The effectiveness of creatine supplementation is well known. Creatine increases lean muscle mass, boosts strength, and provides you with more energy during intense workouts. Combine the effectiveness of creatine with the fact that it has no side effects, and you have a recipe for a best-selling supplement. It can’t get any better then this, right?
Wrong. New research is revealing a synergistic, beneficial relationship between creatine and the popular bodybuilding supplement beta-alanine. A study by Hoffman, J., et al. (2006)1 revealed that a group of males supplementing with the combination of creatine and beta-alanine gained more lean mass and lost more bodyfat than a group supplementing with only creatine. It is also noteworthy to mention that this study was performed on collegiate football players, and not on inexperienced lifters.
A second study by Zoeller RF, Stout JR, O'kroy JA, Torok DJ, Mielke M.(2006)2, analyzed the aerobic benefits of beta-alanine as a stand alone supplement compared to the creatine/beta-alanine combination. 55 subjects participated in the study, and it was revealed that “a significant time effect” was observed for the individuals supplementing with the creatine/beta-alanine combination, in 5 out of the 8 measured parameters. Simply put, researchers noted that creatine used with beta-alanine boosted endurance performance.
Lyle McDonald, author of The Protein Book and The Ketogenic Diet and a renown body recomposition expert, had this to say regarding the combination of beta-alanine and creatine:
Relatively speaking, beta-alanine (an amino acid derivative) is fairly new on the block. As a matter of background, beta-alanine along with the amino acid histidine are used by the body to make a skeletal muscle buffer called carnosine (which is also sold for supplementation). Athletes involved in high intensity activities such as sprinting and bodybuilding have been found to have higher carnosine levels than endurance athletes and carnosine has been suggested to improve performance by helping to buffer acidosis. However, at least in animals, beta-alanine seems to work more effectively at raising tissue carnosine levels. At the very least, it's cheaper and you need less of it.
Two studies came out last year examining the impact of beta-alanine supplementation on human carnosine levels and found an effect, high intensity bicycle performance was also increased. Recently, the idea that stacking creatine with beta-alanine has been suggested. In premise, by buffering acidosis, beta-alanine might allow a lifter to get more reps at a given load; like creatine this would be expected to improve the rate of gains.
It is apparent that beta-alanine works as an effective amplifier for creatine, providing more endurance, strength, fat loss and muscle gain. The next time you cycle creatine, try stacking it with beta-alanine. Both supplements are very inexpensive, and just may well be the best bang for your buck in the entire supplement realm.
More About Beta Alanine
Most bodybuilders know quite a bit about creatine. But ask them about beta-alanine, and you’re likely to hear: “Yeah, I’ve heard of that stuff. Never used it, but heard of it.” What is beta-alanine, and what does it do?
Beta-alanine is a natural occurring amino acid that works to improve intramuscular carnosine concentrations. Higher intramuscular carnosine concentrations help to provide you with higher energy levels, and better endurance and athletic performance.
Numerous studies exist that reveal the following benefits of beta-alanine supplementation:
- Beta-alanine boosts explosive strength and power.
- Beta-alanine increases muscle mass.
- Beta-alanine heightens muscular anaerobic endurance.
- Beta-alanine increase aerobic endurance.
- Beta-alanine assists you in training harder and longer.
A Beta-Alanine and Creatine Cycle
The benefits of beta-alanine supplementation improve the deeper you get into a cycle. Lifters who supplement with 4 to 6 grams of beta-alanine on a daily basis can expect to increase muscle carnosine by up to 60% after only a month. After an additional 35 days of beta-alanine supplementation, it is possible to add up to 20% more muscular carnosine.
Because the benefits of beta-alanine supplementation get better with time, it may be in your best interest to front load beta-alanine for a couple of weeks prior to beginning your creatine cycle. Creatine is generally utilized for 4 to 12 week periods. For longer creatine cycles, it may not be necessary to front load beta-alanine.
Your daily beta-alanine supplementation should involve taking approximately 800 mgs at least 4 times per day. Beta-alanine has a limited half-life in the body, and the effects of supplementation will be dramatically reduced if this protocol is not followed. Consider taking beta-alanine every 4 hours.
It should also be mentioned that the benefits from beta-alanine supplementation are completely gone 3 weeks after you end your cycle. Carnosine levels gradually return back to normal. For this reason, expect a noticeable decrease in performance when you cycle off a creatine and beta-alanine stack.
Here is a recap on how to maximize the beta-alanine and creatine stack:
- Frequency. Beta-alanine must be taken every 4 hours with approximately 750 to 800 mgs. Aim for a range of 4 to 6 grams per day.
- Taurine. Supplement with taurine when using beta-alanine.
There is no research revealing any dangers associated with long term beta-alanine or creatine supplementation. It is generally recommended that you stick with a maximum 12 week cycle for both supplements. Here are some possible beta-alanine/creatine cycle approaches:
The 12 Week Cycle
This is an extended cycle for individuals who prefer to stay on creatine as long as possible. Beta-alanine is not front loaded during this cycle. Start both supplements at the same time, and don’t forget to add in taurine supplementation as well.
- Weeks 1 to 12. Creatine
- Weeks 1 to 12. Beta-alanine
12 Week Front Loaded Cycle
This cycle will have you front loading beta-alanine for 2 weeks prior to starting your creatine cycle. When you begin taking creatine, you should hit the ground running and feel some impressive benefits.
- Weeks 1 to 12. Beta-alanine.
- Weeks 3 to 12. Creatine
8 Week Cycle
This 8 week cycle uses the same approach as the 12 week cycle. There is no front loading of beta-alanine. You will gradually see an increase in benefits, and by the end of the 8 weeks your performance will be peaking.
- Weeks 1 to 12. Creatine
- Weeks 1 to 12. Beta-alanine
4 Week Creatine Cycle
For many, creatine supplementation works too well. If you’re like me, you get strong back pumps and prefer to stick with shorter creatine cycles. In this case, I recommend running 4 weeks of beta-alanine prior to running your creatine cycle. This will maximize the benefits of the creatine/beta-alanine stack for the entire 4 week period, heightening muscle growth, and strength and performance gains.
- Weeks 1 to 8. Beta-alanine
- Weeks 5 to 8. Creatine
A very small percentage of lifters receive little to no benefit from creatine supplementation. I still recommend that these trainees try the creatine/beta-alanine stack. As for everyone else...this supplement stack is a must try. It is inexpensive, and potentially the best legal and natural performance aid in the supplement industry.
Some of the brightest names in the supplement game trumpet the exciting possibilities of the beta-alanine/creatine combination. The stacking of these supplements just may be the most under-hyped, best kept secret in the industry.
(1) Hoffman, J., et al. (2008). Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med. In press.
(2) Zoeller RF, Stout JR, O'Kroy JA, Torok DJ, Mielke M: Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on aerobic power, ventilatory and lactate thresholds, and time to exhaustion. Amino acids 2007, 33(3):505-510.