Betaine started its humble existence on supplement store
shelves as just a general health ingredient. But new research shows that this
supplement can help athletes gain more muscle power and strength and even build
more muscle. If betaine is not part of your supplement regimen, it will be
after you read this.
Betaine is a modified amino acid known scientifically as
trimethylglycine. It’s referred to as betaine due to the fact that it was
originally isolated from beets, known by their Latin name Beta vulgaris. It was given the chemical name trimethylglycine
because it simply is the amino acid glycine with three methyl groups attached.
It’s these three methyl groups that provide betaine its health-promoting
properties and possibly its performance-enhancing properties, as well.
In the human body, betaine is
naturally derived from the breakdown of a nutrient called choline. But humans
also get betaine from dietary sources. Although betaine in supplements is often
derived from beets, other foods — like wheat germ, quinoa and spinach — are
much richer sources. In fact, 3 ounces of wheat germ contain more than 1,000
milligrams of betaine, more than four times that found in the same amount of
beets. Even spinach and quinoa provide more than 500 milligrams of betaine in 3
ounces, more than twice the betaine content in the same amount of beets.
Because one of betaine’s jobs is to donate methyl groups in
the body, it is involved in numerous critical processes that promote overall
health. Clinical studies confirm that betaine can reduce the risk of heart
disease by lowering levels of the damaging amino acid homocysteine. It does
this by donating a methyl group, converting homocysteine into the amino acid
Betaine supplementation also has
been found to raise levels of S-adenosylmethionine. Having higher levels of
SAMe can fight depression, enhance liver health (especially in those who drink
alcohol and take certain drugs) and aid joint recovery. Betaine has even been
found to reduce cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Feel the Power
Although betaine is best known for its health-promoting
properties, in the last few years numerous studies have shown that it also aids
athletic performance. One of the first studies to look into betaine’s
performance-enhancing effects was done at the University of Connecticut. UConn
researchers had 12 trained men complete two different 14-day trials in which
they received either betaine mixed in a sports drink or a placebo sports drink
twice per day. They reported at the 2007 annual meeting of the American College
of Sports Medicine that betaine supplementation resulted in a 25 percent
greater increase in strength on the bench press and a 15 percent greater
increase in bench-press power. In a later study, the same researchers reported
in a 2010 issue of the Journal of the
International Society of Sports Nutrition that trained subjects taking
betaine for two weeks increased their upper-body muscle power by 20 percent and
upper-body muscle strength by 25 percent.
Researchers from The College of New
Jersey reported similar findings. They also had trained subjects take betaine
in a sports drink or a placebo sports drink twice a day for two weeks. During
the experiment, they measured the number of reps the subjects could perform in
the squat with a weight that limited them to about 15 reps. After two weeks of
supplementing with betaine, the subjects were able to complete eight more reps
with the same weight, while those taking the placebo only increased their squat
strength by three reps. A boost in strength was seen with betaine after the
first week, as well. The scientists reported that the group consuming the
betaine supplement increased its reps on the squat by four reps, while those
taking the placebo only increased by two reps. This suggests that you can
expect to start seeing strength increases from supplementing with betaine in as
little as one week. They also mean that betaine can help muscle growth because
the more reps you can do with a given weight, the more overload you can place
on the muscle, and that leads to muscle growth in the long run.
Another study on betaine’s
performance benefits comes from Ithaca College researchers. They had male and
female subjects perform all-out 12-second sprints on a stationary cycle. In one
trial, they took a carb and electrolyte drink containing betaine before the
workout, while in the other trial, they drank a carb and electrolyte drink
without betaine. The researchers reported at the 2010 annual meeting of the
International Society of Sports Nutrition that when the subjects drank the
betaine-containing drink, they were able to peddle with about 5 percent more
power than with just the carbs and electrolytes. Because this study only
provided one dose of betaine just before the workout, it suggests that betaine
can provide performance-boosting benefits immediately.
Although the mechanism by which
betaine increases muscle strength and power is not confirmed, there are a few
theories. For starters, supplementing with betaine actually promotes the
natural production of creatine in the body. The College of New Jersey
researchers suggested that this was likely the mechanism for the increase in
reps completed in the squat with betaine supplementation. Of course, having
higher levels of creatine in the muscle also can lead to greater muscle growth.
Another way that betaine may
increase muscle strength and power is by lowering lactate levels. In a
different study by UConn researchers, subjects taking betaine in water were
able to sprint for almost 40 seconds longer than those drinking just water.
This may be due to the significantly lower levels of lactate the subjects
experienced when consuming betaine. Because high lactate levels lead to higher
acidity in muscle, which leads to fatigue, keeping lactate levels low can
Still, another way that betaine may
work to increase muscle strength and power, as well as build more muscle, is
via the production of anabolic hormones. Yet another UConn study reported that
weight-trained men taking betaine twice a day for two weeks not only had an
increase in squat strength but also a significantly greater boost in levels of
growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 as compared to the placebo.
With higher levels of these important growth factors, it’s no surprise that
betaine would boost muscle strength and muscle power, in addition to muscle
growth and even fat loss.
It is estimated that most people consume 1 to 2 grams of
betaine in their daily diet. However, research does show that supplementing
with extra betaine provides distinct health and performance benefits. Plus,
research confirms that a good deal of betaine is lost in sweat during exercise.
This further supports the notion that you should supplement with betaine daily.
To maximize the health, performance and physique
benefits of betaine, take 1.5 to 2 grams of betaine twice per day with meals.
On workout days, take those two doses with your preworkout and postworkout