By Alexander Perkins (Nutritionist & Food Scientist)
If you’ve spent a decent amount of time in the gym then chances are you would have heard of beta-alanine, and if not, at least felt its effects in a pre-workout. It’s responsible for the skin-tingling sensation that makes you want to scratch your face off. Some people often associate it with the buzz they get from a pre-workout, however whilst it does boost performance, it has nothing to do with mental stimulation.
What is it?
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that once ingested, is converted into a dipeptide knowns as carnosine.
What’s so important about carnosine?
Most people would be familiar with the burning sensation that accompanies a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles. Carnosine acts as a pH buffer, dispersing excess hydrogen ions (H+) which cause that feeling. This is crucial, as a drop in muscular pH severely hampers performance. Theoretically, anything that increases carnosine levels would increase the body’s capacity to deal with a build-up of H+, and therefore improve performance.
Benefits of Beta-Alanine Supplementation
Beta-Alanine supplementation has been shown to increase carnosine levels in the muscles . That means more carnosine available for regulating muscular pH during physical activity, which is correlated with performance.
A 2012 meta-analysis showed that supplementing with 179g of beta-alanine over 28 days improved exercise performance by a median of 2.85% . The effect of beta-alanine on performance is most notable for between 60>240 seconds of exercise, however benefits have also been observed at >240 seconds. Its effect on activity lasting less than 60 seconds is negligible.
Some research has even shown an effect on lean muscle mass, however this needs further study to reach a solid conclusion 
Who should take it?
Anyone looking to boost their muscular endurance and performance in activity lasting longer than 60 seconds. Footballers of all codes would benefit greatly given the amount of repeated running involved. Sprinters, cyclers, swimmers and rowers whose distances are in the middle range would derive a huge benefit, as would those lifting weights at a high intensity.
How should you take it?
Beta-alanine supplementation isn’t time dependant, so it can be taken at any time during the day. Most users prefer using it prior to working out, and there may be something to be said for the experience of paraesthesia (skin tingling) and a subjective “energy boost”.
A typical dosage is around 3200mg, however evidence suggests around 6000mg per day is optimal. Splitting this between 3 x 2000mg may be helpful to reduce the intensity of paraesthesia.
- Harris, R.C., et al., The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids, 2006. 30(3): p. 279-89.
- Hobson, R.M., et al., Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids, 2012. 43(1): p. 25-37.
- Kern, B.D. and T.L. Robinson, Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. J Strength Cond Res, 2011. 25(7): p. 1804-15.