Should You Supplement with Beta-Alanine?

If you have begun to take your strength-training seriously, you have probably come across beta-alanine and wondered if it was for you. It's a recognized strength enhancer, but you may have heard he stories about the “buzz” it can give you.

What's it all about?

Beta-aline is a non-essential amino acid. When combined with another (essential) amino acid, histidine, it produces carnosine. This compound reduces lactic acid aggregation within your muscles, resulting in a stronger athletic performance.

Histidine is already present within your muscles in great quantity, while beta-aline is naturally scarce. That's what makes the supplement fly off the shelves at the vitamin stores. Studies have shown that supplementing with beta-alanine can elevate carnosine levels in your muscles by 80 percent.

That performance elevation takes the form of reduced fatigue, increased endurance, and a general boost across the board in any high-intensity exercise. Quantifying endurance as “time to exhaustion (TTE),” one study showed that 6 weeks of beta-alanine increased TTE from 1,168 to 1,387 seconds during high-intensity interval training. It also delays the onset of fatigue by increasing your ventilation rate.

There are some beta-aline fanatics who subscribe to the belief that their favorite amino acid will actually benefit their body sculpting,  citing studies from the University of Oklahoma and from universities in Pennsylvania, Texas, and WisconsinOthers researchers are not convinced.

Above and beyond its value as an exercise buddy, carnosine has several other health benefits. It's a proven free radical-clobbering and oxidative stress-relieving anti-oxidant. It may even work towards countering the aging process by elevating nitric oxide production and preventing changes in the structure and function of proteins in the body.

Beta-aline supplementation is especially popular among vegetarian and vegan body builders, as they have about 50 percent less carnosine in their muscles compared to omnivores, who can obtain theirs from carnosine-rich foods such as meat, poultry and fish.

So, all good, but what's the deal with “the beta-aline buzz?” The technical term is “paraesthesia,” and it is the most common side effect of beta-aline supplementation. The tingle is usually experienced in the neck, face and back of the hands, and increases in intensity with the amount of supplement you consume. It usually doesn't appear in doses below 800 milligrams, and disappears 30 to 60 minutes after supplementation. It's odd and weird, to be sure, but not harmful in any way.