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Does Beta-Alanine Improve Exercise Performance?

Updated: Apr 18

Beta-alanine is a core component of many pre-workout supplements, and is marketed to improve exercise performance. But is this true? And if so, to what extent?


Introduction

While not as popular as caffeine or creatine (1), beta-alanine is a well-known supplement in the fitness industry that is marketed for its ostensible performance-enhancing effects. Beta-alanine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid, which just means that it is not involved in making new proteins (like other amino acids). Rather, beta-alanine combines with another amino acid called histidine to create a compound called carnosine.


The reason why supplementing with beta-alanine may improve exercise performance is its ability to create carnosine. This is because carnosine’s role in our muscle cells is to maintain acid-base balance. Because high-intensity exercise creates an acidic environment* in our muscle cells, which is thought to cause fatigue and lead us to reduce our exercise intensity, having extra carnosine to buffer (or neutralise) this rise in acid, to help maintain acid-base balance within the muscle cells, could be a way to sustain high-intensity exercise for a longer period of time.


 

*This acidic environment causes an unpleasant burning sensation in the muscles that people often (incorrectly) think is caused by a build-up of lactic acid. In reality, it is a build-up of hydrogen ions—which are formed from lactic acid—that is thought to cause this.


 

Beta-alanine is made in the liver, and can also be found in animal-source foods like meat and fish. However, you would have to eat at least 3.5 kilograms of meat per day to get the recommended dose of beta-alanine to improve exercise performance! Therefore, supplementing with beta-alanine is the most realistic route to getting enough of this compound.


Beta-alanine powder and capsules.

Beta-alanine is most commonly sold as a powder, but can also be purchased in capsule format. Image source: Eric Favre.


Beta-Alanine and Exercise Performance

In a meta-analysis of 40 studies—where researchers combined the results of 40 similar studies into one overall result—beta-alanine supplementation improved exercise performance to a small extent (2). However, when studies were stratified by the exercise duration, greater effects were observed for exercise lasting 1–4 minutes in length and >4 minutes in length, whereas the effects were not strong for exercise lasting <1 minute or >10 minutes in duration (2).


Researchers also looked at whether the exercise type, training status (i.e., trained vs. untrained individuals), or exercise mode (i.e., whole-body vs. isolated limbs) affected the results, but results suggested these factors had little effect on the relationship between beta-alanine and exercise performance (2). However, researchers did find some evidence to suggest that supplementing with beta-alanine for >20 days may be more effective than supplementing for <20 days (2). In addition, the strongest effects for improving exercise performance were observed in studies that used beta-alanine supplementation alongside sodium bicarbonate supplementation (2).


The Findings in Context

If you think about how beta-alanine works—by increasing muscle levels of carnosine, which can help to neutralise the rise in acid in muscle cells that is associated with high-intensity exercise—it makes sense that effects were stronger in exercise lasting 1–10 minutes in length, as exercise performed in this time period is very intense (think of running a mile or kilometre as fast as you can!). In addition the additive effect of beta-alanine supplementation along with sodium bicarbonate supplementation makes sense for the same reason—sodium bicarbonate also helps to neutralise this rise in acid in muscle cells, albeit in a different manner.


Paraesthesia on the hands.

While beta-alanine supplementation is safe, some people experience a side effect called paraesthesia. This can result in a tingling sensation in the hands, face, abdomen, or chest, which some people may find uncomfortable. However, you can reduce the risk of paraesthesia by splitting the dose into smaller portions throughout the day. Image source: Dynamic Stem Cell Therapy.


Summary

All in all, beta-alanine seems to improve high-intensity exercise performance. If your sport or exercise regimen includes intense activity 1–10 minutes in length, it’s certainly a potentially useful supplement. If you’re interested in using beta-alanine, the recommended dose is ~3.2–6.4 grams per day for 4–12 weeks (2), split into three or four equal doses every 3–4 hours (3). For footballers, benefits are probably not huge; however, it’s no harm to take it if you’re seeking an extra edge—especially before any intense workouts lasting 1–10 minutes in length.


If you would like supplemental football training to improve your skills, reach out to our team of expert coaches at [email protected] to get started. And sign up to our mailing list to ensure you never miss a new article (don't worry, we don't spam).


Thanks a million for reading. Come back next week to learn something new!


Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH

Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121

Twitter/X: @PatrickElliott0


References

(1) Kamiński M, Kręgielska-Narożna M, Bogdański P. Determination of the Popularity of Dietary Supplements Using Google Search Rankings. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):908. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/4/908


(2) Saunders B, Elliott-Sale K, Artioli GG, Swinton PA, Dolan E, Roschel H, Sale C, Gualano B. β-alanine supplementation to improve exercise capacity and performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2017 Apr;51(8):658–69. Available at: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/8/658.long


(3) Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, Larson-Meyer DE, Peeling P, Phillips SM, Rawson ES, Walsh NP, Garthe I, Geyer H, Meeusen R, van Loon LJC, Shirreffs SM, Spriet LL, Stuart M, Vernec A, Currell K, Ali VM, Budgett RG, Ljungqvist A, Mountjoy M, Pitsiladis YP, Soligard T, Erdener U, Engebretsen L. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Apr;52(7):439–55. Available at: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/7/439.long


Technical Terms

Amino acids: These are the building blocks of proteins. You can think of them like LEGO blocks—each fit together to form a larger structure. In the case of amino acids, that larger structure is a protein. There are 20 proteinogenic amino acids, nine of which are essential (meaning, we must get them from our diet because our body can’t make them). By proteinogenic, I mean ‘involved in the synthesis of proteins’. Beta-alanine, for example, is a non-proteinogenic amino acid, meaning it is not involved in protein synthesis.


Meta-analysis: A meta-analysis is like a big study of studies. Instead of just looking at one study, it combines the results of multiple studies on the same topic to see if there are any overall patterns or trends. By doing this, researchers can make more reliable conclusions about the topic they're studying—but only if the meta-analysis is well done.

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Convidado:
19 de mar.
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Thanks for the well researched and insightful article! Have been taking beta-alanine on and off for about 2 years (together with creatine and more recently taurine) on my strength training days (3x a week). I had read some of the research on it before reading your blog entry and was already aware that the benefits are likely marginal. so I am not nearly as stringent with it as I am with creatine which I also use (daily) to help keep my homocysteine levels low and (hopefully) have a positive impact on my cognition. As for the tingling sensation I do tend to get it when I have not taken the supplement in a while but once I have taken…

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19 de mar.
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That's really interesting feedback, thanks for sharing! I do think that creatine is definitely a good choice, and we have written about its benefits before. Taurine is an interesting one — perhaps a future blog topic! - Patrick

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