Why bodybuilders and athletes love taking beta-alanine

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Why bodybuilders and athletes love taking beta-alanine

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Beta-alanine (β-Alanine) is among the many dietary supplements consumed by athletes, bodybuilders, and recreational sports enthusiasts. 

Like other supplements including caffeine, BCAA, creatine, whey protein, citrulline, and omega-3, beta-alanine has been shown to increase exercise performance. 

The most important reason athletes love taking beta-alanine is because research shows that beta-alanine enhances short-term exercise performance.

A meta-analysis shows that beta-alanine supplementation increases high-intensity exercise performance lasting between 30 seconds to 10 minutes (1).

Not only that, there are several other benefits associated with the intake of beta-alanine. 

This article describes how beta-alanine improves exercise performance and how much and how to take beta-alanine. 

Why beta-alanine is vital for exercise performance?

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid. By itself, beta-alanine does not provide any benefit in exercise performance. 

It is beneficial in exercise performance because it is an integral part of a compound called carnosine (β-alanyl-L-histidine). 

Carnosine is a histidine-containing dipeptide (HCD), produced by a biochemical reaction between beta-alanine and histidine, an essential amino acid, by an enzyme called carnosine synthase. 

Carnosine is abundant in skeletal muscles, the heart, and the brain. It is mostly present in type II muscle fibers. Carnosine is a powerful molecule, performing various beneficial roles.  

Beta-alanine is the limiting factor for the production of carnosine, i.e., without the presence of beta-alanine, carnosine cannot be produced in the muscle (2).

By supplementing beta-alanine one can increase carnosine levels in the skeletal muscles and get carnosine benefits. 

How beta-alanine increases exercise performance

Exercise fatigue is one of the major negative consequences of an intense workout.

Intense exercise causes quick muscle fatigue due to many factors including accumulation of lactate, reduction in enzyme activity, and calcium release.

During intense exercise, glucose gets converted into lactic acid which is quickly turned into lactate and hydrogen ion (H+), increasing hydrogen ion in the muscle. 

This process decreases enzyme activity and muscle contraction. Accumulation of hydrogen ions decreases pH in the muscles, leading to acidosis, i.e., high acid levels (3,4).

Carnosine acts as a pH buffer by keeping the acid-base balance (5).

Beta-alanine supplementation increases skeletal muscle carnosine levels and results in a decrease in blood acidosis after an intense workout (6).

The intake of 3.2 to 6.4 g  per day beta-alanine supplementation for 4 weeks can promote up to a 65% increase in carnosine levels, which increases the muscle buffering capacity by 3 to 5 %. 

Beta-alanine supplementation improves exercise performance in both trained and untrained individuals (2).

Beta-alanine supplementation also increases time to exhaustion. Intake of 4.8 to 6.4 g beta-alanine for 6 weeks increased time to exhaustion by 14% (7).

Beta-alanine supplementation also promotes lean muscle mass, body composition and improves high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

In a study, 6 g per day beta-alanine was used for the first 3 weeks and then 3 g per day beta-alanine was consumed for another 3 weeks.

The study concluded that this long-term beta-alanine use improved HIIT performance compared to no use (8).

Research also shows that intake of 2 g beta-alanine per day for 6 weeks improved VO(2) max, an indicator of endurance (9).

Can beta-alanine increase testosterone levels? 

The current research shows that beta-alanine supplementation does not improve or increase testosterone levels. 

Daily intake of 4.8 g beta-alanine for 30 days improved muscular performance during resistance training, but it did not improve testosterone levels compared to no use (10).

Another study used creatine and beta-alanine for 10 weeks but found no increase in testosterone levels (11).

Moreover, current scientific data does not show an improvement in vasodilation (relaxation of blood vessels) after beta-alanine intake. 

Can beta-alanine increase weight loss and fat reduction?

Currently, no human scientific study has shown weight loss or fat loss with beta-alanine. 

Animal research shows a decrease in abdominal fat in rats after beta-alanine feeding (12).

Beta-alanine has been shown to improve exercise performance, which accelerates lean muscle mass and improves body composition.  

Anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory function

Carnosine can reduce oxidative stress. It does so by several mechanisms, including scavenging reactive oxygen species and metal ion chelation (13).

In vitro research in human kidney cells showed a decreased oxidative stress and increased activity of antioxidant enzymes (14).

Carnosine supplementation in rats promoted significantly lowered oxidative stress (15).

Carnosine is also anti-inflammatory function. It reduced inflammation in microglial cells (16). 

Beta-alanine significantly reduces Inflammatory indicators, IL-6, and TNF-alpha levels in kidney tissues (17).

Beta-alanine and brain function

Research shows that beta-alanine does not have a significant effect on improving cognitive function.

Animal studies show that the use of beta-alanine improves cognitive function and reduces stress (18).

Beta-alanine intake was also associated with increase expression of BDNF and reduced PTSD-like behavior (19).

But in humans, 6.4 g intake of beta-alanine for 28 days did not improve cognitive function in the users (20).

Beta-alanine supplementation may improve cognitive function because it increases antioxidant function, but more studies in humans are needed to verify this. 

Can beta-alanine decrease the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease?

Research with beta-alanine for Alzheimer’s disease is very promising.

Animal studies using an Alzheimer’s disease model showed that the use of carnosine supplementation reduced beta-amyloid accumulation and mitochondrial dysfunction (21). 

Beta-amyloid and mitochondrial dysfunction are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. 

In elderly humans, the use of 1 g per day of anserine/carnosine (3:1) formula for 3 months suppressed age-related blood flow decline. It also improved memory function (22).

For Parkinson’s disease, the combined use of carnosine and DOPA (dihydroxyphenylalanine) shows significant improvement in the Parkinson’s test (23).

Beta-alanine and type 2 diabetes

Animal and human research show that low levels of muscular and organ carnosine levels are associated with type 2 diabetes occurrence. 

In animals, carnosine supplementation has an anti-diabetic effect (24).

A meta-analysis of numerous research studies concluded that supplementation with beta-alanine and/or carnosine reduced fasting glucose, HbA1c, and HOMA-IR in humans and animals (25).

Beta-alanine and anti-aging effects

Carnosine has an anti-aging effect. The older population has lower levels of carnosine in skeletal muscles. 

Carnosine is present in higher amounts in type II muscle fibers compared to type I muscle fibers. 

In older adults, type II muscle fibers contain carnosine in lower amounts (26).

Beta-alanine supplementation increases exercise carnosine levels and also improves performance and tolerance in older adults (age 60-80) (27).

Beta-alanine and cancer 

Beta-alanine inhibits the growth of renal and cervical tumor cells in high amounts (28).

Carnosine also has antitumor effects. In vitro and animal research shows the potential of carnosine in suppressing the growth of tumor cells (29).

It may also impair energy metabolism in brain tumor cells (gliomas). This impairment of energy metabolism inhibits the growth of tumor cells (30).

Beta-alanine dosage 

There is variability among studies regarding the beta-alanine amounts, therefore, no beta-alanine dosage information is available. 

However, numerous studies used 3-6 g beta-alanine per day for 4-8 weeks. This dosage is safe and effective in increasing exercise performance. 

Some studies have used beta-alanine per kg of body weight.

For example, 80 mg beta-alanine per kg of body weight for 28 days improved athletic performance (31).

Based on this study, a 70 kg individual should consume 5.6 g beta-alanine per day. 

Can you take beta-alanine every day?

Everyday intake of beta-alanine for 4-8 weeks provides benefits in improving physical performance. 

There is evidence in research that, like creatine supplements, a loading period is required to see benefits. 

A minimum of 2 weeks of daily beta-alanine loading period is required for meaningful improvement in exercise performance. 

Chronic intake for up to 4 weeks or more may be necessary to improve exercise performance. 

Daily intake of 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine for a minimum of 2 weeks (loading phase) increases muscle carnosine levels (32). Better results are obtained with daily consumption for 4 weeks (33).

How to take beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is acquired from proteins sources such as:

  • Meat
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Fish
ham on a board
Meat is a source of beta-alanine

The beta-alanine supplement can be taken with water or juice. Combining beta-alanine with other supplements may increase exercise performance. 

For example, a combination of 200 mg of caffeine, 1600 mg of beta-alanine, and 1000 mg of quercetin intake enhances physical performance (34).

Therefore, taking beta-alanine with coffee can be beneficial.

In addition to caffeine, the use of beta-alanine with other supplements including creatine, vitamin B is safe and improves physical performance (35).

Are there any side effects of taking beta-alanine?

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid. It is present in our bodies, so taking dietary beta-alanine does not cause any harm. 

The use of rapid-release beta-alanine can cause paresthesia, a condition that causes a burning or prickly sensation in the face, neck, back of hands, and other parts of the body. 

Although this condition is harmless, it may lead to temporary discomfort. 

Sustained-release beta-alanine is a good choice to avoid this condition (36).

Daily intake of 4-6 g beta-alanine divided into smaller doses of 1-2 g throughout the day is beneficial to minimize the occurrence of paresthesia.  

Chronic use of beta-alanine is well tolerated. Research shows that up to 16 weeks of beta-alanine at moderate dosage (1.6 to 3 g) is well tolerated. It is unknown whether long-term use (more than 16 weeks) has adverse effects (33).

Beta-alanine supplementation may decrease taurine levels in the skeletal muscles because taurine and beta-alanine compete for the same transporter called Tau-T (37).

Currently, no evidence to suggest that taking beta-alanine causes hair loss.  

The Gist

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid. Research shows that beta-alanine can improve exercise performance. 

That is why beta-alanine is frequently used by athletes and bodybuilders. 

Beta-alanine is essential for the production of carnosine, which has an antioxidant function. It also has other health benefits. 

A daily dose of 3-6 g beta-alanine for 4-8 weeks can improve exercise performance.