Perform Better: Beta-Alanine for Athletes

If you’re interested in boosting strength, power and training volume, give beta-alanine a try.

Muscles stocked with high levels of the molecule carnosine tend to be stronger muscles with better stamina and endurance. The proposed underlying mechanism here is carnosine’s ability to buffer skeletal muscle pH (acidity) during high-intensity and fatiguing exercise. Since one of the primary causes of fatigue during exercise is a decrease in pH (acidosis), it makes sense why increased carnosine levels would be beneficial to strength athletes.

Carnosine is produced in skeletal muscle from beta-alanine and histidine, where beta-alanine is the limiting variable. When beta-alanine is available in surplus (supplemented), it elevates the body’s muscle carnosine levels. In fact, past studies have shown that dietary supplementation of beta-alanine for only four weeks can increase muscle carnosine levels by more than 60 percent.

Recent work published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition sought to determine whether beta-alanine supplementation would improve subjects’ results during a five-week resistance training program. Subjects took 6.4 grams of beta-alanine or a placebo daily and trained three times per week. Significant training improvements were observed: Those taking beta-alanine had about twice the improvement in average power at one-rep maximum (1RM) and at maximum power as those who received the placebo. It was concluded that beta-alanine’s improvements in exercise performance were because of increases in maximal strength gain and exercise volume (number of sets completed). In this case, it was beta-alanine for the win!

ACTION POINT: If you’re interested in boosting strength, power and training volume, give beta-alanine a try. Performance benefits can be achieved with as little as 1.6 grams per day. Though at this intake level, it will take longer for muscle carnosine levels to peak. Feel free to take up to 6.4 grams of beta-alanine per day, but split this into four to eight servings — with one serving taken 30 to 60 minutes preworkout and another immediately postworkout.

Beta-alanine is safe to take in moderate doses — just keep in mind, high single doses (more than 800 milligrams) have been shown to cause harmless tingling and numbness (paresthesia) in the hands and skin that disappear within an hour of ingesting.