Beta-alanine (ß-alanine) has been a supplement in the holster of many endurance and power athletes alike for its purported ability to improve muscular strength, power output, as well as improve anaerobic and aerobic endurance (1).  ß-alanine does this by buffering the accumulation of hydrogen ions.  This prevents muscle blood pH from lowering and acidosis (burning in your muscles) occurring due to its ability to raise the carnosine levels present in the muscles.  If I just lost you there, or for more background on this idea, please review my blog post regarding lactate.  So, this all sounds great and the big-words scientists like to use make it sound legit, but does the research back it up?

Research regarding beta-alanine

The majority of the research I uncovered regarding ß-alanine has been extremely positive.  Hobson et al. (2) performed a meta-analysis of studies done regarding ß-alanine and found that time to exhaustion during a cycling capacity test performed at 110% of max power improved by 11.8% as compared to the placebo group.  They also state that the most significant improvements lie within the 1-4 minute ranges.  So, short steep climbs, cyclocross run-ups, turns in a criterium, track racing, etc. will significantly improve with ß-alanine supplementation.

What about exercise lasting longer than 4 minutes?  Smith et. al (3) demonstrated >90 seconds longer time to exhaustion during a 20 minute ramped cycling test compared to the placebo group.  This also translates to other sports; a ß-alanine supplemented group of competitive rowers was able to perform a 2,000m row 4.3 seconds faster compared to the placebo group!  This is a significant improvement, especially because these were highly competitive and well-trained athletes.  So, even though the improvements are not huge with exercise lasting >4 minutes during ß-alanine supplementation, there are still gains to be realized, especially at the elite end of sports.

Let’s put this all together then, the research behind ß-alanine shows that it (1,2,3,4):

  • Improves muscle carnosine levels which can act as a pH buffer and postpone acidosis.
  • Improves exercise performance mainly with activities lasting 1-4 minutes, but there is some positive research regarding exercise lasting >4 minutes.  More research needs to be done regarding it’s efficacy for longer duration exercise however.
  • Improves time to exhaustion by delaying neuromuscular fatigue.
  • Is viewed to be safe to supplement with in healthy populations and at recommended doses with the only reported side-effect being paraesthesia (tingling).  This will improve and eventually go away over time and with continued supplementation.
  • Has anti-oxidant and immune boosting properties.

Proper dosing of ß-alanine

Dosing of ß-alanine has differed with every research article slightly, but generally each one I have read states to supplement with 2g 2-4 times daily for a total of 4-8g.  This should be done for a minimum of 2 weeks to improve muscle carnosine levels by 20-30%, but ideal supplementation time is 4-6 weeks with muscle carnosine levels shown to increase 40-60% compared to baseline (5).  There have been no long-term studies done regarding long-term supplementation (>6 weeks) of ß-alanine, but the general consensus seems to be that it is safe and after the initial loading phase of the first 4-6 weeks, higher muscle carnosine levels can be maintained with a maintenance dose of 2-3 grams per day.

So, can ß-alanine boost your cycling performance?  YES!

Ideally, ß-alanine should be loaded with 2g 2-4 times per day for a total dose of 6-8g for the first 4 weeks.  This will increase muscle carnosine concentrations by 40-60% and can be maintained with a 2-3g dose once per day.  The increase of muscle carnosine acts as a Hydrogen buffer and prevents acidosis as well as delaying neuromuscular fatigue for activities lasting 1-4 minutes especially, but has been shown to improve time to exhaustion for activities lasting >20 minutes.  The long-term dosing of ß-alanine has not been studied, but is generally viewed as being safe.  Remember to expect paraesthesia (tingling) when first supplementing with ß-alanine which will go away over time and with continued supplementation.

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

References:
(1) Balcombe, S. (2007, June 28). Beta-Alanine: Science Meets Real World Results! Retrieved January 6, 2016, from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/beta_alanine.htm
(2) Hobson, R., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: A meta-analysis.Amino Acids, 25-37.
(3) Smith AE, Walter AA, Graef JL, Kendall KL, Moon JR, Lockwood CM et al.. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009; 6:5.
(4) Trexler, E., Smith-Ryan, A., Stout, J., Hoffman, J., Wilborn, C., Sale, C., . . . Antonio, J. (2015). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
(5) Baguet A, Reyngoudt H, Pottier A, Everaert I, Callens S, Achten E et al.. Carnosine loading and washout in human skeletal muscles. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 106(3):837-42. OpenURL

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

2 comments

  1. Coach- does it work?
    I’ve used it in training and competition. Might be a good idea to get some practical applied knowledge in your review. Science can be hard to interpret in a real world setting. I would also add that in my practical opinion its efficacy is highly dependent upon the event and exercises in which an athletes does. Because in some events there was limited benefits while in others it seemed to help significantly…just a few pennies of my opinion. Good luck!

    1. Hi Tc – I have been using beta-alanine for a couple of years now and have noticed it helps me recover faster after intense efforts and allows me to go a little deeper into the pain cave than I otherwise would be able to. I would absolutely agree with you in saying its efficacy is dependent on the even and exercise length, this is why I only use it and recommend it for exercises lasting 1-4 minutes. Although it has been shown to be effective for exercise lasting longer, I won’t be recommending it until further research becomes available.

      Thank you for your pennies-worth, it is much appreciated! 🙂

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