Beta-Alanine 101: Everything You Need to Know
Beta-Alanine seems to get the cold shoulder when compared to it’s more well-known counterpart…creatine. Everyone knows about creatine, what it’s benefits are, and most lifters are actively using it. As for beta-alanine…well… “it’s just that stuff in the pre-workout that makes your skin tingle”.
While most lifters at least know of beta-alanine’s existence in pre-workouts, you’ll be hard pressed to find a plethora of athletes that actually knows what it does…
Coming in just shy of the amount of research creatine has backing it, it’s at least worth your time to look into the benefits beta-alanine may have to offer. Whereas many fitness products sold today are nothing more than sparkly labeled snake oil, beta-alanine has a solid pedigree behind it’s effects. Much like creatine it’s cheap, effective, and may genuinely help improve your performance. Here’s everything you need to know about the lesser known supplement beta-alanine, and if/how you should be taking it.
What is Beta-Alanine?:
Beta-Alanine is a non-essential (produced in our body) amino acid (base component of proteins), which while produced in our liver can also be found in animal proteins.
However, unlike most amino acid’s which act as building blocks in the body, beta-alanine has a different function. Beta-alanine itself is actually not so important as what in can synthesize. When introduced to another amino acid histidine, and an enzyme (catalyst for biochemical reactions) called carnosine synthase we are able to synthesize a molecule called carnosine. This carnosine ends up being useful in helping buffer the pH level of our muscles, and beta-alanine is simply it’s precursor.
So if we end up supplementing how much beta-alanine our body has, we are essentially just supplementing how much carnosine we are able to synthesize.
How Does it Work?:
Again, when supplementing with beta-alanine what we are actually supplementing is our ability to synthesize carnosine in our muscles. This carnosine can be used as a pH buffer when our muscles are under stress due to physical activity.
You know that horrible burning sensation you can feel in your legs during a hard run? Or maybe you’re cranking out a hard set of 15 reps on squats? Yeah that’s from lactic acid build up in your muscles and carnosine can help with that.
During physical activity which pushes our body past it’s ability to provide a steady supply of oxygen to the muscles, we switch to a metabolic pathway that can work despite this lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, the byproducts of using this metabolic pathway end up lowering the pH levels (increasing acidity) of our muscles, and this increased acidity not only physically hurts, but also decreases our muscles ability to contract, decreasing our performance overall. You’ll commonly hear this referred to as “lactic acid build-up”. If you’ve experienced this, you know just how much it can impact your performance.
Carnosine is one of our bodies mechanisms to counter this drop in pH. Carnosine serves as a pH buffer in our muscles effectively increasing the amount of time it takes before our muscles to drop to that acidic level where we start to feel pain/ see decreased muscle performance. The longer we can stave off this pH drop, theoretically, the better the outcome for our performance.
How Beta-Alanine Could Improve Your Performance:
The reason I believe beta-alanine doesn’t quite get the props creatine does, is because you have to be a specific type of athlete to see any real benefit out of it
Creatine is your go to for very short bursts of maximal physical exertion, perfect for lifting. Beta-alanine, however, is more useful for extending your performance in a longer physical exertion scenario. Additionally, whereas creatine will actually help increase your power output, beta-alanine’s main benefit to your performance isn’t in strength or power, but in increasing how long you can perform an activity for.
The most bang for your buck activities to supplement with beta-alanine in terms of performances will be seen in those activities lasting in around the 1 min to 5 min range. Think middle distance racing such as the 800m in track and field, short conditioning WODs seen in CrossFit, and resistance training in higher rep ranges reaching up to 15 reps. Basically, any performance activity which could be impacted by that lactic acid build-up lowering your muscles pH levels could benefit from beta-alanine supplementation.
Dosage/ Is It Safe?:
You’ll see dosing for beta-alanine recommended at around 2-5g per day with some variability on that number between sources. Much like creatine it is not required that you take the beta-alanine at any particular time in the day (i.e. you don’t HAVE to take it before your workout for it to be effective). You just want to be consistent and take it daily. Additionally, you’re looking at around 3-4 weeks for beta-alanine supplementation to reach full effectiveness, also similar to creatine.
Beta-alanine is widely recognized as safe, granted there hasn’t been a study on long term effects past a year. Despite this, it is still recognized as low risk. The only “major” side effect of beta-alanine is well known by those that take pre-workout. “Paraesthesia” is the fancy name for the skin tingling sensation associated with beta-alanine. While it is not harmful, individuals can find it annoying/downright hate the feeling. If this is the case consider spacing out your dosage of beta-alanine to multiple times a day in smaller increments to decrease this sensation.