We’ve given you the 101 on creatine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Now we’re digging into another popular supplement, beta alanine, a key ingredient in pre-workouts — this is the stuff that gives you the ‘let’s get to lifting tingle’!
But that’s not all it does. While it gets you going, beta alanine also keeps you going. As in it is a supplement that supports endurance performance, particularly muscular endurance. So if you’re looking to rep out an extra set, read on. Adding this supplement to your workout routine may result in more gains than expected.
What is Beta alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, as in it is made by the body so we don’t really have to rely on food for it. However, you can get a small beta-alanine boost from pork and beef. Honestly though, if you’re tapping into this amino for that performance jolt, your best bet is a supplement.
Beta-alanine is most commonly found in pre-workouts, but can also be purchased on its own . And it’s not to be confused with L-alanine or L-carnitine, other aminos within the family.
What purpose does it serve?
Being that beta-alanine is most commonly found in pre-workouts, odds are pretty good that you’ll spot lifters and runners alike scooping the stuff into shaker bottles for endurance support.
You see, here’s the thing, beta-alanine is a crucial building block of carnosine (a dipeptide of the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine) which has been known to reduce the rate at which a muscle fatigues. Supplementation with beta-alanine has been shown to increase muscle carnosine concentrations by up to 58% in just four weeks, and 80% in 10 weeks.
For those following a strength training program, with the help of beta-alanine you may be able to get out an extra rep or two when working within that 8-15 rep range. For those following a moderate, to high-intensity, cardio training program, beta-alanine may be able to fuel that extra set of jump squats or box jumps while also helping capture a new cardio PR, be it sprinting or rowing.
As a result of this increased endurance, you might find yourself with a little more lean muscle mass and a lot less body fat; because well, you’re obviously increasing your workout volume.
Is it effective?
While some researchers have drawn a ‘yes, its effective’ conclusion on the use of beta-alanine supplements, others are still not convinced.
However, in a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise focusing on four groups of participants, one group was given 800 milligrams of beta alanine four times per day, the second group 20 grams of creatine monohydrate once per day, and the third group both doses of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate, while the final group was given a placebo; results powered through. All participants hopped on their bikes for a four-minute all-out cycling test, which showed that those who had been given beta alanine out peddled those who had been given just creatine or the placebo.
When it comes to this supplement what most agree on though is:
- Effective for endurance training
- Effective for high intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Effective for elevating peak oxygen uptake (aerobic capacity)
- Effective for increasing power output
- Effective for high volume strength training
It really comes down to you and your fitness goals though.
What forms does it come in? Which is most effective?
Beta-alanine comes in powder, tablet/capsule, and shake/drink forms. Again, it depends on the individual and fitness goals, as well as dosage, when it comes to level of effectiveness. Pairing beta-alanine with taurine is beneficial for neuromuscular, cognitive, and lung function. If you’re looking for that energy burst to fuel power movements, consider supplementing with creatine, oral caffeine, and betaine.
When should Beta-alanine be taken?
This supplement should be taken at least a half hour before intended exercise or fitness activity. Since beta-alanine can cause that tingling feeling (paresthesia) you may want to consider a time-release formulation or just simply cutting down the dose.
A recommended dose for improving physical performance is 3.2-6.4 grams daily. Be sure to stay hydrated when taking beta-alanine. You’ll also want to consider consuming beta-alanine consistently each day, to work on building carnosine stores.
What are the downsides of taking Beta-alanine?
There really aren’t that many downsides to this supplement, except for that tingling and flushing feeling known as paresthesia. Fortunately, it’s a harmless sensation which begins to wear off as soon as you start working out, putting the supplement to use.
Keep in mind, the tingle can occur in different places each time you take the supplement; sometimes hamstrings, forearms, chest, but almost always the face.
Ellen Thompson is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness in New York City, where she serves as Head Trainer at the Penn Plaza location. Ellen’s approach to training is that “anything is possible.” Endurance, strength, and stability/agility training are at the core of her fitness programming. She holds a master’s degree in New Media Publishing and Magazine Editing from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.