We all know that elevated training intensity requires an optimal state of mind, but science tells us that high intensity workouts rely on optimizing the cellular environment in working muscle. At the end of the day, the more reps and sets you can complete during training sessions, the greater the stimulus for muscle growth. Currently there are number of supplements on the market that claim to decrease muscular fatigue when you train, but none have received more scientific support than beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine has been shown to increase exercise performance through its ability to increase carnosine synthesis. Carnosine is a dipeptide formed by the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine.
So….why not just supplement carnosine?
Well, unfortunately carnosine has low bioavailability when ingested. However, research clearly shows that beta-alanine supplementation boosts muscular carnosine reserves, as an adequate supply of beta-alanine is necessary for muscular carnosine synthesis.
Elevated muscle carnosine levels increase muscle function and performance through its ability to decrease (buffer) intracellular acidity during prolonged and intense exercise. This effect keeps muscle cells happy, enabling them to sustain high intensity contractions for longer periods. Beyond these buffering effects, high muscle carnosine also acts as a unique and potent antioxidant that prolongs neuromuscular excitation-contraction coupling—this effect decreases muscular fatigue and perceived exertion during intense maximal exercise.
Recent research published in the Journal of the International Society for Sports Nutrition investigated the effect of supplementing 6.4 g/day of beta-alanine on the adaptive responses to a 5-week resistance training program, in healthy strength-trained volunteers. Over 5 weeks of strength training, male subjects (18-25 years old) took 6.4 g/day of beta-alanine (or placebo), as 8 × 800 mg doses, each at least 1.5 h apart.
It was found that, compared to placebo, beta-alanine produced significant improvements over the 5-week training period. To illustrate, there was twice the improvement in average power at 1RM and at maximum power output in those who took beta-alanine versus placebo. Furthermore, the average power gain produced at 1RM in the beta-alanine group could be explained by increased maximal strength at 1RM and increased number of sets performed before fatigue during exercise testing.
ACTION POINT: This study shows that beta-alanine supplementation is effective at increasing power output when pushing weights at an individual’s maximal strength or maximum power output. Past research suggests that you can reap the benefits of beta-alanine with as little as 1.6 grams per day, however it will take some time for muscle carnosine levels to peak. Most research shows that you get the greatest carnosine loading effect when you take 4-6 g of beta-alanine per day, split into several doses.
Beta-alanine is generally safe to take in moderate doses. However high single doses (>800 mg) have been shown to cause harmless tingling/numbness (paresthesia) in hands and skin that disappear within an hour of ingesting. If you want to avoid this, make sure to split your daily dose into smaller 800 mg servings and take them throughout the day (with at least an hour between doses). We suggest that you take beta-alanine at the same time each day. On training days, be sure to take one serving 30-60 minutes preworkout and another right after training.
Reference: Maté-Muñoz JL, Lougedo JH, Garnacho-Castaño MV, Veiga-Herreros P, Lozano-Estevan MDC, García-Fernández P, de Jesús F, Guodemar-Pérez J, San Juan AF, Domínguez R. Effects of β-alanine supplementation during a 5-week strength training program: a randomized, controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Apr 25;15:19.