What is beta alanine?Beta alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid (small part of a protein). In the body, beta alanine combines with another naturally occurring amino acid, l-histidine, to produce carnosine. Carnosine is found in the heart, brain, skeletal muscle and many other areas of the body. It’s presence in skeletal muscle is of particular importance to sport and exercise performance.
How does it work?During exercise, lactic acid builds up in our muscles. This is believed to contribute to fatigue or the “burn”, as it is often referred to. High levels of carnosine in skeletal muscle increases your ability to buffer the build up of lactic acid, essentially helping you train harder and for longer. Carnosine is more commonly found in the Type II muscle fibres. These are your “fast” and “explosive” muscle fibres, more associated with sprinting and resistance training. Such high-intensity exercise causes high levels of oxidative stress. This can create an acidic environment in your muscles and may be preventing you from reaching your maximum fatigue threshold. Higher levels of carnosine decrease the build up of lactic acid and allow you to increase your performance. This may well be that difference between the eighth and ninth rep on the bench press. Interestingly, the ingestion of beta alanine appears to have a better effect on muscle carnosine levels than supplementing with carnosine itself. So, supplementing with beta alanine looks to be the most effective way to increase your muscle carnosine levels and increase your performance.
Who can benefit from beta alanine?
Beginners looking to increase performanceA study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at the effects of supplementing with beta alanine and creatine monohydrate for 28 days on muscle fatigue in untrained individuals. On average, the individuals supplementing with beta alanine or beta alanine and creatine monohydrate were able to increase their muscle fatigue threshold more than the placebo group.
Elite athletes looking to increase performanceEight elite rowers supplemented with either beta alanine or a placebo for seven weeks. Following the supplementation of beta alanine, the rowers were 4.3 seconds faster than the placebo group, whereas before supplementing with beta alanine they were 0.3 seconds slower.
Individuals looking to lose fat and increase lean muscle massLosing fat and increasing lean muscle mass at the same time is a hot topic in the fitness world. But, in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, college wrestlers performing high-intensity exercise and supplementing with beta alanine lost weight and increased their lean mass by 1.1lbs, whereas the placebo wrestlers performing high-intensity exercise lost weight, but lost 0.98lbs of lean mass. College footballers supplementing with beta alanine and performing high-intensity exercise increased their lean mass by 2.1lbs, whereas the placebo footballers performing high-intensity exercise only increased their lean mass by 1.1lbs.
The take home messageWhether you’re lifting weights to lose fat and increase muscle or to become faster and stronger, increasing your muscle carnosine levels can increase your performance. The supplementation of beta alanine has been shown to increase your muscle carnosine levels, which may help decrease fatigue and help you train harder and for longer.