. Research currently suggests that Beta-Alanine has the greatest potential to improve performance in high-intensity exercise lasting over 1 minute. Beta-Alanine has also been shown in multiple studies to reduce measured neuromuscular fatigue by up to 20%. In tactical athletes, such as those in the armed forces, Beta-Alanine supplementation improves peak power, marksmanship, target engagement speed and cognitive function. If you are an older adult, B-ALA is especially effective in decreasing neuromuscular fatigue! Beta-Alanine can help maintain and increase lean muscle mass – an important biomarker for elderly health and longevity.
How should you take Beta-Alanine if you want to be more powerful and focused?
Beta-Alanine has maximum effects when taken consistently for at least one month. After 4 weeks of 4-6g per day, muscles accumulate 65% more carnosine that increases to 80% after 10w of consistent supplementation. Regular use is the key to getting the most out of Beta-Alanine
The only reported effect from those who have taken Beta-Alanine is parasthesias or tingling, mostly of the face, neck and back of the hands. But this has mostly been reported by those taking 800mg of Beta-Alanine and the feel disappears within an hour of onset. That sounds a little scary – scientists thought so too. Extensive research has shown these parasthesias or tingles are not actually harmful to the body. Beta-Alanine causes your peripheral sensory nerves to send false signals causing the tingling experience. In animal studies with exorbitant amount of supplementation, Beta-Alanine decreased the amount of taurine in muscles, another amino acid, but this has never been shown to occur in humans at any dose. Beta-Alanine can cause mild elevation of an enzyme called Alanine aminotransferase, an enzyme that can be a biomarker of liver dysfunction. Consult your doctor if you have a liver disease before starting Beta-Alanine.WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BETA-ALANINE AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE?
Beta-Alanine is a great supplement to not only make you feel more energized but support your muscles in staying healthy and avoiding toxins. With few adverse effects, none being harmful after extensive studies to prove otherwise – Beta-Alanine is a safe and effective supplement for when you need to get that extra rep or lap in. For more scientific information on Beta-Alanine and Men's Health visit our health guide, our science blog, and our YouTube page.