If you are familiar with the big gym scene, then you or someone you know has probably mentioned taking pre-workout …
Now as dietitians, we typically think of pre-workout fuel like a banana, or a granola bar. But a piece of fruit probably won’t give you a tingling sensation the same way a pre-workout supplement does. Why? Because pre-workout supplements contain beta-alanine, an amino acid that can potentially cause a feeling of “pins and needles.” While some people absolutely love this feeling, others do not.
Pre-workout powders and drinks are just one form of supplements where you can find beta-alanine added in, but beta-alanine can also be consumed on its own. In recent years, it has become widely available due to its potentially ergogenic effects.
What is it?
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that can be produced in the liver. Additionally, it can be acquired through consumption of animal-based foods including meat, fish, and poultry. Trace amounts can be found in other foods including eggs, milk and cheese.
Who is it beneficial for?
Beta-alanine is most beneficial for athletes or individuals participating in ~1-10 minutes of all-out effort or repeated bouts of high-intensity efforts.
During the onset of high-intense or power-based physical activity, energy is supplied through the anaerobic energy systems. As duration increases, skeletal muscle pH starts to decrease. This is usually observed after ~4 minutes of intense physical activity. A decline in muscle pH can lead to muscle fatigue. If carnosine is abundant, then this process can be slowed due to its buffering capacity.
When it comes to how beta-alanine can provide performance benefits, the primary compound of interest is Carnosine.
Carnosine is a protein building block formed by the two amino acids, alanine and histidine. It is stored in the skeletal muscle and can help reduce lactic acid during exercise. One of the primary roles of carnosine is that it acts as a buffer, which can slow the decline of muscle pH during intense exercise. This can help reduce fatigue and muscle soreness that occurs as a result of intense exercise. Beta-alanine also helps with the production of carnosine, which can help improve performance by reducing fatigue and muscle soreness that occurs as a result of intense exercise. Currently, research shows that beta-alanine supplementation can help augment muscle carnosine stores by 30-60%.
In its most recent consensus statement on dietary supplements and high-performance athletes, the International Olympic Committee listed beta-alanine as one of the supplements that can directly improve sports performance.
When supplemented at levels greater than 800 mg/dose, mild paresthesia can occur. This can lead to an abnormal sensation typically described as tingling, or “pins and needles.”
No other side-effects have been reported.
What is the recommended dosage:
Current research supports taking 3-6 g/day (0.8 - 1.6 g doses every 3-4 hours with a meal) over a 4 week period.
Breaking the dosages into smaller amounts throughout the day can help reduce any potential side-effects of a tingling sensation.
When taken in the optimal dose, beta-alanine is potentially ergogenic, which means it can enhance physical performance, stamina, or recovery.
Athletes participating in high-intensity sports where all-out efforts are required such as cycling, rowing, swimming, running, boxing or soccer can benefit the most from beta-alanine supplementation.
It is important to note that beta-alanine can be obtained through food, primarily animal-sources and meat. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can still get beta-alanine from other sources, just not in as high amounts.
If you are considering supplementing with beta-alanine, it is recommended you seek professional guidance from a Registered Dietitian, who can help figure out if beta-alanine would be effective for you, as well as provide guidelines on the recommended dosage.
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Stellingwerff, T. (2020). An update on beta-alanine supplementation for athletes. Sports Science Exchange 29(208), 1-6. https://www.gssiweb.org/docs/default-source/sse-docs/stellingwerff_sse_208_a03.pdf?sfvrsn=2
Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Hoffman, J. R., Wilborn, C. D., Sale, C., Kreider, R. B., Jager, R., Earnest, C. P., Bannock, L., Campbell, B., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T. N., & Antonio, J. (2015). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(30). https://doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
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