Beta Alanine May Help You Get One More Rep. Or It Might Just Do Fuck All.
First off, this isn’t a “What is Beta Alanine and How Can It Help Me” post. If you have no idea what it is, well, get your spinning-propeller research hat on and go figure it out. What I actually want to talk about is why you might NOT want to waste your money on this (supposedly) proven ergogenic supplement.Really Quick Background:Beta alanine is a modified form of the amino acid alanine that combined with histidine to form carnosine. Carnosine is used as an intra-cellular buffer of H+ (hydrogen ions, aka acid). Increased muscle carnosine stores = greater ability to buffer drops in pH. Acidosis is *one* component of fatigue, or reduced performance. There’s been a fuck-ton of studies done on BA, and it appears to have a very proven efficacy as an ergogenic supplement in the realm of performance time frames of 60-240s. Looking at carnosine levels of track athletes (400m, 800m), it was found that they have much higher levels than the average person; the rate-limiting precursor to carnosine is beta alanine. Therefore, if one was to supplement with beta alanine, carnosine levels would rise—and theoretically, so would performance. The studies showing this are plentiful, and for the most part, well-controlled. See here, here, and here. Based on that, it’s stands to reason: Mixed modal sport is intense. It often involves short duration, highly acid-producing (glycolytic and lactate pathways) movements by nature of the sport. Beta Alanine seems to make perfect sense. Empirical Experience: Over the course of my years as a performance nutrition coach, I’ve never seen BA do much of anything. This was terribly vexing to me. By all accounts, the studies PROVED beta alanine should improve performance. I pondered on this for a long time, but at the same time, still kept recommending BA to performance based athletes. Some issues I considered as to the non-efficacy:
- Compliance. Some athlete “say” they take it, when in fact, they randomly take it “if they remember”. There’s no doubt many folks fall into this category, but I also know many INSANELY driven athletes that would never miss a dose.
- Longer time to saturation: BA works similarly to creatine in the fact it works under saturation, NOT acute dosing (more on that later, that’s relevant, and something I want to soap-box on for a bit). Creatine at 5g/day for 30 days will get the average sized male to full muscle saturation; based on this study, we can assume that time-to-saturation may be longer, perhaps 8-10 weeks. That said, I’ve had athletes on BA continually for a complete year.
- Training-induced Adaptations: Training itself causes adaptation (Uh, no kidding…); folks often lose sight of this as the main factor in performance improvements. Supplements actually have little effect here. That said, training adaptations to increase muscle carnosine stores (training that produces H+, therefore requiring increased pH buffering) may override any benefit from BA.
Beta-Alanine Supplementation Does Not Augment the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Six Weeks of Sprint Interval Training
Section: Original Research
Moving Forward/RecommendationsBeta alanine isn’t completely useless. We just need to recognize where it will actually do anything useful.
- Sub-max rep schemes of 10-15. Wait, what? Do you mean this actually happens for folks in mixed modal sport??? That’s not for me to answer, ask your coach that does your programming.
- Anti-aging. Yes, I’m not kidding. Much like creatine, research is now being focused on how it can improve quality of life. While we may never know the actual long-term impact, carnosine appears to be more than just a buffering agent. Check out some initial (non-human) research here and here. Anti-glycation and reduced shortening of telomeres = the longevity win.
SoapBox Rant: One Last WordOne thing I’d like to point out that I find completely infuriating is the addition of beta alanine in PRE workout formulas. It’s a GIMMICK. And here’s why:
- It’s almost always either in an extremely low dose (500-800mg) or an unknown dose from a “proprietary” blend.
- PWO uptake is always better than preWO.
- It works under saturation, NOT acute dosing. If you take it once, twice, three time, it won’t do fuck all.
- Manufacturers put it in preWO formulas due to the parathesia effects of beta alanine. Parathesia = “pins and needles” sensation. This is benign, harmless, and confers ZERO indication of efficacy; in fact, it’s MrgprD receptors in sensory neurons being activated.
About the author:
FounderMike Kesthely has been involved in athletics his entire life, ranging from years playing box lacrosse, martial arts, rock climbing, mountain biking and Crossfit®️. He has worked as a Firefighter/Paramedic for the Lethbridge Fire Dept since 2000, and is the past Health & Fitness Coordinator for the department. His passion now lies with nutrition & functional lab analysis, and improving client performance, health, and longevity through dietary augmentation.
- Former lead instructor for the OPT CCP Nutrition Level 1 in Scottsdale, AZ, at the International Center for Fitness, 2011-2014
- Former trainer with Crossfit®️ Lethbridge
- Optimum Performance Training Certified Coaching Program Nutrition, Level-1, under James Fitzgerald and Mat Lalonde, PhD
- Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
- Precision Nutrition certified (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) through Dr. John Berardi
- Crossfit®️ Nutrition certified under Robb Wolf
- Crossfit®️ Trainer, Level-1 certified
- Functional Movement Screen under Tim Takahashi, M.Kin., CAT(C), CEP, CK, CSS