Last updated on December 20th, 2018
Do you know what beta-alanine is doing inside your body when you take it? Is it necessary to take it before a workout? And what’s that weird tingly feeling all about? Is it safe?
All the questions are valid, and a few might yield surprising answers for some of you.
Beta-Alanine is one of the most common ingredients in today’s pre-workout supplements.
It’s become so accepted in the sports supplement industry that if you don’t see around 3.2 grams of the patented standard beta-alanine extract CarnoSyn in your pre-workout, you’d have to wonder why.
Hopefully, most people using it are aware of its effects, and understand its capabilities and shortcomings. If not, this is the article for you because you should know what you’re putting in to your body.
A Lowly Non-Essential Amino Acid
We tend to put more stock in the essential amino acids as supplements because we can’t synthesize them within our bodies.
Essential AAs are therefore obtained from out diet, and we can top them up or add to them with supplements.
There are 9 essential AAs but the ones you are most aware of are probably the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. That’s because of their importance in muscle tissue, energy and recovery.
Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid. The non-essential AAs are often thought of as less important but that’s a mistake.
In fact, non-essential AAs like beta-alanine are often the limiting factors in the bio-chemical processes that also involve essential amino acids.
This will make more sense if we talk about Carnosine.
Carnosine, Beta-Alanine and Histidine
Beta-Alanine is made in your liver and from there travels to, and enters, your muscle tissue. Once there it hooks up with the essential amino-acid, Histidine.
The two together form a dipeptide (two amino acids linked together) called Carnosine.
Carnosine cannot enter muscle tissue so it has to be made inside it. There it is stored for use as a buffer to lactic acid and protection against oxidative stress in general.
It can however be broken down to its constituent substrates (beta-alanine and histidine) in the liver, which can then travel to muscle tissue and reverse the process.
That said, it is accepted that beta-alanine supplementation is the most efficient and preferred route for increasing muscle carnosine levels.
Moreover, beta-alanine is the limiting step in carnosine production, unless there is a histidine deficiency, and so it only makes sense for athletes and bodybuilders to supplement with BA.
What Does Carnosine Do For My Workouts?
Most people associate beta-alanine with giving them the extra gas for one or two more reps in a set.
This effect comes from the additional muscle carnosine that supplementing BA provides. Carnosine acts as a buffer to acid – lactic acid included – and slowing the fatiguing effects of a drop in pH level.
Several studies have found that beta-alanine can improve physical performance, reduce fatigue and even increase the hypertrophic effect of training because of the lactic acid buffering effect.
- Endurance performance in men
- Performance and body composition in college athletes
- Cardiovascular improvements after HIIT training with women
It’s quite specific in doing this though. The exercise range where beta-alanine can help you squeeze some more energy out is between 60 seconds to 4 minute of high output training.
Imagine an 800 or 1500 meter race, or high volume sets of squats, and you’re in the right zone.
Are There Any Other Benefits of Beta-Alanine Supplementation?
Some interesting research shows that BA can attenuate the aging process of cells. This is once again due to carnosine’s protective actions, defending cells of oxidative damage.
There are two ways in which BA might help slow the aging process: by preserving DNA from the shortening effect of multiple replications, or by slowing the build-up of toxic altered protein by-products in cells.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that beta-alanine had become almost ubiquitous in the context of pre-workout powder supplements.
The thing is, it’s something that you accumulate, in a similar way to creatine monohydrate.
Over several days of taking 2 to 5 grams of BA per day you will basically create a storage reservoir of carnosine within your muscle tissue.
This is all to say that you can actually supplement BA separately, and its efficacy is not dependant on timing.
Therefore, if you have a favourite pre-workout blend that doesn’t include BA, or you don’t enjoy the tingles (parasthesia – see below) during a workout, or after a large dose, then you can split the BA servings up and take them anytime you want.
Parasethesia – A Harmless Side Effect
Supplementing with beta-alanine can cause a harmless side effect known as parasthesia – a tingly skin sensation that is mostly felt in the face, neck and shoulders but that can spread the the extremities.
It tends to happen when larger doses (2 to 5 grams) are taken at once, which of course is the case where pre-workout supplements are concerned.
Again, though, it’s not a harmful effect. It’s simply a case of whether you mind it or not. Some people enjoy it, me included.