What Does Supplementing with β-Alanine Do?
By default, if you exercise you put your body though some physiological stress, and that’s not a bad thing. However, at the chemical level, stress kills performance. When your muscle cells run out of ATP and glycogen you fatigue and can’t push through your workouts. When the various chemical metabolites build up in the tissue it impacts the muscle, and not in a good way. 1 Free-radical build up can cause protein glycosylation, which basically ages your muscles. 2 If the cellular stress response was left unchecked muscle fatigue and cellular damage would prevent any strength and performance gains. Luckily, this process is not left unchecked. Carnosine plays a major role in cleaning up the metabolites that your workouts leave behind.
Carnosine is made naturally in the human body, with the highest concentration in the muscle and the brain. 2 It is an excellent antioxidant,2 it acts as a buffer to control the acidity of the muscles 1, and it reduces damaging protein glycation.2 Given how important carnosine is at the cellular level, you may be wondering why you’ve never heard of a single supplement contain carnosine. Well, it turns out that when carnosine is taken orally, the body breaks it down into its two building blocks: histidine and alanine.
Now, if you have ever read the back of a pre-workout bottle, alanine should sound familiar. β-Alanine, or beta-alanine, is an immensely popular supplement. You may know it as the ingredient that causes a tingling sensation under your skin. It turns out that the human body’s production of carnosine is limited by the availability of beta alanine.3 Studies show that supplementation with beta alanine increases carnosine levels4, and in turn increases muscular endurance5 and decreases fatigue6. As a secondary ‘bonus’ effect, studies suggest a fat loss effect7 and a hypertrophic effect8, so it should help you lose fat and gain muscle.
There is obviously good reason that, next to creatine, beta-alanine is one of the most popular work-out supplements. It is not without its potential downsides though. As mentioned above, it does cause a tingling sensation (known as parathesia). While parathesia is harmless, it can be uncomfortable. There is also evidence that beta-alanine overfeeding can cause taurine deficiency. 9 While no studies have been done in humans, it is wise to use caution and not overdo beta-alanine supplementation. A standard daily dose of 2-5g has not shown any impact on taurine in humans.
- Dawson R Jr, et al. The cytoprotective role of taurine in exercise-induced muscle injury. Amino Acids. (2002)