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Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is a powerful amino acid that your body naturally produces. It’s the limiting factor in how your liver synthesises muscle carnosine, which buffers acid when you exercise. In this article, we hope to address questions such as what is the best beta-alanine supplementation protocol, what specifically does beta-alanine improve about your cycling ability, and what other supplements can you take alongside beta-alanine?

Beta-alanine supplementation enhances cycling performance in efforts that are constrained by a build-up of lactic acid. Beta-alanine also reduces neuromuscular fatigue, particularly in older athletes, potentially increasing the repeatability of sprints and attacks. Researchers theorise that beta-alanine improves performance across all efforts constrained by acid buildup, but studies predominantly support durations of 1-4 minutes, with few examining effects over 25 minutes. [1]

The best strategy for beta-alanine supplementation involves taking a daily dose of 6g, divided into doses of 2g, for a minimum of 2 weeks, which can increase muscle carnosine concentrations by 20-30%. Greater benefits are observed after 4 weeks, with increases of 40-60% in muscle carnosine. For maximum absorption, it's best to take these doses with a meal, which can further enhance muscle carnosine concentrations. A very common side effect of beta-alanine is paraesthesia, which is an itching/tingling sensation. It is not harmful and will pass in 60-90 minutes. [1]

A very common side effect of beta-alanine is paraesthesia (itching/tingling skin sensation). It is not harmful, will pass in 60-90 minutes and you can mitigate its effect by lowering your dose.

The combined effect of beta-alanine with other supplements on cycling performance:

- Combined beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate is additive. [2]

- Combined creatine and beta-alanine is probably not additive. [3]

- There isn’t enough evidence to determine whether the effect of combined caffeine and beta-alanine supplementation is additive or not on cycling performance [4].

Though it doesn’t seem that the muscle carnosine pathways are related to sex, more studies are required to determine whether the effects of beta-alanine supplementation are the same for women and men [5]. Furthermore, as of the position stand (2015) there is no long term safety data on beta-alanine supplementation. The authors maintain that the likelihood of safety concerns are very low, and carnosine even acts as an antioxidant in your body [6].

Finally, some practical advice regarding bicarb supplementation. You need to make sure you are getting the right amount, otherwise you won’t see the benefit, and always remember to take it right after a high carb meal. It’s probably worth weighing out at least your first portion so you know how much you’re getting. You probably won’t get enough through pill supplements, so you can mix bulk baking soda in water or a drink to get it down. Be prepared, as the taste is very unpleasant.

It’s hard to say how much beta-alanine will improve your cycling performance because the best estimate is based on numerous studies. One meta-analysis determined an effect size of 0.18, which loosely could mean a moderate chance of a couple of percent improvement [2].

Individual responses to beta-alanine supplementation vary widely. One study showed that high responders experienced a 55% increase in muscle carnosine concentrations, compared to 15% in low responders. Although beta-alanine increases muscle carnosine in both untrained and highly trained athletes, the effect may be less pronounced in resistance-trained individuals (gym-goers) due to their already higher baseline levels of muscle carnosine. [1]

Notes

[1] Based on this position stand by the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

[2] This meta-analysisyielded an average Cohen’s d of 0.43 for beta-alanine and sodium bicarb combined on exercise performance vs 0.18 for beta-alanine alone. Cohen’s d is a measurement for effect size, and is commonly interpreted as small (d = 0.2), medium (d = 0.5), and large (d = 0.8).

The Cohen’s d presented in the study is very likely significantly lower than the actual effect size due to many studies using exercise tests that lasted less than 30 seconds in the calculation. In fact, one of the outcomes of the meta-analysis was that beta alanine is not effective for exercise that lasts less than 30 seconds.

[3] Studies have shown that there is no additive synergistic effect of combining creatine and beta-alanine, however multiple studies have shown performance benefits of consuming beta-alanine and creatine compared to not consuming either [1].

[4] We could find no studies that compared placebo, caffeine, beta-alanine, and combined caffeine and beta-alanine groups. There is conclusive evidence of pre-workout supplements containing beta-alanine and caffeine alongside other ingredients being effective, but in most studies the participants did not take the supplement for the required 2-4 weeks for beta-alanine to become effective.

[5] Based on this review , there have been less female subjects in studies of beta-alanine.

Based on [1], beta-alanine may be more beneficial to women than men because women have lower baseline carnosine concentrations, but we need data to support this hypothesis.

[6] The safety concern is low because your body produces beta-alanine and because it and its constituents are not involved in essential pathways in your body [1].