Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What is Beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid and can also be called non-essential amino acid, which is produced in the body. It is not used to synthesize protein. Beta-alanine combines with histidine to form carnosine, which is stored in the skeletal muscles. Carnosine has the ability to reduce lactic acid accumulation in the muscles during exercise, which leads to improved athletic performance.
The body can produce beta-alanine in three ways. Beta-alanine can be released during the breakdown of histidine dipeptides, such as carnosine or anserine. It is formed due to a reaction that converts L-alanine to pyruvate. Intestinal microbes remove the carbon atom during digestion releasing beta-alanine and CO2 from L-aspartate.
When there are sufficient levels of sodium and chloride available in the body, beta-alanine is transported via beta-alanine and taurine transporter. Once beta alanine enters a skeletal muscle cell, it binds with the essential amino acid L-histidine to form the dipeptide carnosine.
Mechanism of action
Beta-alanine combines with histidine to form carnosine, which is stored in the skeletal muscles. In muscles, histidine levels are high and beta-alanine levels are low, which limits the production of carnosine. Supplementing with beta-alanine elevates carnosine levels in muscles. The mechanism of carnosine during exercise is as follows:
- Glucose is broken down: During exercise, glucose is broken down and this process is called glycolysis. Glucose is the main source of fuel during high-intensity exercise.
- Lactate is produced: When we exercise, muscles break glucose down into lactic acid. This lactic acid is converted into lactate, which produces hydrogen ions.
- Muscles become more acidic: The hydrogen ions reduce the pH level in the muscles and make them more acidic.
- Fatigue sets in: Muscle acidity blocks glucose breakdown and reduces the muscles’ ability to contract, which causes fatigue.
- Carnosine buffer: Carnosine acts as a buffer against the acid, which reduces the acidity in muscles during high-intensity exercise.
Since beta-alanine supplements increase carnosine levels in muscles, they help the muscles reduce their acid levels during exercise which in turn reduces fatigue.
Health Benefits of Beta-Alanine
Beta-alanine increases carnosine levels, which have several health benefits. Carnosine has antioxidant, anti-aging and immune-enhancing properties. The antioxidant benefits include neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress. Carnosine also prevents changes in the structure and function of proteins in the body, which may help in anti-aging. Another property of carnosine includes its ability to elevate nitric oxide production, which helps against the aging process and improves immune function.
Improves Athletic Performance
During exercise, muscles build up acids that reduce physical function and increase fatigue. Beta-alanine is a building block of carnosine, a molecule that helps neutralize these damaging muscle acids. When beta-alanine is supplemented, it combines with histidine to produce carnosine. Carnosine helps the muscles reduce their acid levels during exercise which in turn reduces fatigue. Due to this process, an athlete is able to perform an exercise for a longer period with minimal fatigue.
A review has shown that beta-alanine improves military capability. Beta-alanine improves the performance of soldiers especially during short bursts of high-intensity combat. Studies have also shown that improved jumping power, shooting speed, and marksmanship. Beta-alanine can also increase cognitive performance while under stress.
Increases Muscle Mass
Muscle mass is the physical size of the muscle. Muscle strength can be accepted as a component of total fitness, which includes endurance, flexibility, power, and speed. Beta-alanine helps in performance during exercise, and with high-intensity exercise, the fat is burnt and promotes the growth of muscles. Studies have shown that during high-intensity training, beta-alanine increased oxygen intake and ventilatory threshold.
Delay Fatigue and Reduce Lactic Acid in Muscles
During any muscle activity, glucose is broken down in a process called glycolysis. Glucose is the main energy source for muscles. Glucose is broken down into lactic acid, which is converted into lactate. Lactate produces hydrogen ions. Hydrogen ions reduce the pH level in the muscles and make them more acidic. Muscle acidity limits glucose breakdown and reduces the muscles’ ability to contract, which causes fatigue. Beta-alanine supplements increase carnosine levels in muscles. Carnosine reduces the acid levels in the muscles and helps in limiting fatigue. Studies have shown that beta-alanine reduces acid build-up during the high-intensity anaerobic performance, which delayed fatigue. However, individual improvement widely varies.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. Beta-alanine is helpful in boosting carnosine and serotonin levels in the brain. Carnosine reduces anxiety. It increases the anti-anxiety molecule in the brain. Studies have shown that improvement in anti-anxiety molecules may also decrease PTSD-like behavior.
A tumor is a mass of tissue that is formed by an accumulation of abnormal cells. Tumor cells grow, even though the body does not need them, and unlike normal old cells, they do not die. Studies have shown that beta alanine is helpful in reducing this process by limiting the basal and peak OCR (oxygen consumption rate).
Aging is the normal process of the human body. Aging can hamper the ability of muscles to contract and expand, which limits ambulation and other daily activities. Beta-alanine forms the molecule carnosine in muscles. Carnosine reduces aging-related stress (glycoxidant stress). This stress damages cells and increases the risk of age-related chronic disease. Beta-alanine also helps old aged people experience improved exercise capability.
Health Risks of beta alanine
There are some risk factors associated with excess consumption of beta-alanine. Let us discuss some of the risk factors below:
May Cause Oxidative Stress
A study on hyper-beta-alaninemia (high beta-alanine levels) found that beta-alanine increased free radicals decreased oxygen intake, and triggered mitochondrial death. Reduction in cell energy coupled with oxidative stress can lead to heart failure. Chronic beta-alanine supplementation increases reactive oxygen species in the brain (cerebral cortex and cerebellum) and decreased antioxidant activity.
May cause hyper-beta-alaninemia
Hyper-beta-alaninemia is a rare disease that increases levels of beta-alanine. It can cause brain damage, decreased muscle tone, and breathing problems. This condition can be fatal and supplements of beta-alanine should be stopped with immediate effect.
May contribute to GABA-Transaminase Deficiency
It is a seizure disorder (epileptic encephalopathy) that causes accelerated growth in babies. It is associated with increased beta-alanine in the spine. There is a possibility that GABA-transaminase deficiency and hyper-beta-alaninemia are variants of the same disorder.
Low Beta-alanine Levels May Contribute to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by any underlying medical condition. Beta-alanine is released into the urine during the period of chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition can hamper the daily activities of life.
Natural Sources of Beta Alanine
A very little beta alanine is derived from the foods we consume. Most comes in the form of the dipeptides carnosine, anserine or balenine, each of which contributes to raising beta-alanine availability when broken down during digestion. We can derive these from the animal proteins in our diet. Pork and beef are considered to be good sources of carnosine, whereas tuna and venison are high food sources of anserine. Dietary Supplements provide a good amount of beta-alanine.
Dosage of beta-alanine
Important to know the dosage of beta-alanine, which can improve performance and promote other health benefits. Clinical studies have shown benefits when beta-alanine is consumed around 2 to 4.8 grams. Data shows that 4.8 grams are slightly more effective than 2 grams, but there is not much of a difference when the supplement is taken every day. It is similar to creatine.
Beta-alanine also seems to benefit from a loading phase, which allows for a faster accumulation of carnosine in the muscles, which means a higher dosage allows us to realize the benefits faster. People doing high-end weight lifting programs may benefit from the upper end of the clinically effective range of beta-alanine. This is mainly because carnosine stores are depleted during muscle contractions, which means the more we contract our muscles, the more carnosine the body uses.
Possible results expected from beta-alanine supplements
Like all supplements, we cannot expect overnight results. It should be noted that supplements do not make great physiques, but dedication and proper training does. Some of the expected results include:
- A slight increase in the amount of volume in weightlifting workouts.
- A slight increase in the amount of work, which we will be able to do when super setting exercises.
- Muscle growth over time that is minimal(not as noticeable as creatine).
Interactions of beta alanine
Beta-alanine and Creatine: Studies have shown that when these two supplements are combined, it increased lean body mass and decreased body fat more than creatine supplements alone.
Beta-alanine and Sodium Bicarbonate: When a beta-alanine supplement is combined with another supplement called sodium bicarbonate, it improved performance, perceived exertion, and the total amount of exercise work done.
Beta-alanine and Taurine: Beta-alanine in high concentration can decrease taurine levels. However, this is unrealistic since the recommended dose for a beta-alanine supplement is too low to cause taurine depletion. Taurine supplementation can offset depleted taurine caused by beta-alanine. The combined use of beta-alanine and taurine supplements helped decrease muscle fatigue.
Final thoughts on beta-alanine
Beta-alanine is considered to be consistent in enhancing the performance of a sports person which is similar to creatine. It works best for intense exercise lasting one to four minutes but can last closer to 30 seconds during weightlifting.
It also seems to slightly increase muscle growth. The only common side effect of beta-alanine supplementation is a temporary tingling sensation in the skin about 15 minutes after consumption. This is caused by beta-alanine’s effect on a specific type of nerve cell in the skin and is entirely harmless.
Research has shown that in commercially available supplementation products, there is a substantial chance of contamination with banned substances and/or different concentrations of ingredients to those listed on the supplement container. Several studies have used commercially available supplements and the purity of these commercial products has not been tested. Care should be taken when supplementing these commercial products to special populations, such as female athletes or elderly individuals.
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