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Beta-Alanine: Benefits, Side Effects, and Dosage Information

Beta-alanine was first discovered as an effecting pre-workout supplement through horse racing, where trainers found that it often helped their horses edge out the competition come race day.  

While they didn’t know it at the time, researchers would later discover that beta-alanine works as an important chemical buffer during high-intensity exercise, allowing horses, and later human athletes, to push the limits of their capabilities.  

For the past few decades, scientists have continued to study beta-alanine, with a wealth of research being published on its positive effects on exercise performance.  Nowadays, along with creatine, it’s one of the most popular ingredients found in pre-workout supplements. But what is beta-alanine and what does it actually do?

What is Beta-Alanine?

Beta-alanine (BA) is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid, meaning that it's produced in small amounts in the human body; however, it can also be obtained through certain dietary sources as well.

As opposed to other amino acids though, it’s role is not in the synthesis of proteins and enzymes.  

Instead, your body uses beta-alanine (in combination with histidine) to produce carnosine, which is a peptide.       

Carnosine is mostly found in your muscles but is also stored in your brain.  The concentration of carnosine in your body’s tissues is directly proportional to your BA levels -- i.e. the more beta-alanine your body has, the more carnosine it’s able to make and store. (1)

How Does Beta-Alanine Work?

Beta-alanine plays an important role in your muscles during exercise.  The carnosine that BA helps to produce acts as an inhibitor to the chemical reactions that occur in your muscles during physically demanding exercise.

When you work out, your muscles are actively taking in glucose, which is your body’s primary fuel source.  When glucose is burnt up, it leaves behind lactic acid.

As the acidity builds up in your muscles, their capacity to take in more glucose becomes diminished.  

When your muscles are unable to meet their energy needs, they begin losing their ability to function properly, leading to exhaustion over time.

Let’s imagine you’re running a sprint. During the exercise, where your performing at or near the peak of your capabilities, your muscles are burning up lots of energy, leaving behind an acidic by-product that blocks the influx of more fuel into your muscles.

Ultimately, that’s why you can only do high-intensity exercises like sprints for a relatively limited period of time -- because your muscles are burning more fuel than they’re able to take in. (2)

However, beta-alanine has been shown to increase the levels of carnosine in your muscles. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the increased presence of carnosine helps to reduce the build of lactic acid, allowing additional glucose to enter into your muscles during high-intensity exercise. (3)

Beta-Alanine Benefits

1. Increase Your Anaerobic Endurance

One of the most clearly demonstrated benefits associated with taking beta-alanine is an improved anaerobic capacity, particularly when it comes to high-intensity exercise. (4)

Several studies on sprinters, for instance, have demonstrated that beta-alanine helps to boost muscle carnosine levels, which in turn, helps to combat the build-up of lactic acid. (5)(6)(7) On average, sprinters who supplemented with BA were able to sustain greater power outputs for longer durations of time compared to sprinters who did not. (8)

While beta-alanine is most effective for high-intensity exercise, that doesn’t mean that it has no benefit for endurance athletes.  In fact, it’s an extremely popular supplement amongst top-level cyclists.

While much of cycling is not what would be considered high-intensity activity, there are moments throughout a race, particularly towards the end, where competitors are required to sprint.  By the end of a cycling race, however, most competitors are worn down after a long, exhaustive competition.

beta-alanine for cycling

Researchers, however, have found that supplementing with beta-alanine significantly improves cyclists’ sprinting performances at the end of long bouts of endurance-based exercise. (9)  

For instance, a 2009 double-blind study examined the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on moderately to highly-trained cyclists.

Participants performed two test sessions, one session before taking beta-alanine and one session after 8 weeks of supplementation.  Both sessions were identically formatted, with participants performing a sprint at the end of a simulated long-distance cycling race.  

The researchers found that after 8 weeks, those who supplemented with beta-alanine on average demonstrated significantly better results.  During the final sprint, the BA test group on average saw an increase in peak power by over 11%. Mean power over the course of the sprint increased by 5% on average. (10) The same results were not observed in the control group.  

2. Build More Strength

While there’s plenty of research out there demonstrating the effects beta-alanine on anaerobic performance, researchers are also beginning to investigate its impact strength.  Several studies have found that those who supplemented with BA saw significantly greater increases in strength compared to those who only took a placebo.

For example, a double-blind study published in the Journal of International Sports Nutrition investigated the effects of beta-alanine supplementation over the course of a 5-week strength training program. (11)

Participants were given daily doses of either BA or a placebo and asked to perform 3 training sessions per week -- the workouts were focused on leg-based exercises.  After 5 weeks of training, the researchers found that on average, those who supplemented with BA saw significantly greater increases in their power outputs compared to the placebo group.

3. Improve Your Muscle-Building Potential

Ultimately, your muscles only grow when they’re challenged to go outside of their comfort zone.  In the weight room, that means increasing your training volume as you progress throughout your lifting program.

beta-alanine muscle growth

Over time, increasing things like the amount of weight you lift on any given exercise, as well as the number of sets and reps you do, will force your muscles to adapt in order to handle the increasing demands of your training.    

This is where beta-alanine, and ultimately carnosine, come into the picture.

 The improved ability of your muscles to work at or near their limits ultimately translates into more sets, reps, and weight each training session.  Over time, that increased training volume leads to significantly greater increases in lean muscle mass.

Beta-Alanine Safety and Side Effects

No serious safety issues or side effects have been found in any of the research conducted on beta-alanine.  The main side effect reported in some research was paraesthesia, which is generally described as a tingling sensation under the skin.  

While it may cause discomfort to some, paraesthesia is only a minor and temporary side effect.  No long-term safety concerns have been associated with beta-alanine supplementation up to this point. (12)

Dosage Recommendations

The standard dosing recommendations for beta-alanine are usually somewhere between 800 mg to 3200 mg per day but recommendations do vary. With that being said, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends a slightly higher daily dose of 4g - 6g for optimal effects. (13)

Combining Beta-Alanine With Creatine

Because beta-alanine has positive effects on your anaerobic endurance, it’s commonly featured in pre-workout ‘stacks’ along with other substances like creatine.  

Creatine increases your body’s production of ATP, which is a chemical energy source that also helps to fuel your muscles during high-intensity exercise.  

When combined with the buffering effects of beta-alanine, creatine helps to further increase the duration of time under which your muscles can operate at high intensities.(14)

the ultimate beta-alanine stack:

beta-alanine + creatine + HMB + HICA + phosphatidic acid

Learn More

Wrap Up

Beta-alanine is a popular ingredient found in numerous pre-workout supplements.  It’s a naturally occurring amino acid that helps combat the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles during intensive exercise.  

Plenty of research shows that BA supplementation can improve exercise performance -- both in terms of strength and endurance.  While some users report experiencing a tingling sensation, no serious side effects or safety concerns have been associated with beta-alanine supplementation up to this point.   

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