If you are someone that has exercised at a moderate to high intensity before you will likely be familiar with the aching sensation you get from a build up of lactic acid; your legs feel heavy and exhausted and your performance starts to decline.
This is a natural process that occurs when during exercise of a higher intensity there is an influx of hydrogen ions (H+) into the muscle cells. This causes the pH level of cells to decline creating an acidic environment in which your muscles start to fatigue. The natural response is for a compound called Carnosine, mainly found in skeletal muscle, to buffer this acidity.
So you’d be right in thinking, if I can increase my carnosine levels, I’ll have a greater buffer against lactic acid, and therefore be able to work harder and perform for longer! So how do you increase your level of Carnosine?
Beta-Alanine (β-ALA) is a naturally occurring amino acid that is one of the building blocks for carnosine. Several studies have shown that supplementation with β-ALA increases muscle carnosine levels by 20-80% (1-3) and ultimately leads to an improvement in performance (4). This provides the backing for β-ALA as a buffering agent. How much and when should you supplement with Beta-Alanine (β-ALA)?
Research is one of those tricky areas where it is difficult to draw absolute conclusions from findings due to their study design limitations and extrapolation to the general population. However several studies have shown that:
Daily doses of 4-6g/day of β-ALA increased carnosine levels over different durations (2,5).
• 2 weeks = 20-30% increase in carnosine
• 4 weeks = 40-60% increase in carnosine
• 10 weeks = 80% increase in carnosine
So a loading dose of 4-6g/day of β-ALA over a longer period of time i.e. 10 weeks, results in the greatest increase of carnosine. Should you take Beta-Alanine with other supplements?
Creatine supplementation has been widely researched and there is a strong consensus that it has ergogenic properties in strength and power athletes, measured by increases in muscular strength, anaerobic power and body mass.
Recent studies have shown that the co-ingestion of β-ALA with creatine further enhances lean body mass and reduces fatigue rates when compared to creatine supplementation alone (6).
As with all growing areas of research the verdict is not yet out but it looks promising that the combination of creatine and β-ALA can benefit those undertaking high intensity training including anaerobic sprints and resistance training.
Further information regarding beta alanine can be found in the review article (7) References:
1) Derave, W., Ozdemir, M.S., Harris, R.C., Pottier, A., Reyngoudt, H., Koppo, K., Wise, J.A., Achten, E. Beta-alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2007, 103, 1736-1743.
2) Hill, C.A., Harris, R.C., Kim, H.J., Harris, B.D., Sale, C., Boobis, L.H., Kim, C.K., Wise, J.A. Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids 2007, 32, 225-233.
3) Harris, R.C., Tallon, M.J., Dunnett, M., Boobis, L., Coakley, J., Kim, H.J., Fallowfield, J.L., Hill, C.A., Sale, C., Wise, J.A. The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effects on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids 2006, 30, 279-289.
4) Stout, J.R., Cramer, J.T., Zoeller, R.F., Torok, D., Costa, P., Hoffman, J.R., Harris, R.C., O’Kroy, J. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilator threshold in women. Amino Acids 2007, 32, 381-386.
5) Kendrick, I.P., Harris, R.C., Kim, C.K., Kim, H.J., Viet, D.H., Thanh, L.Q., Toai, B.T., Wise, J.A. The effect of beta-alanine (Carnosyn) supplementation on muscle carnosine synthesis during 4 weeks using a one-leg training model (Abstract). Journal Internation Society Sports Nutrition 2006, 3, S8.
6) Hoffman, J., Ratamess, N., Kang, J., Mangine, G., Faigenbaum, A., Stout, J. Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2006, 16, 430-446.
7) Culbertson, JY., Kreider, RB., Greenwood, M. & Cooke, M. Effects of Beta-Alanine on Muscle Carnosine and Exercise Performance: A review of the Current Literature. Nutrients. 2010, 2 (1); 75-98.