Beta-alanine (β-Alanine) is an amino acid naturally found in muscles and the brain. Together with histidine, it forms carnosine, which helps reduce acid build-up during exercise. Despite mixed evidence of success, it is sold as a performance-enhancing supplement under names like Carnosyn and its slow release version, SR CarnoSyn.
Beta-alanine is most effective during anaerobic exercise (intense and exhaustive exercise that causes lactic acid to accumulate in the muscles), such as high-intensity interval training or sprinting. Most notably, it delays fatigue during repeated bouts of intense exercise with short recovery periods.
Women and vegetarians have lower amounts of muscle carnosine than men and meat-eaters, respectively. Furthermore, body carnosine naturally decreases with age. These groups may particularly benefit from beta-alanine.
Additionally, beta alanine is a supplement that pairs well with other supplements for further benefits.
1Beta alanine helps reduce lactic acid build up in your muscles while you exercise to help you last longer. Beta-alanine is processed with another compound, histidine, to produce carnosine, a compound exclusive to your skeletal muscle tissues (1).
Carnosine is what actively works to improve your performance. Specifically, carnosine can reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles while you exercise (2).
This results in greater endurance and improved performance in the gym or in your sport (3).
Beta-alanine’s function is mostly in the muscle. In muscles, the amount of beta alanine is usually low while the levels of histidine are usually high (4).
This naturally limits the production of carnosine (5).
When you take a beta alanine supplement you are effectively increasing carnosine levels in your muscle tissue by up to 80% showing that beta alanine supplements are efficient at being delivered to the muscle tissue (6, 7).
This means that the end effect of beta alanine supplementation is due carnosine. Unfortunately, supplementing with carnosine itself doesn’t produce the same result (8).
In the body, carnosine works as a buffer.
Note, that the muscles first need energy, through glycolysis, where they break down glucose for energy- especially during high-intensity exercise. Without ample time or oxygen lactate is produced from lactic acid.
Lactate is not the only byproduct of rapid energy production, you also get a surplus of hydrogen ions. These ions make your muscles acidic. This acidity halts the breakdown of glucose and effectively stops your muscle from contracting, we know this as fatigue (9, 10, 11).
As a result, beta alanine supplements assist muscles reduce their acid levels during exercise by increasing carnosine levels in muscles. In turn, supplementing with beta-alanine reduces fatigue.
2Beta-alanine improves athletic performance. We know beta alanine reduces fatigue, but not how much. Studies on athletes exercising to exhaustion show that beta-alanine supplementation significantly increases time to exhaustion.
Specifically, researchers studied cyclists after four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation and found this intervention increased the total work output by 13% (17).
Continuing the study further out to 10 weeks there was still an improvement of 3.2% (18).
For non-athletes, one study performed on 20 men showed a 13-14% increase in their time to exhaustion after 4 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation (19).
3Beta-alanine staves off muscle failure and muscle acidosis (20). The limiting factor for continuing high-intensity activity is generally muscle acidosis. This makes beta alanine the ideal supplement for boosting performance during these types of activities.
This means that for long duration minimal intensity activity, such as running a marathon, or high intensity very short duration activity, like throwing a shotput, beta alanine is not ideal.
The research illustrates that over 6 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation time to exhaustion was increased from 1,168 to 1,387 seconds during high-intensity interval training (21).
A similar study tested 18 rowers over 7 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation. At the end of the intervention the rowers were 4.3 seconds faster than the placebo group in a 2,000-meter race lasting over 6 minutes (22).
Lastly, in older subject’s beta-alanine supplementation is seen to increase muscle endurance (23).
4Beta-alanine increases recovery rate during exercise (24).
This means that not only does beta alanine help to buffer muscle acidosis but it increases the excretion of acidic metabolic byproducts from the body as well (25).
5In resistance training, beta-alanine can boost training volume. Again, beta-alanine works to improve performance when you are primarily using energy created by glycolysis, so when you’re strength training beta alanine reduces fatigue regardless of fatigue (26, 27).
While beta alanine reduces fatigue, it doesn’t increase your strength (28, 29).
6Beta-alanine may improve body composition. The good news is that research shows when supplementing with beta-alanine for only three weeks male subjects saw a significant increase in lean muscle mass (30).
For females, one study with beta-alanine supplementation over 4 weeks lead to a reduction in body fat with an increase in lean muscle mass (31).
The confusing part is that beta-alanine’s body composition effect may be due to an increase in performance because increasing training volume will promote more muscle growth and fat loss.
This is supported by studies that show no difference in body composition after beta-alanine supplementation (32, 33).
7Beta-alanine enhances the immune and cardiovascular system. In animals and in vitro research carnosine is seen to enhance the immune system and work as an antioxidant (34, 35, 36).
Even more than that, carnosine enhances the resiliency of protein structure and functions in the body, providing anti-aging properties (37).
Carnosine is also seen to improve your cardiovascular health by increasing nitric oxide production (38). With increased nitric oxide production markers of increased immune function and anti-aging are increased as well (39).
In the elderly, research shows that increasing carnosine boosts both the quality and the efficiency of muscles (40, 41).
8Beta-alanine is often combined with other supplements for increased benefit. The three main supplements that beta-alanine is combined with include sodium bicarbonate, creatine, and preworkout supplements.
9Sodium bicarbonate and beta alanine supercharge workout endurance. On its own, baking soda reduces acid in the blood and muscle tissues to boost exercise performance (42). There are benefits gained by combining sodium bicarbonate with beta alanine.
This is mainly due to the synergistic effect of both beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate on buffering muscle acidity (43).
The beneficial effect of this combination increases performance the most in those activities where glycolysis is the dominant source of muscular energy (44).
10Creatine and beta alanine works to provide a different source of energy to muscle tissues. Specifically, creatine increases available ATP, which provides fuel for very short duration high-intensity activity.
When you combine creatine and beta alanine there is a benefit to exercise performance (45). Incidentally, strength and lean muscle mass increase as well (46, 47).
11Pre-workout supplements with beta alanine improve workout capacity, strength gains and lean muscle mass (48). One of those ingredients is often beta alanine, typically 2 to 4 grams.
1Beta-alanine supplementation can induce skin tingles (paraesthesia). Paraesthesia is a unique feeling that most describe as skin tingling.
Paraesthesia is localized to the face, neck, and the hands with the tingling sensation increasing in intensity directly with the dosage of beta-alanine you take. According to most cases of beta-alanine induced paresthesia, symptoms start in doses of over 800 mg (52).
Luckily, symptoms are not permanent and go away in an hour or so after beta-alanine consumption (53). Overall, suffering from paraesthesia as a side effect from beta-alanine supplementation is not harmful or permanent. It will usually subside within 90 minutes of taking beta-alanine.
2Beta-alanine supplementation can reduce taurine levels. Both beta-alanine and taurine use transport proteins to enter your muscle tissue.
With an increase in beta alanine, from supplementation, taurine becomes out-competed and less taurine is taken into the muscle tissue.
This difference can be significant, as seen in animal studies, where supplementing with beta-alanine is seen to lower levels of taurine in the muscle by 50% (54).
Beta-alanine is safe to consume daily. In just 4 weeks of 2 to 5 grams of beta-alanine daily, you’ll see, on average, a 40-60% increase in muscle carnosine levels (55).
To further boost beta alanine absorption, consume your beta alanine with a meal.
Combine beta-alanine with creatine. When used together, beta alanine and creatine elicit a double whammy effect. They have shown to feed off each other’s benefits to increase muscle endurance and power in individuals (56).
Combine beta alanine with baking soda. Research has shown that combining these 2 compounds together reduce acid level build up in the muscles, thus increasing overall performance output (57).
What causes the tingling sensation from beta alanine? The tingling feeling (similar to pins and needles) you may experience when having a pre-workout supplement is often the effects of beta-alanine at work. This tingling feeling is know as acute paresthesia. The feeling is caused because of the effect beta-alanine has on your central nervous system.
How many grams of beta-alanine should you take per day? Most clinical studies have found that taking between 3-6 grams of beta-alanine per day over the course of a month can increase carnosine levels by as much as 80%. That’s a massive increase that can benefit bodybuilders and endurance athletes alike.
Is beta alanine the same as BCAA? No, beta alanine and BCAAs are two different products with completely different effects on the body.
Is beta alanine the same as pre-workout? Beta-alanine is often one ingredient found in pre-workout powders because it can provide an acute stimulant response. However, pre-workouts often contain other ingredients such as caffeine and creatine.
How long before a workout should you take beta alanine? Taking beta-alanine 30-45 minutes before exercising allows the supplement to enter your system and have an effect. This should continue for between an hour and a half and 2 hours after taking the supplement, depending on activity levels.
Does beta alanine cause acne? Stimulants, such those commonly present in pre-workouts have been known to cause an increase acne in some people but not everyone.
Does beta alanine cause hair loss? There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that beta-alanine causes hair loss.
Does beta alanine break a fast? No, beta alanine will not break your fast as it doesn’t have an insulinogenic response.
Is Beta Alanine good for building muscle? Creatine is the posterchild for bulk-building supplements, but adding beta-alanineto the mix can help you gain lean muscle, reduce body fat, increase strength, and increase power when compared to just taking creatine alone, according to a study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
How much Beta alanine should I take to feel its full effects? If you take a pre-workout supplement, you might already be taking it this way. However, the performance benefits from beta-alanine are based upon raising muscle carnosine concentrations over time. Thus, the time of day you consume beta-alanine isn’t nearly as important as consistently consuming beta-alanine each day.
Is Beta Alanine legal? Yes, beta alanine is a legal dietary supplement.
Does beta alanine keep you awake? Supplementing with beta-alanine allows for an increase in the amount of carnosine in your muscles. It is recommended to not take any before going to sleep, as the stimulant properties may keep you awake.
Does beta alanine increase heart rate? Not, however it is hypothesized that beta-alanine will increase physical working capacity at heart rate threshold, thereby signifying a delay in fatigue.
Do pre workouts raise blood pressure? All stimulants increase your blood pressure. This can be problematic if you already have an underlying high blood pressure issue that you might not be aware of.
Should I take beta alanine before or after my workout? Studies show that beta-alanine allows carnosine levels to reach a peak after 12 weeks, which is then maintained as long as supplementation continues. Taking beta-alanine 30-45 minutes before exercising allows the supplement to enter your system and have an effect.
Beta-alanine works to significantly increase performance by fighting muscle fatigue and boosting your work capacity.
Additionally, beta-alanine provides general health benefits by working as an antioxidant, providing anti-aging relief, and even bolstering the immune system.
While you can consume beta alanine through food, supplements are ideal to obtaining the recommended 2-5 grams daily.
Lastly, while beta-alanine may cause transient tingling in the skin, it is proven to be both safe and effective.