When it comes to supplements within the fitness industry, the benefits of beta-alanine have become most notable.
Beta-alanine is a popular supplement, particularly amongst athletes and fitness professionals, due to its suggested benefits for enhancing endurance and athletic performance.
In this article, we will be explaining everything you need to know prior to implementing it into your lifestyle. OriGym will cover the topics that you’re desperate to find out more on, such as: ‘What is Beta-Alanine?’, ‘When to take Beta-Alanine’, ‘How much Beta-Alanine to take’, plus its benefits, potential side effects and more.
- What is Beta-Alanine?
- What Does Beta-Alanine Do?
- Beta-Alanine Benefits
- Beta-Alanine Side Effects
- Beta-Alanine Dosage
- When To Take Beta-Alanine?
- Fitness Goals Beta-Alanine Assists
- Where To Buy Beta-Alanine?
- Beta-Alanine Foods
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What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid (otherwise known as β-Alanine), as well as the only naturally-occurring beta amino acid. Beta-alanine can be produced by the body, and it is formed by microbes in the liver or gut, so it is not essential to take beta-alanine supplements in order to produce it.
Whilst amino acids are popularly known as 'the building blocks of proteins', beta-alanine is not used to synthesise proteins. Instead, together with histidine, it is the building block of the dipeptide carnosine, which is then stored within the body’s skeletal muscles.
You may recall beta-alanine from its top place spot on our guide on the best running supplements to fuel your run (spoiler alert for the benefits it offers!).
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What Does Beta-Alanine Do?
Once establishing what the amino acid is, we bet you’re wondering ‘how does beta-alanine work?’.
Well, in short, Beta-alanine enhances exercise performance by increasing athletic and fitness capacity all while decreasing muscle fatigue. How does it do this?
So, muscles contain carnosine (a protein building block important for many normal body functions - i.e brain, heart, muscles, kidneys). Higher levels of carnosine allow the muscles to perform for extended periods of time before they become fatigued.
Carnosine does this by helping to regulate acid buildup in the skeletal muscles, which is a primary cause of muscle fatigue.
But where does beta-alanine come in? Well, beta-alanine is one of carnosine's main ingredients, therefore supplementing with beta-alanine has gained popularity for increasing the production of carnosine and, in turn, boosting performance and delaying muscle fatigue.
To break this down further, this is how carnosine works when someone is exercising:
- Glucose is broken down: When we exercise, glucose breaks down (this process is known as glycolysis). This is the main source of fuel during HIIT and high-intensity training.
- Lactate is produced: When the muscles break down glucose, it turns into lactic acid, which then converts to lactate and, as a result, produces hydrogen ions (H+).
- Muscles become more acidic: Those hydrogen ions produced by the lactate reduce the pH level in the body’s muscles, which makes them more acidic.
- Fatigue sets in: The muscle acidity blocks glucose breakdown and reduces the muscles’ ability to contract, which in turn, results in fatigue
- Carnosine buffer: Carnosine serves as a buffer against the buildup of acid, reducing the acidity in muscles during high-intensity exercise and therefore allows an individual to continue exercise for longer before fatiguing.
Overall, research suggests beta-alanine capsules and supplements may increase endurance, boost the body's ability to build lean muscle mass, and, carnosine acting as an antioxidant, offer immune-enhancing and anti-ageing benefits.
#1 - Enhances Athletic Performance and Time To Exhaustion
One of the primary and most common beta-alanine benefits is its proven effectiveness for improving athletic performance, as well as building lean muscle.
Beta alanine, both in its supplement form and its natural formation in the body, works to increase the body’s carnosine levels which help the muscles reduce their acid levels during exercise. This, in turn, reduces overall fatigue during workouts.
By boosting the body's resistance to muscle fatigue, beta-alanine helps increase time to exhaustion (TTE). The result is improved performance in high-intensity sports, such as 4km time-trial cycle races, 100m and 200m swimming races and 2000m rowing.
In a 2017 meta-analysis of the evidence on beta-alanine, it was found that supplementation led to moderate improvements in exercise capacity, allowing the body to exercise for longer periods at a time, and therefore overall performance. High-intensity exercises lasting up to 10 minutes benefited the most.
This is especially relevant for athletes as it means short bursts of high-impact activity as part of longer duration aerobic exercises, such as a sprint finish to a cycling race, may be improved with beta-alanine, impacting overall athletic performance.
For example, looking specifically at beta-alanine for cycling, a four-week study using a cycling capacity test as the method found that a supplementation of beta-alanine increased the amount of exercise completed by 13%, and this continued to go up an additional 3.2% after 10 weeks. In another study, 18 rowers given beta-alanine for seven weeks were 4.3 seconds faster than a placebo in a 2,000-meter race lasting around 6 minutes.
For a more in-depth cycling nutrition plan, check out OriGym's full article!
This all stands as sufficient evidence to support the theory that beta-alanine has effects on physical performance by improving endurance.
#2 - Reduces Muscle Fatigue
Similarly to the previous beta-alanine benefit, the amino acid has also been hailed for its advantages for HIIT training. On account of its ability to reduce the accumulation of hydrogen ions, beta-alanine is directly linked to greater physiological adaptations, such as reduced muscle fatigue and increased exercise capacity.
As a result of this, it means those participating in forms of high interval training can commit to their workout for longer periods of time with more explosive energy levels.
This can be showcased in a number of scientific studies that have been conducted to test this theory. By supplementing with the amino acid there is sufficient evidence to suggest beta-alanine has effects on improving an individual’s performance during high-intensity interval training, as well as improving their lean body mass.
When looking into the effects of beta-alanine and high-intensity, short-duration training, it has been confirmed that not only does beta-alanine reduce lactic acid build-up during anaerobic exercise delaying muscle fatigue and allowing participants to exercise for longer, but it also aids shorter recovery periods.
The science behind these findings all comes back to one simple factor: lactic acid buildup. A buildup of lactate in the muscles will limit the duration of high-intensity exercise a person can perform.
Supplementing with beta-alanine increases carnosine levels in the body which makes the muscle more resistant to the build up for longer, which in turn improves performance during high-intensity and short-duration exercise. However, do not let this shadow the importance of rest days and how many you need to ensure consistent results.
#3 - Improves Anaerobic Exercise Capacity and Power
Beta-alanine benefits include the widely researched improvement in anaerobic performance. Anaerobic exercises require short bursts of energy performed at maximum effort, an example of which is sprinting.
The science behind this mirrors what was explained in the prior section; when you’re running in an anaerobic state, the body requires more oxygen than the lungs can provide. This in effect triggers the production of lactic acid, which we have already established beta-alanine reduces.
Lactic acid is the byproduct of anaerobic respiration - this is the process when glycogen is burned for energy without oxygen present ('ana' and 'aerobic' means 'without air'). The higher the intensity of the run means the more lactic acid; the more lactate, the more hydrogen ions, and therefore, the greater the acidity and the faster the muscle fatigues.
By supplementing with beta-alanine, the amino acid works to delay muscle fatigue, allowing runners to perform longer endurance at a greater intensity.
Sprint-trained athletes will regularly have a high level of muscular carnosine which neutralises hydrogen ions produced from anaerobic exercise allowing them to perform to a much stronger and better capacity.
To an extent, this can be genetically predetermined, some people are naturally talented sprinters, but it can also be trained. For example, athletes who train in short bursts of high power movement will have a high proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibres which are built up in the body enriched with carnosine.
However, a beta-alanine supplement may also help improve anaerobic exercise capacity and power. For example, in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study with sprint-runners and beta-alanine, 15 male athletes were given 4.8g of beta-alanine or a placebo for 4 weeks. Researchers found concentrations of muscle carnosine was significantly increased by supplementing with beta-alanine resulting in less fatigue in those who received the supplement.
For more energy vices, we have an entire guide on the best energy bars to boost your workout, some of which even include beta-alanine, further supporting its effectiveness in this field.
#4 - Improves Muscle Endurance
One of the primary researched topics regarding this amino acid is the beta-alanine benefits for bodybuilding.
Heavy weight lifting is a form of anaerobic exercise, evidence suggests beta-alanine can help increase reps and sets during a resistance training session as a result of increased concentrations of carnosine in the muscles.
If reps and sets in a single training session can be increased, the time it takes for the muscle to fatigue will be increased, allowing you to get more gains from a single training session, over time this will lead to increased muscle mass for fewer days spent at the gym.
Beta-alanine capsules and supplements also ease the effects of acidosis, improving recovery and allowing you to get back to your training faster.
For example, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 22 university-aged wrestlers and 15 American football players undergoing resistance training over 8 weeks and a beta-alanine supplement, participants gained double the lean body mass (2.1lbs) compared to the control group (1.1lb).
In a 10-week study with university-aged participants the effects of supplementing creatine plus beta-alanine on strength, power, and body composition, thirty-three male subjects were randomly assigned to either a placebo, creatine, or creatine plus beta-alanine group and took part in a resistance training program.
Changes in lean body mass and percentage of body fat were greatest in the creatine and beta-alanine group, which also showed significantly greater improvements in strength.
We talk further about muscular endurance and it's position as one of the 11 components of fitness here.
Although results are promising, further research on larger populations is required to confirm these preliminary findings as at present there’s not enough consistent evidence to suggest beta-alanine in bodybuilding improves strength and lean muscle mass.
#5 - Beta-Alanine and Anti-Ageing
Research suggests beta-alanine may help muscle tiredness and endurance in older adults by increasing carnosine levels which animal and test-tube studies indicate has antioxidant, anti-ageing and immune-enhancing properties.
In a double-blind, randomised study exploring the impact of beta-alanine capsules on neuromuscular fatigue and reduced skeletal muscle carnosine in adults aged 55-92 years, participants were randomly assigned to either a beta-alanine or a placebo group.
Results showed beta-alanine significantly improved muscle endurance. Researchers concluded that beta-alanine may be of use in the prevention of falls, and the maintenance of independent living in elderly men and women.
As an antioxidant carnosine may also neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress with test-tube studies suggesting carnosine elevates nitric oxide fighting ageing and improving cardiovascular health.
For more antioxidant sources, you can find a whole list of them on our list of the best super fruits to add to your diet today.
Carnosine has also been found to reduce ageing-related stress in rats, limiting damage to cells, inflammation, and the risk of age-related chronic disease. Whatsmore, carnosine and histidine together have been shown to cause 50% suppression of free radical reactions.
Beta-Alanine Side Effects
As with any supplement, one of the most commonly asked questions are regarding any potential side effects, so for those wondering ‘is beta-alanine safe?’, we have some good news.
Let’s keep this short and sweet, the primary of only two reported side effects is paraesthesia, or beta-alanine tingles typically described as “tingling of the skin” in the face, neck and back of the hands.
This occurs because of a decline in taurine levels as beta-alanine competes against taurine for absorption in the muscles and can cause tingles.
There is no evidence that paraesthesia is harmful and studies indicate this can be avoided by using lower doses of 1.6g.
The only other of the two reported side effects is facial flushing, however this has only been noted following larger consumptions of beta-alanine.
Largely, data suggests beta-alanine is safe for healthy individuals when taken in sensible and recommended dosages. Additionally, supplement brands suggest that taking a tablet as opposed to drinking it in powdered form may reduce these side effects.
Beta-Alanine Dosage Recommendations
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) suggests beta-alanine is safe in healthy participants at recommended doses of 2–6 grams daily.
MyProtein’s beta-alanine supplement, both the powder and the tablets, suggest that users take a dosage of 1.5g four times throughout the day, therefore recommending a dosage of 6g a day for optimal effectiveness and results.
Below we will give further indication on when it is best to take the dosages, as well the minor differing dosage recommendations depending on supplement type and brand.
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When To Take Beta-Alanine?
Depending on when you take it may depend on whether you receive the shorter or longer term effects, for instance, supplementing with beta-alanine prior to a workout will give you the benefits of increased mental focus and nervous system response.
It has also been suggested that beta-alanine provides a stronger ‘pump’ for some users, so while this is a great advantage before a training session, it probably isn’t advised just before going to sleep as it could lead to keeping you awake longer due to its stimulant properties - similar to those featured in OriGym's best vitamins for energy list.
Throughout the day
Spreading the intake of beta-alanine throughout the day means the levels of carnosine in the body remain high consistently, producing the desired effects most people are seeking by using this supplement for training sessions.
If used this way, it is suggested to supplement with beta-alanine every three to four hours across the day to avoid paraesthesia (a tingling sensation that this amino acid is famous for).
Prior to Exercising
Taking a beta-alanine supplement between 30 - 45 minutes prior to exercising allows the supplement to enter the body’s system and have an effect, such as the aforementioned pump and focus. These short-lived effects will usually continue for between an hour and a half and two hours after taking the supplement.
The beta-alanine effects on your body are almost immediate, with carnosine levels rising as soon as you start supplementing beta-alanine.
Research has shown that the significant power and strength boosts that it provides can be seen within just four weeks. Additionally, resistance to fatigue also increases as carnosine levels rise, benefiting you and your training sessions in the long term.
Following the directions of MyProtein’s 100% beta-alanine powder for reference, it instructs users to add a ⅓ of a small scoop (1.5g) into a shaker consisting of water or fruit juice and after shaking to consume immediately.
It is advised to use four times daily and ideally between meals. However, taking beta-alanine with a meal has also been proven to further increase carnosine levels.
In the case of supplementing with tablets, again taking the MyProtein tablets for reference, it instructs users to ‘consume two tablets twice daily during the first four weeks, and then two tablets once daily thereafter.’
Fitness Goals Beta-Alanine Assists
While we have covered this in extensive detail through the article, here is a summary of the fitness goals that supplementing with beta-alanine can aid.
- Improves exercise performance
Numerous studies show sufficient evidence for the advantages beta-alanine has in improving exercise performance through its effect in increasing exercise capacity.
Those who supplement using beta-alanine are found to experience significant improvements in endurance through their workouts, which in effect leads to longer workouts.
In short, supplementing with beta-alanine works to help users workout both longer and harder.
- Increases endurance performance
Beta-alanine supplements work to increase endurance during exercise, with evidence supporting this from multiple studies.
A study that best represents this showed 16 individuals given 5g of the amino acid supplement daily for 23 days. On the first and last day of the trial, they were asked to complete a 10K timed running trial. The results found that beta-alanine not only benefited the runners’ time trial, but it also reduced their lactate concentration significantly.
In Layman’s terms, supplementing with beta-alanine alongside a training programme can increase endurance; this is explained as a result of beta-alanine’s role in increasing muscle carnosine levels, which prevents lactic acid buildup.
- Could increase sprint performance
Beta-alanine is hailed in the running world, particularly amongst sprinters and short distance runners. This comes, again, off the bat of the amino acid’s role in preventing lactate buildup.
We don’t want to sound repetitive, but as you should now know, when you’re sprinting, the body’s need for oxygen is much higher than the lungs can provide, which as a result, causes the production of lactic acid.
Lactic acid causes muscle pain, cramps and muscular fatigue, which will all affect the length and ability of workouts. However, beta-alanine reduces this buildup, allowing for longer and more energised sprints.
- Increases your capacity for HIIT training
High intensity training, or HIIT, can increase strength while simultaneously burning fat, which in turn has a positive impact on body composition.
However, with greater benefits come greater commitments and HIIT workouts can truly take it out of the body. By supplementing with beta-alanine products, this can create a delay in the onset of muscle fatigue, thereby allowing users to train at high-capacity for longer periods of time.
- Could increase strength gains
A final fitness goal which we have not touched on so much is beta-alanine’s impact on strength gain. It has been suggested that taking beta-alanine in the form of a preworkout supplement could increase the gains and strength formed in the gym.
A five-week study into using beta-alanine as a training supplement concluded that subjects who used the amino acid showed greater training improvements than those who supplemented with a placebo. More specifically, increasing their power output, one-rep max, and training volume.
If strength training is your particular area of interest within fitness, you may find our guide on how to become a strength and conditioning coach an interesting read.
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Where to Buy Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is available in the form of all tablets, powder and capsules from a range of health and sports shops, along with larger retailers.
Alternatively, you can find beta-alanine mixed in amongst other supplements, most commonly pre-workout mixes, which also include nutrients such as taurine, essential vitamins and caffeine and can be found in a variety of flavours.
We would recommend starting with MyProtein’s Beta-Alanine tablets, or their 100% Beta-Alanine Powder to start. For a cheaper alternative, Bulk’s Beta-Alanine powder, or Holland & Barrett Precision Engineered Beta-Alanine Tablets.
As mentioned earlier, beta-alanine comes in a number of forms, one of which includes as a pre-workout.
When purchased in this form, beta-alanine is mixed heavily amongst a number of other ingredients, therefore you will be acquiring it in a lower dose than you would if taking a 100% beta-alanine supplement, as well as combining it with a high dose of caffeine.
If you want to avoid this, we would advise sticking to a supplement that advertises the product as ‘100% beta-alanine amino acid’, such as MyProtein’s version.
Whilst beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid and can be made by the body, eating a diet rich in beta-alanine foods, or taking supplements can raise carnosine levels further.
The top food sources that contain sufficient amounts are meat, poultry and fish. For this reason, it has been proven that vegetarians and vegans possess approximately 50% less carnosine (the protein building block that beta-alanine increases) in their muscles compared to omnivores, therefore supplementing with beta-alanine products may be beneficial.
To note a few of the primary beta-alanine food sources;
- A single cup of roasted chicken breast contains over 2g of beta-alanine
- 3 ounces of cooked turkey breast provides just under 2g per serving.
- A 3-ounce serving of yellowtail fish contains over 1g
- While tuna, haddock, rockfish, mackerel, pink/coho salmon, tilefish, rainbow trout and herring are also great sources for increasing your beta-alanine intake.
- For a smaller snack, roasted soybeans (or soy nuts) supply close to 3g of the amino acid in every 1-cup serving.
So, that rounds up our complete guide on the naturally occurring amino acid, beta-alanine. We hope this article has provided you with all the ins and outs that you required before trying it out for the first time.
Now you can see the abundant research that supports beta-alanine as an athletic and fitness performance enhancer, along with the minimal side effects that accompany it, we strongly advise anyone wanting to achieve the optimal results from their fitness to make this supplement a regular part of their diet.
Ensure you follow the dosage guidelines we provided and you’re good to go.
If you find learning about nutrition a particularly interesting element of the fitness industry, then perhaps you would benefit from enrolling onto our Level 4 advanced sports nutrition course, where you can turn your interest into a career as a nutritionist.
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- Klebanov GI, Teselkin YuO, Babenkova IV, Lyubitsky OB, Rebrova OYu, Boldyrev AA, Vladimirov YuA. Effect of carnosine and its components on free-radical reactions. Membr Cell Biol. 1998;12(1):89-99. PMID: 9829262.
- Smith AE, Walter AA, Graef JL, Kendall KL, Moon JR, Lockwood CM, Fukuda DH, Beck TW, Cramer JT, Stout JR. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 Feb 11;6:5. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-6-5. PMID: 19210788; PMCID: PMC2649036.
- Stout JR, Graves BS, Smith AE, Hartman MJ, Cramer JT, Beck TW, Harris RC. The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on neuromuscular fatigue in elderly (55-92 Years): a double-blind randomized study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Nov 7;5:21. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-5-21. PMID: 18992136; PMCID: PMC2585553.
- Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Stout JR, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:30. Published 2015 Jul 15. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y.
- Maté-Muñoz, J.L., Lougedo, J.H., Garnacho-Castaño, M.V. et al. Effects of β-alanine supplementation during a 5-week strength training program: a randomized, controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 19 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0224-0.