What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine* is a modified version of the amino acid alanine.
Beta-alanine (here’s the product I use) is the building block of carnosine, a molecule that helps to buffer acid in muscles, increasing physical performance in the 60-240 second range.
Carnosine appears to be an anti-oxidant and anti-aging compound.
Structurally, beta-alanine is a hybrid between the potent neurotransmitters L-glycine and GABA, which may explain why bodybuilders often claim to experience a caffeine-like boost from it.
According to Bodybuilding.com, beta-alanine is even gaining support within the scientific community for also being classified as a neurotransmitter.
*Please don’t confuse with L-Alanine.
How does it work?
When beta-alanine is ingested, it turns into the molecule carnosine, which acts as an acid buffer in the body. Carnosine is stored in cells, and released in response to drops in pH.
Increased stores of carnosine can protect against diet-induced drops in pH (which might occur from ketone production in ketosis, for example), as well as offer protection from exercise-induced lactic acid production.
I take beta-alanine with a serving of coffee as a highly effective pre-workout cocktail, and it’s one of the few sports supplements* I take. I use the NOW brand.
*Like most sports supplements, there have been only a few well-designed clinical studies on beta-alanine.
- Increases lean muscle mass.
- Enhances muscular strength and output. I tend to crank out another 2-3 additional reps during my high-intensity sets.
- Delays muscular fatigue (train harder, longer)
- Improves cardiovascular exercise performance, like HITT or sprinting.
Who/what can benefit from beta-alanine?
- Men and women.
- Bodybuilders and powerlifters.
- CrossFit athletes, MMA fighters, military personal, or any high-intensity training.
- Runners, cyclists, football players, tennis players, or virtually any athletic sport.
- Anyone who needs to breakthrough a training plateau.
Beta-Alanine Side Effects
- Beta-alanine may cause a tingling* feeling called paresthesia.
This tingling is harmless. To some (who take higher doses), it is unpleasant, but personally, I like the sensation when it occurs.
Beta-Alanine Myths Debunked
Myth: Beta-alanine buffers lactic acid.
No, beta-alanine buffers H+, not lactic acid. It is the H+ that are released from our energy systems, AS WELL as being released from lactic acid that causes muscular fatigue and performance problems. It is not lactic acid itself, or the leftover lactate ions as many incorrectly believe.
Myth: If I don’t feel the tingling, beta-alanine must not be working.
The tingling sensation does not occur with all individuals, no matter how much they take. Also taking carbs with beta-alanine can play a role in blocking the sensations. However, research shows that taking carbohydrates with beta-alanine can increase gains faster.
Myth: Taking taurine* with beta-alanine will stop the beta-alanine from working.
I have read that since beta-alanine and taurine compete for uptake, and that it’s ideal to either not take them together or consume one of them consistently while dosing the other.
On the surface it may seem like a bad stack, however there are quite a few studies that show little to no difference in carnosine concentrations. In other words, taurine does not appear to inhibit beta-alanine from being absorbed on a significant level, otherwise carnosine levels would have been lower in the beta-alanine + taurine studies.
Muscle fibers play a role as well.
Another key point to mention is that carnosine is more concentrated in type II muscle fibers, while taurine is more concentrated in type I muscle fibers. This further decreases the potential for competitive uptake.
*Taurine is an amino acid important in the metabolism of fats. It’s also an antioxidant that’s important for blood glucose utilization, and neuromuscular, cognitive, and lung function.