Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that can be made in your body, but it is not found in all protein-containing foods. Foods containing beta-alanine include fish, meat, eggs, soy, and dairy products. Many sports supplements also contain this ingredient.

Beta-alanine is one of the most popular supplements used to burn fat and increase muscle mass. It is an amino acid that is naturally present in the body and helps to create energy in the form of ATP. It is obtained through the diet, and it has been shown to reduce weight gain in both laboratory animals and humans. In fact, beta-alanine has been shown to increase the production of carnosine in the brain. Carnosine is a substance that is found in the muscle cells that have been shown to be important in the prevention of muscle damage. In a research study, rats that were fed carbohydrates showed a 16% decrease in lean muscle mass. In rats that were fed beta-alanine, the figure was reduced by

What is beta-alanine?

Beta-alanine, also known as 3-aminopropanoic acid, is a non-essential amino acid.  It’s found naturally in the body, which can synthesize beta-alanine from the breakdown of pyrimidine nucleotides. We can also get beta-alanine from our diets via carnosine, and to a lesser extent from anserine and balenine.

Carnosine is a dipeptide –- a molecule made up of two amino acids bonded together — composed of beta-alanine and histidine. These dipeptides are found in chicken, beef, fish, and pork. (Think of the word “carnivore” to help you remember where to get carnosine.) In humans, carnosine seems to be concentrated in tissues that have a high energy demand, such as muscle and brain.

Beta-alanine structure

Why is beta-alanine important?

During exercise (especially at high intensity), the formation of energy (ATP) and rise in hydrogen (H+) ions occurs.  The rise in H+ ions is mainly due to lactic acid production, which lowers the body’s pH (i.e. creating a more acidic state).  As the acidity rises, it’s harder to contract the muscle, and fatigue can result. Thus, if the body can combat the acidity, it can keep working harder.

The body’s first line of defense against this acidic pH is inside the muscle cell.  Carnosine is able to buffer H+ ions in muscle cells.  This buffering can neutralize lactic acid and simultaneously increase ATP stores.

Carnosine also acts as an anti-glycation agent and antioxidant. Moreover, carnosine appears to help activate the enzymes responsible for muscle contraction.

Because carnosine is so important, beta-alanine is also important. Without enough beta-alanine the body can’t make carnosine effectively, which means that these essential cellular functions are impeded. Since most people usually have enough histidine (the other part of carnosine), and since consuming histidine by itself seems to have little to no impact on cellular carnosine levels, the limiting factor in carnosine synthesis is beta-alanine.

What you should know

Beta-alanine can enter a muscle cell and increase carnosine levels. In this case, beta-alanine is more like a means to an end –- carnosine.

If we increase carnosine levels in cells through beta-alanine supplementation, we can enhance intracellular buffering and reduce acid accumulation during exercise.  Therefore, in people doing exercise that causes significant alterations in cellular pH and high amounts of lactate in the blood, beta-alanine may improve performance and therefore lead to greater training adaptations.  Along with buffering lactic acid, beta-alanine supplementation may help with healing, muscle recovery, and muscle contraction.

Since the idea of beta-alanine supplementation is to elevate muscle carnosine levels, why not just supplement with carnosine?  Well, carnosine isn’t absorbed very well in humans.  When it’s consumed, it will actually be broken down into its respective amino acids (beta-alanine and histidine).  When those amino acids enter a muscle cell, they will join to form carnosine again.  Thus, someone who supplements with carnosine would really just be using it as a beta-alanine source.

Carnosine is found exclusively in animal tissues.  This makes sense as it’s concentrated in muscle and brain tissues.  Hence, a diet with minimal animal foods lacks carnosine (similar to creatine).  Reports have indicated that carnosine levels in those eating a plant-based diet are diminished.  The average daily intake of carnosine from foods is likely in the range of 50 – 250 milligrams.  This is only if a diet contains ~4 ounces of beef, pork, fish or chicken.

One month of beta-alanine supplementation (at 4-6 grams per day) can significantly increase muscle carnosine levels.  Extending the supplementation protocol over 2 ½ months increases muscle carnosine levels even further.  In untrained individuals, beta-alanine supplementation doesn’t seem to be quite as effective at raising muscle levels of carnosine.  This is important, as the extent to which carnosine can delay acidosis is relative to its content inside muscle cells.

A recent study found that resistance training for 10 weeks along with beta-alanine supplementation raised muscle levels of carnosine. Yet beta-alanine had no significant influence on strength, force, endurance or body composition.

For extra credit

Past studies have used chicken breast extract as a source of carnosine.  But it wasn’t very effective at increasing muscle levels of carnosine.

Creatine may promote strength and power during very brief bouts of exercise (6 reps or less), while beta-alanine may promote strength and power during slightly longer bouts (more than 7 reps).

When individuals supplement with more than 800 mg of beta-alanine at a single dose, they may notice parasthesia (e.g. “pins and needles” or tingling sensations).  This is because beta-alanine can bind to and discharge nerve receptors.  Onset can be rapid and last for hours.  Concurrently using carbohydrates with beta-alanine may blunt the parathesia.

Only after muscle levels of carnosine increase will performance changes be noticed.  This can take ~14 days.

Taking beta-alanine along with carbohydrates and during the peri-workout period may allow more of it into the muscle cell.

Carnosine may help those with autism.

Summary and recommendations

In theory, beta-alanine supplementation may help to delay fatigue, increase anaerobic threshold, increase power, increase strength, and increase muscle mass.  Still, the data is far from conclusive, with some studies showing a benefit and others showing no improvements.

Beta-alanine may be of use to highly trained athletes whose limiting factor is buffering excessive H+ production.  If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to hold off on using beta-alanine until more information becomes available.  However, if you like to be a guinea pig and have money to spend, it appears that controlled doses of beta-alanine shouldn’t cause harm.

References

Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

Abe H. Role of histidine-related compounds as intracellular proton buffering constituents in vertebrate muscle. Biochemistry (Mosc) 2000;65:757-765.

Asatoor AM, et al. Intestinal absorption of carnosine and its constituent amino acids in man. Gut 1970;11:250-254.

Bakardjiev A, Bauer K. Transport of beta-alanine and biosynthesis of carnosine by skeletal muscle cells in primary culture. Eur J Biochem 1994;225:617-623.

Derave W, et al. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J Appl Physiol 2007;103:1736-1743.

Harris RC, et al. Muscle buffering capacity and dipeptide content in the thoroughbred horse, greyhound dog and man. Comparative Biochem Physiol A 1990;97:249-251.

Harris RC, et al. The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids 2006;30:279-289.

Hill CA, et al. Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids 2007;32:225-233.

Hipkiss AR. Would carnosine or a carnivorous diet help suppress aging and associated pathologies. Ann NY Acad Sci 2006;1067:369-374.

Hipkiss AR. Glycation, ageing and carnosine: are carnivorous diets beneficial? Mech Ageing Dev 2005;126:1034-1039.

Hoffman J, et al. Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:430-446.

Kendrick IP, et al. The effects of 10 weeks of resistance training combined with beta-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino Acids 2008;34:547-554.

Stout JR, et al. The effects of creatine and beta-alanine on physical working capacity at neuromuscular fatigue threshold. J Strength and Cond. Res 2006;20:928-931.

Stout JR, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilator threshold in women. Amino Acids 2007;32:381-386.

Suzuki Y, et al. Carnosine and anserine ingestion enhances contribution of nonbicarbonate buffering. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006;38:334-338.

Suzuki Y, et al. High level of skeletal muscle carnosine contributes to the latter half of exercise performance during 30-s maximal cycle ergometer sprinting. Jpn J Physiol 2002;52:199-205.

Tallon MJ, et al. The carnosine content of vastus lateralis is elevated in resistance trained bodybuilders. J Strength and Cond Res 2005;19:725-729.

Zoeller RF, et al. Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on aerobic power, ventilator and lactate thresholds, and time to exhaustion. Amino Acids 2007;33:505-510.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does beta alanine do for you?

Beta alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that can be found in foods such as meat, fish, and vegetables. It is also available as a dietary supplement. Beta alanine has been shown to increase muscle carnosine levels and reduce fatigue during exercise.

Is Beta Alanine harmful?

Beta Alanine is not harmful.

Do you need to take beta alanine everyday?

No, beta alanine is not a drug and does not need to be taken everyday.

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