Beta-alanine supplements have quickly grown in popularity in recent years owing to the scientific discovery that they reduce neuromuscular fatigue during high-intensity training. They are popular among athletes who want to enhance their performance by training at high intensity for longer. But if you are curious, you will want to know the science behind beta-alanine and how it works.
Beta-alanine in a nutshell
Beta-alanine is a natural non-essential amino acid that creates carnosine by combining with L-histidine, another amino acid. Carnosine is stored in your muscles for use during high-intensity exercises. Taking beta-alanine supplements for several weeks has proven to increase carnosine levels in the muscles by around 80%.
When working out, carnosine plays a vital role in reducing the accumulation of lactic acid, which is the main cause of fatigue. For instance, you are likely to experience a burning sensation in your muscles after training for a certain period which signals the onset of fatigue because lactic acid has accumulated in your muscles leading to muscle acidosis. The work of carnosine is to delay that fatigue allowing you to train for longer.
How carnosine works
During training, your body breaks down glucose for energy, and the more energy you produce, the more lactic acid builds up. That leads to the production of hydrogen ions in your muscles, making them more acidic.
Consequently, the muscle acidity prevents glucose breakdown reducing your muscle’s capacity to contract hence fatigue. Carnosine is the primary buffer against that acidity to increase the time to exhaustion.
Beta-alanine comes from food sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, and beef. However, these foods do not provide adequate amounts of beta-alanine in your body to build more carnosine. Therefore athletes supplement with beta-alanine tablets to boost the levels, essential for vegetarians and vegans.
Why not take carnosine instead?
This is one of the inquiries many people make when they learn about the workings of beta-alanine. When you consume carnosine in its pure form, an enzyme must digest it and then convert it back into carnosine before it finds its way into the muscles. That means there is little carnosine left for absorption, so it doesn’t saturate the muscles as much.
But when you take beta-alanine, the body automatically converts it into carnosine, allowing you to make the most out of the increased carnosine levels. Scientists advise that this is the most efficient way to boost your carnosine concentrations in the muscles.
Who is a good candidate for beta-alanine?
Good candidates for using beta-alanine supplements are high-intensity training athletes such as sprinters, swimmers, rowers, and cyclists. According to research, beta-alanine works best for high-intensity exercises lasting between 1-4minutes.
Van Thien and colleagues conducted a study on beta-alanine supplementation on sprint performance. They concluded that beta-alanine increased power output by 5% and peak power output by 11.4%
Beta-alanine also benefits power-based athletes. It improves trial performance which reflects in some aspects of endurance performance.
Besides boosting performance in high-intensity exercises, beta-alanine is an antioxidant, has anti-aging properties, and improves immune function.