There’s been a lot of talk about the new supplement beta-alanine that has hit the Sports Nutrition market.
Beta-alanine is a precursor to carnosine, which is made in the body from two Amino Acids : histidine and beta-alanine. Carnosine is found in high concentrations in skeletal muscle of athletes that are fast-twitch muscle dominant, typically found in sprinters, football players, and bodybuilders. Supplementation with beta-alanine has shown to increase the concentration of carnosine in muscles, decrease fatigue in athletes and increase total muscular work.

How does it work?
Beta-alanine acts as a light buffer from the by-products of exercise: lactic acid and ammonia. Some athletes can do a bicarbonate (baking soda) loading before any sort of athletic event to help with the excess build up of lactic acid, but this process may cause diarrhea.

Why not just take carnosine?
Well, carnosine by itself is very expensive, plus the body will simply break it down into histidine and beta-alanine. Recent research has found that supplementing with beta-alanine alone can raise carnosine levels significantly. The research also found that by supplementing with multiple 400mg to 800mg doses of beta-alanine, administered at regular intervals for up to eight hours, over 4 to 10 weeks, increased intramuscular carnosine an average of 80%.

How does it make you feel?
When taking beta-alanine, it can cause skin to become flush with a tingling sensation (much like a B Vitamin niacin flush). This is due to the increased efficiency of the nMDA receptor (N-methyl D-aspartate). This receptor allows for sodium (Na+) and small amounts of calcium (Ca) ions to pass into the cell and potassium (K+) to pass out of the cell. The tingling is felt with the increased flow of electrolytes through membranes.

How much should one take to benefit from taking beta-alanine?
Doses vary from bottle to bottle, but taking beta-alanine should be done in cycles. In weeks 1 to 2 consume 3 - 750 mg capsules 2 hours prior to exercise and 3 capsules after exercise. In weeks 3 to 4, consume 4 capsules prior to exercise and 4 after exercise. After a 2-week break from beta-alanine, repeat the cycle.

Dave Reesor, NSCA-CPT, MES is a Certified Personal Trainer and a Medical Exercise Specialist with a diploma in Fitness and Health Promotions from Humber College.