Categorized | Building Muscle

Beta-Alanine – Is It a Waste of Money?

While many supplements on the market today are designed to enhance muscular development directly, some are performance-oriented in an effort to improve training intensities, hopefully resulting in the heightened muscle qualities so desired.

One such supplement is beta-alanine.

Beta-alanine’s claim to fame is tied to its influence on the levels of a protein molecule called carnosine. This particular molecule is limited by the availability of the nonessential amino acid beta-alanine, and the essential amino acid L-histidine.

Why is an increase in carnosine such a sought after effect?

One of the main causes of fatigue during intense exercise is an increase in intramuscular acidosis, especially in type II muscle fibers. The more the acidity level increases in a muscle, the less potential it has for contracting. So, if one can offset the increase in acidity in a working muscle through an enhanced buffering effect, the more potential that muscle has for work, thus lasting longer during intense exercise or physical activity.

Theoretically, increasing the levels of an acid-buffering agent like carnosine though the usage of beta-alanine, or beta-alanine combined with another buffering agent like sodium bicarbonate, can possibly lead to the potential for higher intensity efforts and better gains in aerobic and anaerobic performances, muscular performance, and muscular development. That being said, some study results demonstrate that it simply has no beneficial effect at all whether alone or in combination with another buffering agent like sodium bicarbonate.

In fact, recent meta-analytical research hints that the heightened acid-buffering effect of beta-alanine supplementation might not be a beneficial factor for athletic performances or exercise bouts of less than 60 seconds. This particular notion puts into question its value for resistance training in the hypertrophy zone as the duration of sets are typically shorter than sixty seconds.

Even the importance of the buffering effect, while interesting, is still a subject that is being debated. There is compelling research that points towards the notion that beta-alanine’s influence on the body’s intramuscular acid-buffering capacity could possibly enhance one’s potential for muscular hypertrophy because of increased training tolerances at higher intensities. In addition, depending on the individual, this particular benefit on carnosine levels can last for a few weeks to a few months after the cessation of beta-alanine usage.

Interestingly enough, one of the adaptations to high intensity anaerobic activities, like resistance training, is the natural increase in acid-buffering potential. In fact, it has been shown that highly trained individuals have higher concentrations of carnosine in their muscles, thus a correspondingly higher buffering capacity.

The natural level of carnosine in a muscle may be limited, however. It is in this arena that beta-alanine supplementation is suspected to have its positive influence on increasing carnosine levels.

Now, that’s the good news. What about side effects?

In high doses, beta-alanine is known to cause paresthesia, which is the sensation of a tingling, prickling or numbness of the skin. While the paresthesia effect is temporary and dose-dependent on an individual-to-individual basis, it is more than a little alarming that it could elicit a strange symptom that is along the lines of a neurological reaction.

The message to retain in this case is that if a supplement of this nature can cause this kind of side effect, it is highly probable that it might be affecting the body in other ways, more than just the parameter it is designed to modify or improve. Additional in-depth research is needed to address this issue in both short-term and long-term usage. As such, it would be prudent to wait for long-term safety studies before contemplating the integration of beta-alanine into a sports performance supplement protocol. Unfortunately, this risk-minimizing advice is seldom acted upon as people rarely wait until there is convincing evidence demonstrating efficacy and safety.

In the end, while beta-alanine is an interesting supplement to keep an eye on, it still remains speculative. It might be better to get one’s beta-alanine from natural sources like red meats, poultry, and fish.

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