You unscrew the lid of your pre-workout and the sweet smell of blue raspberry wafts through the air. Two scoops go in your shaker cup. You shake it like the champ you are, pop the top, and chug that “go-juice."
Minutes later you feel a tingling sensation and itchy face sets in. You are now loaded with beta-alanine and you feel like you could tear the walls down. It's time to train.
Despite the well-known tingly feeling associated with Beta-alanine and its use in pre-workout supplements, there is a lot of misinformation and hyperbole surrounding it as a supplement. I am here to set the record straight.
Beta-alanine is the beta form of the amino acid alanine (meaning the amino group is in the beta position). It is the rate limiting* precursor to a chemical called carnosine which acts as a buffer to prevent reductions in pH. In essence, Beta-alanine isn’t doing the work; it is providing your body with the ability to make more carnosine.
*“Rate limiting” means it is essentially the bottleneck of the reaction. You can only make carnosine if you have beta alanine present.
Let's separate fact from fiction and see what beta-alanine can do for you!
1. Train Harder, Train Longer
Beta-Alanine helps you avoid “hitting the wall” a little bit longer, essentially increasing your workload by 1-2 additional reps in the 8-15 rep range.1, 2, 3 The consistent finding throughout the research is that it can increase your muscle endurance by about 2.5%.
It has also been shown to improve interval-type training, where individuals have improved performance in repeated bouts of sprint intervals.
2. Fat Reduction
In addition to beta-alanine increasing muscle endurance, there have been some small improvements in fat reduction reported in the literature.3
One important facet of this finding is that the research is unable to determine if it was directly due to supplementation, or if the increased fat loss was a result of the increased work during training.
Whether it is directly affecting fat mass or working through training, it’s the end-result that matters, and beta-alanine might just be able to help decrease fat mass
3. Synergies with Creatine
There have been conjectures that beta-alanine works separately and synergistically with creatine supplementation. This is based upon the notion that there are two anaerobic energy systems, the phosphagen and glycolytic systems.
Creatine augments the phosphagen system, while beta-alanine augments the capacity of the glycolytic system.
As such, beta-alanine and creatine are often stacked together and sold as an excellent combination for individuals looking to increase performance in their anaerobic training. Unfortunately, there is no good evidence to show measurable and consistent synergies from stacking them.4
However, as they do have separate mechanisms and are both shown to be efficacious, it is reasonable to take both.
4. Supplement Timing
For years you have pummeled over the head that beta-alanine is a pre-workout. Guess, what, you have been lied to, pre-workout might actually the worst time to take it.
You can take it at any time and you will receive the benefit as the goal is to increase your intramuscular carnosine levels. One way to improve absorption and uptake into your muscles is to take it with food, as that has been shown to drastically increase its uptake and efficacy.
Taking plain ol’ beta-alanine with food is more effective than all the fancy, expensive kinds out there.5
Eat some food, take some beta-alanine. Wash, rinse, train, repeat.
Although it is marketed as a pre-workout supplement, there is little evidence to support a specific time-domain.
5. Beta-Alanine Dosing
Remember that itchy face feeling we talked about?
Consuming a single high dose can induce paresthesia (aka itchy face) in some people. You can avoid this by breaking the daily dose into several smaller doses.
Most research studies on beta-alanine have been conducted using doses between 2.6-6.4 grams per day.
No real negative side effects have been documented even at the highest end of the dosing spectrum.
The Big Picture
Beta-Alanine is one of the most well-researched supplements and has substantial evidence to support its use. It can improve your training capacity which may help you add lean mass and reduce fat.
Although it is often sold as a pre-workout there appears to be no real timing component and it does not necessarily have to be taken pre-workout.
Taking it post-workout with food appears to be the most optimal way to utilize it.
Also, don’t waste your money on the super fancy marketing gimmicks of “advanced” delivery formulas. Buy your beta-alanine in the cheap bulk option and have some with your meals.
- Important role of muscle carnosine in rowing performance.
- Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players.
- Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine supplementation on muscle carnosine, body composition and exercise performance in recreationally active females
- Effects of β-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players.
- Meal and Beta-Alanine Coingestion Enhances Muscle Carnosine Loading.