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Beta-alanine is a sports nutrition supplement that genuinely works to support the performance of athletes. The problem is, it is often misused, so that potential benefits are mitigated by inappropriate application. This article aims to provide information about the supplement's potential uses and practical applications, based on experience of real-world use with world-class athletes.
I was first introduced to beta-alanine in the mid 2000s by Professor Roger Harris, a sports biochemist; he was part of the team that first researched creatine. Professor Roger and his team were interested to see if muscle carnosine could be increased by dietary manipulation.
Carnosine acts as an intra-cellular (inside the cell) buffer to the acid produced during strenuous exercise. The body uses multiple buffering systems; for example, sodium bicarbonate (produced by the kidneys) works outside the cell and neutralises the acid as it leaves.
Carnosine is a histidine dipeptide (this means beta-alanine and histidine joined together). Professor Roger had worked out that the limiting amino acid was the beta-alanine, so that supplementing with it should result in increased carnosine.
At that time beta-alanine supplements were difficult to find, so the original research, which demonstrated that increasing dietary beta-alanine resulted in increased muscle carnosine, used poultry as the beta-alanine source.1
Professor Roger demonstrated that by consuming extra beta-alanine (4g a day for four weeks) you can increase the muscle carnosine content. This led to performance research that showed improvements in high-intensity exercise.2
Initially, due to the lack of quality beta-alanine supplements, I used beta-alanine diets with athletes – this included foods high in beta-alanine such as turkey and prawns. As the research started to be published there was an increase in sport-specific products.
The first athletes were short track speed skaters, followed by team pursuit track riders. At the time using beta-alanine was very much cutting-edge, but it's now standard practice.
Athletes following a plant-based diet will be naturally lower in beta-alanine and should consider supplementation.
If you are looking at including or already include repeated high-intensity exercise in your routine, it may also be worth including beta-alanine supplementation.
Nigel Mitchell is Technical Lead for the English Institute of Sport. He currently supports athletes including Olympic middle distance runners, cross country skiers, triathletes and Olympic sailors, and an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth.Find out more about Healthspan's Expert Panel.
This article is written by nutrition professionals, and is aimed at nutritionists and athletes. It is not intended to replace advice from your own doctor or nutritionist. Please consult a professional before trying supplements.
1R. C. Harris et al (2006). The absorption of orally supplied b-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis, Amino Acids DOI 10.1007/s00726-006-0299-9
2C.A. Hill (2007). Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity, Amino Acids 32: 225-233, 2007