Beta Alanine in Endurance Sports

Tim Podlogar / Reading time: 2 min read
Similar to sodium bicarbonate, beta alanine is one of the few supplements that are actually proven to improve athletic performance.
Beta alanine in endurance sports

Beta alanine is another supplement among the few supplements that have consistently demonstrated to positively affect exercise performance.

Beta alanine is an amino acid and belongs to a group of non-essential ones. This means that the body has the ability synthesize it on its own. However, you can still enhance your performance by adding more beta alanine into the body as a supplement

How does it work? When does it work? What are the potential drawbacks? And most importantly, how to use it? These are the questions we will answer in this blog.

How does beta alanine work?

After its absorption, beta alanine in the muscles supports production of a molecule called carnosine. What is carnosine? It's the compound that actually affects your fatigue resistance.

There are two explanations on how increased carnosine levels affect performance.

The more popular one is that it acts as a buffer of hydrogen ions and by doing so helps to normalize pH within muscle fibers during intense endurance exercise. This notion is based on the suggestion that a reduction in pH within muscles causes fatigue.

However, there is very limited evidence available to demonstrate that low pH in muscles at physiological temperatures actually is the main cause of muscle fatigue. As a result, it remains to be established if this is really the pathway on how increased carnosine levels affect muscles' function.

Rather than reduced pH, there is more evidence that muscle contraction is negatively affected by accumulation of free phosphate (Pi), occurring mostly due to a mismatch between creatine phosphate degradation and its replenishment. Interestingly, carnosine has been shown to mitigate the consequences of this on muscular function, as demonstrated by this study and this study.

Either way, both a decrease in pH and increase in Pi concentrations occur at similar exercise intensities. For this reason, understanding these mechanisms is not essential for its consumers, which leads us to the next question.

When does beta alanine work?

Beta alanine works at similar exercise intensities as sodium bicarbonate. This means at intensities above the so-called critical power or at an intensity that we cannot sustain for more than approximately 20 minutes.

Above this "critical" intensity, homeostasis in the muscle cells cannot be maintained anymore and anaerobic metabolism pathways do not match aerobic pathways so that certain metabolites, such as Pi and hydrogen ions, start to accumulate. 

What are the potential drawbacks of beta alanine?

The only potential negative effect is paraesthesia or “tingling of the skin”, which is completely harmless and can be prevented by splitting the dose into multiple portions throughout the day.

How to use beta alanine?

Beta alanine first needs to be consumed regularly for multiple weeks to increase carnosine levels in your body. In other words, acute supplementation of beta alanine will not have any positive effects on performance.

To load carnosine levels, we initially recommend that you consume 6-10 g of beta alanine daily, divided into multiple doses.

After approximately one month, you can reduce the intake to 4 grams daily and start the maintenance phase.

After cessation of the supplementation, it takes 12-16 weeks to return carnosine levels within the muscle fibres back to the pre-supplementation levels.

Conclusion

To sum everything up, beta alanine is a harmless supplement that helps improve fatigue resistance at high exercise intensities. You need to consume it daily to see the desired effects.