Performance Enhancement with Beta Alanine Supplementation

article by Clare Wood

What is β-Alanine and how does it work?

Buffering is important during high-intensity exercise to neutralize the hydrogen ions that are produced by the muscle causing acidosis and fatigue. An endogenous intracellular muscle buffer is Carnosine, present in high concentrations in skeletal muscle. Carnosine is a dipeptide synthesized from the precursors β-alanine and l-histidine, with β-Alanine being the rate-limiting element. Chronic β-Alanine supplementation is effective in elevating intramuscular carnosine levels. This in turn indirectly increases the buffering capacity of a muscle, along with other physiological properties of carnosine, which may contribute to performance enhancement.

Who will be of benefit?

There could be small but potentially meaningful performance benefit (0.2–3%) during both continuous and intermittent high-intensity exercise tasks of between 30 s and 4 min in duration, with effectiveness in events greater than 4 minutes being less pronounced.

Examples of sports modalities that have strong evidence of the ergogenic effects of β-alanine supplementation, include a cycling race of 4 km, rowing race of 2,000 m, swimming race of 100 and 200 m, combat modalities, and water polo.

It can be less effective in highly trained athletes, with sprint interval training having a greater impact on performance. However, there are some elite individuals that will still benefit from β-alanine.

β-alanine can help with muscle bufferingf calcium β-alanine can help with muscle buffering

How to Supplement with β-Alanine

It is recommended to consume about 65 mg/kg of your body mass per day, and to ingest this via a split-dose regimen, to reduce any side effects. Limiting the maximum daily dose to around 5 g/day is generally accepted advice. In practical terms, supplementation of 0.8 – 1.6 g every 3–4 hr over a period of 20–40 days will markedly raise muscle carnosine content, and elicit a performance enhancement. Note there is also evidence that there are no benefits to extending supplementation to greater than 10 weeks.

Washout is slow and may last 9 or more weeks before returning to pre-supplementation levels.

Other considerations

A commonly reported side effect of β-alanine supplementation is a prickling and sometimes painful sensation of the skin of hands and face, called paresthesia. Ingesting β-alanine in a slow-release formulation can avoid paresthesia symptoms. Fewer side effects will be experienced when using a relative dose, rather than an absolute amount. Only some people will experience this side effect, so trialling dosages to find a personal upper limit or using a slow dose formula will help determine the right dose for an athlete.

There appears to be a large inter-individual variation in muscle carnosine synthesis, leading to varied responses. Vegetarians will have a lower initial muscle carnosine level due to dietary intake, and may require a longer loading phase to reach optimal levels for performance impact.

Conclusions

β-alanine can be added to the short list of evidence-based ergogenic supplements. The muscle carnosine loading in response to β-alanine supplementation seems to improve high-intensity exercise capacity, also in well-trained athletes. Considerations however, are required for possible side effects and compliance from athletes due to the multiple-dose protocol required.

References

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