Beta-Alanine Improves Athletic Performance. How to Take It and Avoid Tingling?

Beta-Alanine Improves Athletic Performance. How to Take It and Avoid Tingling?

Are you wondering which supplement can help you get more reps out of your workout and train longer at a higher intensity overall? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Today’s article will reveal everything you need to know about beta-alanine. This wildly popular supplement is often included in complex pre-workouts due to its properties, but it also offers a number of benefits on its own for strength and endurance athletes.

If you’ve ever done a pre-workout and suddenly felt a tingling sensation all over your body, perhaps you were scared that it was some kind of allergic reaction. This was, however, an accompanying and harmless manifestation of beta-alanine. For some it is unpleasant, for others it gets them pumped up for a workout. However, beta-alanine itself is not a stimulant.

In this article you will read about the effect of beta-alanine in these specific areas:

What is beta-alanine?

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid. Therefore, it does not necessarily have to be taken in through the diet, unlike essential amino acids. However, it has a number of benefits for you. The synthesis itself takes place in the liver and at the same time it is obtained through the diet, for example from meat or fish. Unlike other amino acids, it does not form proteins in the body. When combined with histidine, beta-alanine produces carnosine, which is involved in maintaining the acid-base balance of your body. This is the state in which you have the right level of concentration of acids and bases in your body, which is also known as pH. Thus, it can reduce the level of muscle acidification by binding to hydrogen ions H +, which are formed together with lactic acid during intense sports activity. Without sufficient amounts of beta-alanine, it would be impossible for carnosine to be formed. [1]

If you are wondering what function other amino acids have in the body, you can find out everything in our article Amino Acids: Classification, Function in the Body, Effect on Athletic Performance and the Best Sources.

What are the effects of beta-alanine?

How does beta-alanine work?

The function of beta-alanine is predominantly based on the fact that it produces the protein buffer carnosine. This is then stored in the brain, digestive tract, heart and muscles. Carnosine is primarily responsible for maintaining the acid-base balance or pH in these organs. Positive effects on delaying fatigue were also demonstrated in participants who were tasked with completing 2000 m on a rowing machine. [9]

However, its effects are most studied in muscle tissue, which it helps protect from acidification. This is due to its ability to bind the hydrogen ions H+, which are formed together with lactic acid (lactate) during high-intensity exercise. When carnosine then fails to break down the hydrogen H+ ions during sports, you might feel a greater burning sensation in your muscles, as well as sudden fatigue. Then you have no choice but to slow down or stop altogether. When you have sufficient levels of carnosine, on the other hand, this can result in delayed muscle fatigue, improved ability to cope with demanding training and prolonged athletic performance. [2]

Sufficient levels of this substance are thus one of the limiting factors for high-intensity activity. Beta-alanine, unlike histidine, has relatively small reserves in the body. Therefore, the availability of beta-alanine from diet and supplements is essential for sufficient carnosine production. [3]

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What effects does beta-alanine have?

1. Delays muscle fatigue

When doing high-intensity sports, your muscles get tired sooner or later. Suddenly you lose the drive and strength to do the next repetition or to take off at a jet sprint after a ball or a puck. Muscle fatigue is largely due to the accumulation of metabolites such as lactic acid along with hydrogen ions H+. These substances can then impair the progression of muscle contraction, strength generation and overall muscle function. As a result, you can no longer perform another quality repetition of an exercise or you slow down when running. This negative effect is felt most during high intensity training such as HIIT, sprinting or Crossfit WOD (Workout Of The Day). [3]

However, if you have sufficient amounts of carnosine available in your muscles, muscle fatigue may come a little later. This is because carnosine uptakes hydrogen ions, which reduces muscle acidification. They can then continue to function efficiently, which has the effect of delaying fatigue and maintaining exercise intensity. [3]

And how can you increase the production of carnosine? In this regard, it is effective to increase the intake of beta-alanine, which then combines with histidine to form carnosine. According to studies, beta-alanine supplementation led to an average 64% increase in carnosine levels. [5]

Beta-alanine can prolong athletic performance

Studies on athletes have investigated whether beta-alanine can prolong the Time To Exhaustion (TTE). In this respect, it has had the greatest effect for exercise lasting up to 270 seconds, especially in the final phase, which is crucial for example during running or cycling races.

  • Supplementation with beta-alanine for 4 weeks resulted in a 13% increase in cycling performance. After 10 weeks, an additional 3.2% increase. The increase in performance in this study correlated with an increase in carnosine stores. [8]
  • Positive effects on delaying fatigue were also demonstrated in participants who were tasked with completing 2000 m on a rowing machine. [9]

Another supplement that can help you delay fatigue during your workout are BCAAs. Learn more about them in our article BCAAs: How Do They Affect Muscle Growth, Athletic Performance and How to Dose Them?

Beta-alanine supports sports performance

2. Sports performance

Thanks to beta-alanine, you can train longer, but also with a higher quality. However, the greatest effect can be observed in high-intensity activities that last 60-240 seconds. These include shorter stretches of running, swimming or rowing. However, it can also find its place in sports that are characterised by short periods of strength or high-intensity exercise, such as bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit or HIIT. It can also be used by soccer players, basketball players and other team sports that are full of short but challenging battles. But according to studies, endurance athletes can also benefit from beta-alanine. [7]

  • The positive effect of beta-alanine has also been observed in exercise sessions lasting up to 25 minutes. [5]
  • However, it may also prove useful for other athletes. Compared to placebo, recreational runners had better 10 km times after 23 days of taking 5 g of beta-alanine daily. [6]

Creatine also supports high-intensity athletic performance. If you want to learn more about this supplement, read our article Creatine Is Not Only for Muscles and Strength. What Are Its Effects on the Brain, Immunity and Overall Health?

Beta-alanine for athletes

3. Antioxidant effects

Beta-alanine itself does not have antioxidant effects, but the carnosine that is formed from it does. It can thus seek out and neutralise free radicals that could damage the body’s cells. In addition, it can bind to copper and zinc ions. This prevents their accumulation, which could lead to cell damage.

It is also worth mentioning the anti-glycation ability of carnosine. This means that it can prevent glycation, which is the process by which sugars bind to proteins and fats. This can then have a negative impact on these molecules. Glycation has also been linked to ageing and the development of certain diseases such as atherosclerosis. [1, 10]

Another important antioxidant is vitamin C. If you want to learn more about it, read our article Vitamin C Supports Immunity and Collagen Production. What are Some Of Its Other Effects and How Much Should You Take Daily?

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4. Other possible effects

Beta-alanine has also been studied in other health-related areas.

  • Anti-ageing effect: Carnosine deficiency in the body is often associated with advanced age. Increasing its levels through beta-alanine can thus lead to slowing down the ageing process. It probably acts similarly to the antioxidant resveratrol. However, the exact mechanism is not yet clear. [1]
  • Supporting the treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease: Increasing carnosine levels may also prove useful as part of the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. [11-12]
  • Lowering blood sugar: Beta-alanine can also help with lowering glycaemia and improving insulin resistance. [13]

If you want to learn more about how to slow down ageing, read our article Anti-Ageing and Healthy Ageing: How to Care for Your Body and Preserve Your Health and Youthfulness?

How to take beta-alanine?

For maximum beta-alanine potential, it should be taken long-term and the recommended dosage should be followed. This leads to an average 64% increase in muscle carnosine levels. However, how much your carnosine levels increase is also influenced by the baseline amount of carnosine in your muscles and probably also by the composition of your muscle mass (the proportion of fast and slow muscle fibres). [5]

Beta-alanine is naturally found mainly in animal products. Therefore, supplementation of this substance is often recommended for vegetarians, vegans and other people who prefer a plant-based diet.

Correct dosage of beta-alanine

Recommended dosage of beta-alanine

  • To support athletic performance, a dose of 4-6 g of beta-alanine per day for 2-4 weeks is most often recommended. [1]
  • You can divide this amount into doses of 0.8-1.6 g. This avoids the tingling that is a side effect of higher doses of beta-alanine.
  • It is not necessary to take it in conjunction with your training. The time of intake does not affect its effectiveness. [1]
  • Single-component supplements that take the form of tablets or soluble powder are suitable.
  • It is also commonly included in amino acid complexes and pre-workouts. Therefore, take into account beta-alanine from these sources.
  • Taking beta-alanine with caffeine or a meal containing protein and carbohydrates, can help promote absorption. [1]

By how much will your carnosine levels increase?

  • 4-6 g of beta-alanine taken for 2 weeks leads to an average increase in muscle carnosine of 20-30%
  • 4-6 g of beta-alanine taken for 4 weeks leads to an average increase in muscle carnosine of 40-64%
  • 4-6 g of beta-alanine taken for 10 weeks leads to an average increase in muscle carnosine of up to 80%

After 10 weeks, the carnosine reserves are usually saturated and the maintenance treatment is continued. [1, 5]

You may be wondering why you can’t supplement with carnosine straight away? According to studies, it is more efficient for the body to synthesise carnosine from beta-alanine than to ingest it on its own. [15]

What can you combine beta-alanine with?

If you’re also interested in the benefits of arginine for athletes, read our article Arginine: Effects and Dosage for Athletic Performance and Health.

Who can benefit from taking beta-alanine?

  • Bodybuilders, weightlifters, powerlifters, crossfitters and other strength athletes
  • runners, cyclists, rowers, swimmers
  • football, hockey, basketball, rugby and other team sports players
  • tennis players and other racket sport players
  • people who train at high intensities, for example in HIIT or Les Mills classes

Side effects of beta-alanine

As you already know, beta-alanine is a natural substance for the body. Thus, in normal doses in healthy people, it has no negative effect on bodily functions and is considered completely safe. The only known side effects of beta-alanine are tingling or itching sensations, which most often occur in the face, neck and hands. For some, this manifestation can be just the thing to give the body a positive sensation to kick-start it before a workout. However, some describe these sensations as unpleasant. The solution then is to switch to lower doses (0.8-1.6 g) several times a day or to use slow-release forms of beta-alanine. [1, 5]

Why does beta-alanine cause tingling?

The reason why we feel itching, tingling or paraesthesia after taking beta-alanine is simple. This substance interacts with receptors (MrgprD, GPCR) in the skin, which can trigger the activation of sensory nerves. This then results in tingling. However, this is a completely harmless and transient effect which usually subsides within a short time and is not dangerous. Some people are more sensitive in this respect than others and may perceive paraesthesia more intensely. [14]

Side effects of beta-alanine

What should you remember?

Beta-alanine is justifiably one of the most popular sports supplements. It can help delay fatigue, support athletic performance and boasts beneficial effects on health. It can be used by anyone who wants to do an extra rep, train longer at a higher intensity, be faster than their opponent or shine at CrossFit competitions. Beta-alanine can be the missing piece to the puzzle of your peak performance. To reap all the benefits, however, the key is to follow the recommended dosage and take it for at least 2 weeks.

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Sources:

[1] Holmer, B. Beta-Alanine Research Analysis. – https://examine.com/supplements/beta-alanine/

[2] Patel, K. Carnosine Research Analysis. – https://examine.com/supplements/carnosine/

[3] Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Role of β-Alanine Supplementation on Muscle Carnosine. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c74e38]

[4] The absorption of orally supplied β-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. – https://oce.ovid.com/article/00013821-200605000-00009

[5] Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Hoffman, J. R., Wilborn, C. D., Sale, C., Kreider, R. B., Jäger, R., Earnest, C. P., Bannock, L., Campbell, B., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T. N., & Antonio, J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. – https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y

[6] Santana, J. O., de Freitas, M. C., dos Santos, D. M., Rossi, F. E., Lira, F. S., Rosa-Neto, J. C., & Caperuto, E. C. Beta-Alanine Supplementation Improved 10-km Running Time Trial in Physically Active Adults. – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2018.01105

[7] Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: A meta-analysis. – https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-011-1200-z

[8] 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. – https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-006-0364-4

[9] Hobson, R. M., Harris, R. C., Martin, D., Smith, P., Macklin, B., Gualano, B., & Sale, C. Effect of beta-alanine, with and without sodium bicarbonate, on 2000-m rowing performance. – https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.23.5.480

[10] Ostfeld, I., & Hoffman, J. R. The Effect of β-Alanine Supplementation on Performance, Cognitive Function and Resiliency in Soldiers. – https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15041039

[11] Hipkiss, A. R. Could carnosine or related structures suppress Alzheimer’s disease? – https://doi.org/10.3233/jad-2007-11210

[12] Boldyrev, A., Fedorova, T., Stepanova, M., Dobrotvorskaya, I., Kozlova, E., Boldanova, N., Bagyeva, G., Ivanova-Smolenskaya, I., & Illarioshkin, S. Carnosine – corrected] increases efficiency of DOPA therapy of Parkinson’s disease: A pilot study. [https://doi.org/10.1089/rej.2008.0716

[13] Matthews, J. J., Dolan, E., Swinton, P. A., Santos, L., Artioli, G. G., Turner, M. D., Elliott-Sale, K. J., & Sale, C. Effect of Carnosine or β-Alanine Supplementation on Markers of Glycemic Control and Insulin Resistance in Humans and Animals: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. – https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmab087

[14] Liu, Q., Sikand, P., Ma, C., Tang, Z., Han, L., Li, Z., Sun, S., LaMotte, R. H., & Dong, X. Mechanisms of Itch Evoked by β-Alanine. – https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3509-12.2012

[15] Everaert, I., Stegen, S., Vanheel, B., Taes, Y., & Derave, W. Effect of beta-alanine and carnosine supplementation on muscle contractility in mice. – https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e31826cdb68

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