When a truly great movie, book, or video game slips by the critics and masses only to be ‘rediscovered’ years later and given credit for its greatness and contribution to said media, it becomes known as a ‘sleeper hit’. If any dietary supplement falls into this category, ß-alanine is it. First discovered in the early 1900’s as a component of carnosine (carnosine is ß-alanyly-L-histidine), ß-alanine and histidine are the two components of carnosine. Carnosine as it turns out, is extremely abundant in skeletal muscle and brain tissue. Does carnosine have nootropic and/or anti-aging effects? It appears so, however that’s an article unto itself. We’ll stick to performance-enhancement for now. Over the past decade, ß-alanine has turned up in certain supplements, but in nowhere near an adequate dose. EAS was one of the first to use the compound, in ‘Phosphagen Elite’, however a daily serving only contains 1.6 grams. Once the great Pat Arnold opened the Pandora’s Box of pro-hormones and pro-steroids, ß-alanine research was put on the back burner; at least in the supplement industry.
So why not just take carnosine? I’m sure you’ve seen it available in ‘sterile liquid’ vials, so maybe it gets broken down by stomach acid or the liver? Nope. Carnosine, whether swallowed, injected, applied transdermally or via rectal suppository, breaks down into ß-alanine and histidine, which then reform into carnosine; kind of like Voltron, only for your muscles. Histidine is already present in abundance within skeletal muscles, so it is ß-alanine that acts as the rate-limiting factor in carnosine conversion.
So what exactly does carnosine do for muscular size, performance, strength, and body composition anyway? Carnosine is very effective at buffering the Hydrogen ions responsible for producing the lactic acid burn we all have a love/hate relationship with. Less burn equals more, harder workouts with seemingly no added effort. Some people are saying ß-Alanine is ‘the next creatine’. This statement is ludicrous for several reasons: 1) ‘the next creatine’ is synonymous with ‘scam’. 2) Creatine only increases anaerobic capacity and ATP stores, carnosine increases ATP stores, and buffers lactic acid- improving all muscular aspects of sports performance (as opposed to CNS aspects). 3) The slightest bit of dehydration and creatine can hinder athletic performance through cramping. However those of you who hit the gym for cosmetic reasons, keep taking that creatine, as ß-alanine won’t cause the water-retention seen with creatine, at least not to the same degree.
One study administered ß-alanine in 10, 20, and 40 mg/kg doses to humans, and found not only that less than 5% was excreted in urine, but in the above dose ranges, increases in muscle carnosine stores were 42.1, 64.2 and 65.8%, respectively. In addition, workout volume increased by 13% after four weeks, and 16.2% after 10 weeks. So for a 100kg athlete, 4g per day is plenty. The ß-alanine in this study was administered orally, eliminating the need for transdermals or injections. There’s still some debate as to the best method of timing your dose. The renowned ß-alanine researcher Dr. Jeff Stout, PhD recommends that non-time released ß-alanine should be taken between four and eight times a day for optimal effect. However, ‘real world’ feedback, in addition to dozens of human studies on strength, endurance, strength/endurance, and power/endurance athletes show increases in muscular strength, size, workout volume, and general work capacity of all three types of muscle fibers without any special delivery system. However, as the jury is still out on dose timing (though not the dose itself), tweaking doses to fit your personal schedule might not be a bad idea.
In terms of ß-alanine products available, sadly, few are effective. Bulk powder allows you to take as much as you want, while gambling on purity and having to choke down powder or waste time capping. There are some noteworthy exceptions. At ~$50 per 45 day supply, Controlled Labs’ ‘Purple Wraath’ [SIC] has a decent dose of ß-alanine combined with citrulline malate and some other noteworthy and most likely synergistic ingredients in adequate doses. Biotest just introduced their ‘time-released’ (though no word on what time-release process they use) ß-alanine product, “Beta-7” available through the T-Nation store for $47.99, although it hasn’t been released to retailers at the time this article was submitted for publication. Beta-7 contains roughly 400mg extra ß-alanine per capsule (not per serving). Last but definitely not least in terms of carnosine-boosting products worth mentioning, Athletic Edge Nutrition (AEN) offers a high-quality, cost-effective product in their newest release, “IntraXcell” at ~$30 for a month’s supply. IntraXcell contains 4 grams of ß-alanine per serving, in addition to N-acetyl-cystine and alpha lipoic acid to scavenge the extra free-radicals produced from the extra muscular output
Summing It All Up
ß-alanine is sure to become THE next big supplement. It goes beyond creatine, so there can be no comparison. The only logical reason for stacking the two is for cosmetic purposes (ß-alanine won’t get you ‘hyooooge’). By itself, ß-alanine can be used by all athletes. It boosts anaerobic capacity much like creatine, replaces the aerobic-boosting capacity of citrulline malate, and eliminates the need for endurance athletes to use buffering compounds such as baking soda or Potassium citrate. Just when you think it won’t get any better, studies and initial feedback have demonstrated ß-alanine to have potent body re-composition and fat burning effects. And the only real side effect is a tingling/flushing sensation known as paraesthesia, and isn’t nearly as bad as taking too much niacin.
Next month: ß-Alanine’s possible nootropic and life-extension effects. Have a better idea? P.M. me at the Mind & Muscle Forums under the screen name: Viator
1. C.A. Hill, Et. Al. “Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity.” Amino Acids. July 28 2006. PMID: 16868650.
2. RC Harris, Et. Al. “The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis.” Amino Acids. May 30 2006. PMID: 16554972.
3. T. Nagasawa Et. Al. “In vitro and in vivo inhibition of muscle lipid and protein oxidation by carnosine.” Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. September 2001. PMID: 11716361.
4. Luoma, TC. “Introducing Biotest’s Beta-7, an Interview With Dr. Jeff Stout, PhD.” T-Nation. Available: http://www.t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=1196017