Few dietary supplements have received as much attention as beta-alanine for its ability to possibly augment exercise performance. With such popularity, the research and interest in beta-alanine supplementation continues to rapidly expand. But is beta-alanine an effective ergogenic aid or only hype?
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is a rate-limiting precursor of carnosine – a contributor to lactic acid buffering during high-intensity exercise. During high-intensity bouts of exercise – such as sprinting or weight-lifting – the dominant energy source is anaerobic glycolysis; a process where glucose is broken down without oxygen. As exercises continues, the bodies buffering capacity is overcome by hydrogen ions and the pH of the muscle drops causing intramuscular acidosis. Athletes are no stranger to this burning sensation, which is believed to be one of the primary causes of fatigue during high-intensity exercise. Supplementing with beta-alanine is thought to increase the time to fatigue during high-intensity exercise by increasing muscle carnosine content.
A recent systematic review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found supplementing with beta-alanine may increase athletic performance, but there is not enough evidence examining the safety of beta-alanine supplementation and its side effects.1 A similar update on beta-alanine supplementation for athletic performance was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The review referenced several studies in stating chronic beta-alanine supplementation (1.6-6.4 grams per day for 2-10 weeks) can greatly increase muscle carnosine concentration.2 Beta-alanine also seems to be promising according to a 2012 meta-analysis published in Amino Acids. The meta-analysis examined the available literature on the ergogenic effect of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance. The analysis concluded that beta-alanine supplementation elicits a large ergogenic effect on high-intensity exercise, where the exercise lasts between 1 and 4 minutes. Exercise lasting less than 60 seconds is not improved by beta-alanine supplementation according to the meta-analysis.3
While the current body of research on beta-alanine supplementation looks promising, further well-controlled studies in an applied sporting setting may be required.2 Always consult with a registered dietitian prior to taking any dietary supplement.
1. Quesnele J, Laframboise M, Wong J, Kim P, Wells G. The Effects of Beta-Alanine Supplementation on Performance: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014, 24, 14-27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2013-0007
2. Bellinger P. β-alanine supplementation for athletic performance: An update. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jun; 28(6): 1751-70. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000327.
3. Hobson R, Saunders B, Ball G, Harris R.C., Sale C. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012; 43(1): 25-37. 10.1007/s00726-011-1200-z
Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a NANBF Natural Competitive bodybuilder, a nutrition columnist for “The Collegian,” and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Once Gavin becomes an RD, he will aim to achieve the distinguished Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential.