What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid.
Unlike most amino acids, the body does not use them for protein synthesis.
Instead, together with histidine, it produces carnosine. Carnosine is then stored in your skeletal muscles (1).
Carnosine reduces the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles during exercise, which leads to improved athletic performance (2, 3).
How does beta-alanine work?
In your muscles, histidine levels are usually high and beta-alanine levels are low, which limits carnosine production (1, 4).
Beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to raise carnosine levels in muscle by 80% after 10 weeks of consumption (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
How does carnosine work during exercise?
- Glucose is broken down: Glycolysis is the breakdown of glucose, which is the main source of fuel during high-intensity exercise.
- Lactate is produced: During exercise, your muscles break down glucose into lactic acid. This is converted to lactate, which produces hydrogen ions (H +).
- Muscles become more acidic: Hydrogen ions lower the pH level in your muscles, making them more acidic.
- Fatigue occurs: Muscle acidity blocks the breakdown of glucose and reduces the ability of muscles to contract. This causes fatigue (8, 9, 10).
- Carnosine Buffer: Carnosine serves as an anti-acid buffer, reducing muscle acidity during high-intensity exercise (8, 11).
Because beta-alanine supplements increase carnosine levels, they help your muscles reduce acid levels during exercise. This reduces general fatigue.
Sports performance and power
Beta-alanine improves athletic performance by reducing fatigue, increasing endurance, and improving performance in high-intensity exercise.
Extends time to exhaustion
Studies show that beta-alanine increases the time to exhaustion (TTE). In other words, it helps you exercise for a long time.
A study conducted on cyclists showed that four weeks of taking supplements increased the total work done by 13%, increasing by an additional 3.2% after 10 weeks (3, 5, 8, 12).
Similarly, 20 men on a comparable cycling test increased their time to exhaustion by 13–14% after four weeks of taking beta-alanine (13).
Advantages of exercises with shorter duration
In general, muscle acidosis limits the duration of high-intensity exercise.
For this reason, beta-alanine especially helps in performance during high-intensity and short-term exercises lasting from one to several minutes.
One study found that six weeks of beta-alanine intake increased TTE by 19% during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) (14).
In another study, 18 rowers who used beta-alanine supplementation over seven weeks were 4.3 seconds faster than the placebo group in a 2,000-meter race that lasted more than 6 minutes (15).
For older adults, beta-alanine may help increase muscle endurance (16).
In resistance training, it can increase training volume and reduce fatigue. However, there is no consistent evidence that beta-alanine improves potency (17, 18, 19, 20).
Influence of beta-alanine on body structure
Some evidence suggests that beta-alanine supplementation may have a positive effect on body composition.
One study showed that supplementation increased lean muscle mass over three weeks (21).
Beta-alanine may improve body composition by increasing the amount of training and stimulating muscle growth.
However, some studies do not show significant differences in body composition and body weight after treatment (20, 22).
Other health benefits of Beta-alanine
Beta-alanine increases carnosine levels, which can have several health benefits.
Interestingly, animal studies show that carnosine has antioxidant properties, anti-aging, and immune-boosting. However, human studies are needed.
The antioxidant benefits of carnosine include neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress (23, 24, 25).
Moreover, animal studies suggest that carnosine increases nitric oxide production. This can help fight the aging process and improve heart health (26).
Finally, carnosine may increase muscle quality and function in the elderly (16, 27).
The best food sources
The best sources of beta-alanine in food are meat, poultry, and fish.
It is part of larger compounds – mainly carnosine and anserine – but is released when digested.
Vegetarians and vegans have about 50% less carnosine in their muscles than people who eat animal proteins (28).
Although most people can get enough beta-alanine from their diet, supplements further increase its level.
Dosage recommendations for Beta-alanine
The standard dose of beta-alanine is 2–5 grams per day (29).
Consuming beta-alanine with a meal can further increase carnosine levels (30).
Beta-alanine supplements appear to be better at restoring carnosine levels in muscle than taking carnosine alone (31).
Safety and side effects
Taking too much beta-alanine can cause paresthesia, an unusual sensation commonly described as “skin tingling.” It usually occurs on the face, neck, and back.
The intensity of this tingling increases with the size of the dose. It can be avoided by taking small doses several times during the day – about 800 mg at a time (3).
There is no evidence that paresthesia is harmful in any way (32).
Another possible side effect is a decrease in taurine levels. This is because beta-alanine can compete with taurine for absorption in muscles.
Combining with other supplements
BA is often combined with other supplements, including sodium bicarbonate and creatine.
Sodium bicarbonate or baking soda improves exercise performance by reducing acid in the blood and muscles (3).
Many studies have examined beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate in combination.
The results indicate some benefits of combining these two supplements – especially during exercises in which muscle acidosis inhibits performance (33, 34).
Creatine supports high-intensity exercise by increasing the availability of ATP.
When used together, creatine and beta-alanine have been shown to improve exercise performance, strength, and muscle mass (35, 36, 37).
You can read here more about creatine.
Beta-alanine improves performance by increasing exercise capacity and reducing muscle fatigue.
It also has antioxidant properties, strengthens immunity, and prevents aging.
You can get beta-alanine from foods containing carnosine or through supplements. The recommended dose is 2-5 grams per day.
Although excessive amounts can cause tingling in the skin, beta-alanine is considered a safe and effective supplement to increase exercise performance.