In an ideal world, you'd be able to train for as long as you wanted without seeing a decline in intensity, power, and effort. Imagine the gains! But unfortunately, we do not live in that world. Our strength, power, and stamina don't last as long as we would like them to, but luckily there's a vast amount of workout supplements designed to help with just that! One performance-boosting supplement that doesn't get as much love as others is... beta-alanine.
You've probably seen it listed on the ingredients list of pre-workout (including our Sour Raspberries Pre-Workout), and for good reason. This amino acid can really help to maximize your training, but it's not only for the athletically inclined... The benefits of beta-alanine go beyond physical performance! And since most don't know about how it works and its benefits, we put together a breakdown of everything you need to know about this underrated dietary supplement, so you can start adding it to your daily supplement rotation (or not)!
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is a nonessential amino acid that is found naturally in the muscles and brain. Our bodies combine it with L-histidine, to synthesize carnosine. This is another amino acid that helps reduce acid build-up during exercise and reduce fatigue. Essentially, beta-alanine supplementation helps boost levels of carnosine which in turn gives it its outstanding benefits that help improve athletic performance, among other things!
Benefits of Beta-Alanine
To understand the full power of this supplement, we must compare it to one similar to it - creatine. Creatine has been extensively researched and has been proven to reduce fatigue by recharging your muscle’s ATP (adenosine triphosphate) stores thus allowing you to maintain high intensity for resistance training and even aerobic exercise like sprinting beyond the point where'd you would normally need to rest. Beta-alanine works similarly, it helps maximize your strength and power when training. So, it can help you go harder for longer. Meaning it'll help you push through one or two more reps, or even help you sprint for ten seconds longer than before!
Just like with creatine, beta-alanine has been researched a great amount and has been demonstrated to help with short-duration high-intensity exercise. More importantly, the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on carnosine levels are what translates to better workouts and overall body functions. Let's take a closer look at its benefits...
Reduces lactic acid build-up
When you do any type of high-intensity exercise, like lifting weights or doing HIIT (high-intensity interval training), you'll feel your muscles “burn” as they work. That burning sensation comes from lactic acid building up in your muscles. Lactic acid builds up when any type of strenuous activity is happening for more than a few seconds, and it does so because the muscles are burning carbs for fuel. How exactly does this happen? Well, this uncomfortable "burn" you may feel when working out has to do with the molecule lactate and hydrogen ions. Lactate goes back into your liver to be recycled as an energy source for your muscles to continue working, but the hydrogen ions stay in your muscles thus causing the "burn" or aches. Although the burn might feel good at first, it can get so bad and uncomfortable that it causes you to stop and rest.
Now, what does this have to do with beta-alanine?
As we mentioned earlier, beta-alanine is a precursor to carnosine. And in this case, supplementing with beta-alanine boosts carnosine levels so that there is enough of it to act as a lactic acid buffer. Thus helping the muscles to defend against the hydrogen ion buildup in your muscles, aka that uncomfortable burn you usually feel will be greatly reduced. Don't take our word for it though! There are several studies that prove this. One particular study found that beta-alanine reduced acid build-up during high-intensity anaerobic exercise, which delayed fatigue. Another study that involved aerobic exercise, high-intensity cycling, showed that beta-alanine reduced muscle acid thus improving endurance and performance.
Improves exercise capacity
Lactic acid build-up can hinder your performance, but beta-alanine, along with carnosine, help fight against that from happening. This all leads to a boost in your work capacity, meaning your training volume. Nutrition Research performed a study on two groups of college football players, one group supplemented with beta-alanine for 30 days while the other used a placebo. The group that supplemented with beta-alanine had an increase in training volume across all strength workouts and even had an increase in the total amount of weight lifted on the bench press. Another interesting finding was that the athletes themselves reported feeling less fatigued which was observed during the anaerobic power tests.
Promotes greater power output
Aside from helping you reduce lactic buildup and increase your training volume, it can also improve your power output. Meaning how hard you work!
In a 2013 study, jiu-jitsu and judo competitors supplemented with beta-alanine and their performance was observed before and after four weeks of supplementation. They were tested on four different anaerobic power tests that lasted 30 seconds each. The athlete’s performance scores significantly improved in the second, third, and even the fourth tests compared to prior to supplementing. Not only did they see greater power output, but also their ability to produce that power in a fatigued state improved.
So, beta-alanine helps reduce fatigue and lactic buildup, which in turn helps you increase your exercise capacity and power output. And it can even help improve body composition... The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a study that showed subjects who took beta-alanine got better results from HIIT (high-intensity interval training) which resulted in gaining more lean body mass and endurance compared to a placebo group.
This is all important for physical health, but we did mention it goes beyond that. Beta-alanine supplementation can also help those that are aged 50 and above. With aging, there is a natural loss of skeletal muscle mass, but what most don't know is that it leads to a decline in carnosine levels. Supplementing with beta-alanine can slow down that process, by boosting your carnosine levels. But you shouldn't wait until you're 50 to do so!
Why not just supplement with carnosine?
As you can see a lot, if not all, of the benefits, come from carnosine and not directly from beta-alanine. The reason you can't just supplement with carnosine instead of beta-alanine is that our bodies don't absorb it that well if it's supplemented by itself. In fact, when it's ingested your body breaks it down into beta-alanine and histidine. Thus producing carnosine and increasing its levels, which is what you want, but you'd essentially be supplementing with carnosine in order to get beta-alanine. Not only that, but carnosine supplements typically contain less than 50% beta-alanine, which will result in a small boost of carnosine as opposed to taking a beta-alanine supplement.
How and when should I take it?
All amino acids are present in natural foods, especially in meats. Although meat is rich in certain amino acids like carnosine, you still need a significant intake of beta-alanine to reap the performance benefits. But as always, follow a natural protein-rich diet, and use supplements for what they are - something extra that helps enhance your training, not something you rely on.
With that being said, the beta-alanine dosage can be anywhere from 3.2-6.4g per day. Over consuming it, meaning above 800mg per day, can lead to one common unpleasant side effect - a tingling sensation. You've probably heard about this tingly sensation from other athletes or even felt it yourself, well, that feeling is thanks to beta-alanine. The effects are similar to the pins-and-needles feeling you get when your foot falls asleep. This feeling is temporary, and according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, harmless.
So, when exactly should you take it?
It doesn't have to be taken at any specific time, you can divide it and take it in multiple doses throughout the day, but most prefer to take it before their workouts. This is why it's a common ingredient in pre-workouts, including ours! 373 Labs Pre-Workout Supplements provide you with 150 grams of natural caffeine, along with effective doses of Citrulline Malate, Beta-Alanine, Arginine, Tyrosine, and Theanine. Plus, it's free of yucky ingredients like artificial dyes and sweeteners, and unnecessary fillers! All to provide you clean, sustainable energy that will enhance your exercise performance.