You've probably heard about beta-alanine - thousands of gym junkies and strength athletes have used it to train harder, perform better and gain muscle faster.

If you want to give beta-alanine a try, here’s a quick Q&A on what the benefits are, how it works and how to use it for best results.

Q. What is beta-alanine?
A. Beta-alanine is known as a naturally occurring beta amino acid. It’s not found in food on its own, but as part of di-peptides like carnosine, anserine and balenine, which we get from foods like fish, meat, and poultry.

Q. Who can benefit from beta-alanine?
A. Beta-alanine is very popular with guys wanting to build muscle size and strength. It’s also used by athletes involved in sports where strength, speed and power are important, such as rugby players, sprinters and MMA fighters.

Q. How does beta alanine work?
A. One of the things that causes muscle fatigue during intense exercise is a buildup of hydrogen ions, which are released at an accelerated rate during exercise. When the level of hydrogen ions becomes too high, they interfere with muscle fibre contraction and fatigue forces you to stop whatever you're doing.
To fight back against muscular fatigue, your muscles use something called carnosine, which “soak up” hydrogen ions. The more carnosine inside the muscle, the more hydrogen ions it can soak up.

Research Studies

  • Study 1

    In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, rowers who took beta-alanine for 7 weeks experienced a dramatic improvement in performance [4]. At the start of the study, there was a "strong positive correlation" between 100-, 500-, 2,000-, and 6,000-meter speed and muscle carnosine content. In other words, rowers with higher muscle carnosine levels were faster than rowers with lower muscle carnosine levels. Following supplementation, the beta-alanine group was 4.3 seconds FASTER than the placebo group, whereas before supplementation they were 0.3 seconds SLOWER.

  • Study 2

    Researchers from Adams State College in Colorado looked at the effectiveness of beta-alanine supplementation in a group of trained collegiate wrestlers and American footballers [5]. The aim of the study was to see how well beta-alanine (4 grams per day) works when it's combined with 8 weeks of high-intensity intervals and resistance training. Performance improvements were greatest in the footballers, who knocked 1.1 seconds off their 300-yard shuttle time (versus 0.4 seconds in the placebo group). Beta-alanine users also increased their flexed-arm hang (a test of upper body strength) by a full 3 seconds, compared to less than half a second in the placebo group. Because the wrestlers were trying to lose weight in order to get into a lower weight bracket, both the placebo and beta-alanine groups lost weight. As you probably know, gaining muscle while losing fat is not an easy task, especially for guys who have moved past the beginner stages of training.However, the beta-alanine group actually GAINED 1.1 pounds of muscle, whereas the placebo group LOST almost the same amount.

  • Study 3

    The effects of creatine and creatine plus beta-alanine on strength, power, and body composition, were examined during a 10-week strength training programme in 33 collegiate football players [2]. Thirty-three male subjects were randomly assigned to either a placebo, creatine , or creatine plus beta-alanine group. At the end of the study, the researchers found that footballers using creatine plus beta-alanine had the largest gains in lean muscle mass.

Q. How should I use it?

Most studies have used 3-6 grams of beta-alanine per day for several weeks, taken in up to six small doses over the course of the day.

 

References
1. Hill CA, Harris RC, Kim HJ, Harris BD, Sale C, Boobis LH, Kim CK, Wise JA. (2007). Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids, 32, 225–233
2. Hoffman J, Ratamess N, Kang J, Mangine G, Faigenbaum A, Stout J. (2006). Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metabolism, 16, 430-446
3. Derave W, Everaert I, Beeckman S, Baguet A. (2010). Muscle carnosine metabolism and beta-alanine supplementation in relation to exercise and training. Sports Medicine, 40, 247-263
4. Baguet A, Bourgois J, Vanhee L, Achten E, Derave W. (2010). Important role of muscle carnosine in rowing performance. J Appl Physiol, 109, 1096-1101
5. Kern BD, Robinson TL. (2011). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. J Strength Cond Res, 25, 1804-1815