What is Beta Alanine?
Beta-alanine turns into carnosine the helps buffer against acidity in the muscle ([1. activities that stress intracellular acidosis – exercise over 30 seconds– Bogdanis GC, et al. Power output and muscle metabolism during and following recovery from 10 and 20 s of maximal sprint exercise in humans. Acta Physiol Scand. (1998)]). When pH drops, Carnosine is released by the cells; elevated levels of Carnosine can supress lactic acid production for a short period of time.
The Beta Alanine Claim: Increases muscular endurance during aerobic activities by suppressing muscle fatigue (anaerobic threshold and exhaustion time increased) allowing more work especially for short endurance bouts; more work allows for increased muscle mass, in theory.
The Key Research
Beta Alanine is a fairly new supplement and research is still ongoing. But the studies into Beta Alanine are promising as they show it does actually deliver a small benefit for short explosive endurance activities which could be highly beneficial for sports that include this.
- Can provide combat sport performance (punching) ability by giving increases aerobic ability to throw more punches with more power over a set interval: A study gave 6 grams daily (1.5 grams every couple hours) to 16 amateur boxers and found the punch force increases by twenty times and punch frequency by 4 times. The study given tested jab cross combinations among boxers for 2:50 seconds for 3 rounds with the last 10 seconds explosive, high intensity punching. The measurements were taken during the last 10 seconds and showed significant increase in power and frequency compared to placebo group. This is pretty great news if you are supplementing for boxing or muay thai and are hand heavy! ([7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23011650])
- Can provide tangible sports performance boost in football/soccer: study showed 30% performance increase among B-alanine supplementing players during 12 week competitive season due the muscle’s increased buffering ability (less muscle fatigue during periods of high-intensity)[8. β-alanine supplementation improves YoYo intermittent recovery test performance. Bryan Saunders,Sunderland, Harris, Sale]). The researchers concluded: “β-alanine supplementation can not only halt the decline in fitness levels shown during a competitive season, but may even improve them above typical levels”
- Does Not Improve Explosive Strength Directly but MAY Over Time: Studies looking at Beta-Alanine’s effect on maximum strength (1 Rep Max) found it did NOT improve maximal strength directly with a strength building (weight) routine. However, over a period of 30 days, it did slightly improve power over time, likely due to the Beta Alanine’s ability to improve lactic acid threshold which allows for a few more weight repetitions to be pushed out, contributing to more work done ([2. (Kendrick IP, et al. The effects of 10 weeks of resistance training combined with beta-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino Acids. (2008)).])
- Improves Muscular Endurance during repeated maximal contractions after 60 seconds: The improvement appears to be present in exercise that is between 60 to 240 seconds([17. Hobson RM, et al. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. (2012)]) ([3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20479615]). The study concluded the benefit, however, is quite small at only a 2.85% increase and is between 60-240 seconds). This means that strength training exercises and sports activities that stress power less than 60 seconds won’t likely see any benefit. For weight lifting, the benefit might be in the ability to squeeze out a few more reps for high rep exercises (kettle bells, for example).
- MAY aid in body composition trend toward slight composition changes towards lean body mass and less fat mass: so found a study, though research is still mixed on this so you can’t draw any definite on this just yet([4. Walter AA, et al. Six weeks of high-intensity interval training with and without beta-alanine supplementation for improving cardiovascular fitness in women. J Strength Cond Res. (2010)])
- Does not help max sprinting power/speed for single explosive sprints (400 meters) ([5. Derave W, et al. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J Appl Physiol. (2007)])([6. Sweeney KM, et al. The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on power performance during repeated sprint activity. J Strength Cond Res. (2010)])
- Does Not Appear to Increase Vo2 Max in a study([4. Walter AA, et al. Six weeks of high-intensity interval training with and without beta-alanine supplementation for improving cardiovascular fitness in women. J Strength Cond Res. (2010)])
Shows a definite but small endurance threshold enhancement for aerobic activities after a certain time threshold. Some evidence points to an increase in lean mass over time when combined with weight lifting routine
The studies above show Beta Alanine does in fact provide some small benefit when it comes to muscular endurance type activities (that are at least 60 seconds or longer) but this does not extend to explosive type activities (sprinting, lifting max weight) shorter than 60 seconds. The benefit appears to be small though, at 2.85 percent.
The ability of Beta Alanine to increase work threshold output over time could translate into more muscular gains over time, though Beta Alanine clearly, itself, does not contribute directly to more strength.
There is also some evidence that Beta Alanine can have a positive influence on the body gaining lean muscle mass without fat, but the effect is small and there is no clear study on why this is the case.
Benefit for Strength Training
- The research points in the direction that Beta Alanine can make improvements for higher rep training, IF the exercise is longer than 60 seconds. Beta Alanine has not been shown to improve maximal strength (1 rep max), but if the activity is medium to long, you could lift more weight. This means more work can be done with can lead to greater strength gains over time. Some evidence has shown Beta Alanine might promote more lean muscle mass gains, but more studies need to be done here.
Benefit for Combat Sports (Muay Thai, Boxing, MMA, etc)
- Punch power and frequency can be increased by quite a bit, especially after several minutes of rapid high-intensity activity: This can translate into some serious real world benefits, especially near the end of a round when fatigue sets in and you go all out. There is no study testing kicks or jujitsu, but likely the same benefit would extend to any combat sport that is aerobic in activity (boxing, kickboxing, muay thai, mma) with rapid muscle movements. Beta Alanine would allow for more power near the end of the round.
- Beta Alanine does NOT appear to improve explosive power.
Befit for General sports/fitness
- Can benefit athletic performance if sport/exercise includes periods of intense activity between 60 seconds to five minutes. Studies have shown performance improvement soccer boxing, and cycling.
- Will not improve sprints or other short explosive activities
SHOULD I SUPPLEMENT WITH BETA ALANINE?
If you are involved in competitive sports with muscular endurance activities lasting between 60 to 300 seconds as studies show beta Alanine may offer a slight performance advantage for high-intensity activities lasting longer than 60 seconds to 4 minutes, with most benefit being after 1 minute and around the minute 4. This could apply to strength training routines with higher reps like kettlebell training, for example.
But the small performance benefit bestowed by Beta Alanine is likely NOT worth the money for most people who don’t require a competitive edge.
SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT WITH BETA ALANINE FOR MUAY THAI?
if you fight (assuming standard 3 minute rounds) and are hand heavy or have a very active style of fighting (you push the pace for 3 minutes with punching and kicking) then you might see some benefit after the first minute and the last few seconds of the round. This actually fits quite well with the round structure of 3 minute rounds as one study on boxers showed remarkable improvements in punch power and frequency the last 10 seconds of the rounds (2:50 seconds). So if you are HAND heavy, you are one to engage in long, nonstop striking flurries, and you compete (with standard rounds), Beta Alanine could provide a competitive edge.
if you do not fight or engage in long bouts of boxing. Most standard muay thai activities are 10 seconds or less of flurries then long pauses. Beta Alanine is unlikely to bestow any cardio benefit here and the high costs of the supplement don’t make it worth the minor performance advantage that you would not likely take advantage of.