Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid and is the only naturally occurring beta-amino acid. Not to be confused with regular alanine, beta- alanine is classified as a non-proteinogenic amino acid, as it is not believed to be used in the building of proteins.
The greatest natural dietary sources of beta-alanine are believed to be obtained through ingesting the beta-alanine containing dipeptides: carnosine, anserine and balenine, rather than directly ingesting beta-alanine. These dipeptides are found in protein rich foods such as chicken, beef, pork and fish. It is predominantly through ingesting the dipeptide carnosine that we ingest most of our beta-alanine, as the two other dipeptides are not found nearly as plentiful in our typical diet. However, obtaining beta-alanine through these dipeptides is not the only way, as our bodies can synthesize it in the liver from the catabolism of pyrimidine nucleotides which are broken down into uracil and thymine and then metabolized into beta-alanine and B-aminoisobutyrate. Of course, it can also be ingested through direct supplementation.
When we exercise, especially when it’s high intensity exercise, our bodies accumulate a large amount of hydrogen ions (H+), causing our muscles’ pH to drop (become more acidic). This process is occurring whether you feel a burn or not.
The breakdown of ATP and the subsequent rise in H+ concentrations occur in all of our energy systems but H+ build-up is most prevalent in an energy system called Glycolysis, which also produces lactic acid.
At physiological pH, lactic acid dissociates H+ and is the primary source of released H+ ions during exercise, causing pH to drop. It is the released H+ from lactic acid that causes muscular performance problems, not the leftover lactate ions as many incorrectly believe. While lactic acid is the primary source of released H+, it is not the only source. H+ ions are also being released at a rapid rate when you break down the high energy compound ATP during exercise. With the presence of many sources during energy production releasing H+, pH drops quickly.
As our muscles pH quickly drops, so does their ability to contract forcibly and maintain a high level of performance throughout your workout session. Not being able to perform and maintain forceful muscular contractions and push your body to the limit during your workout session, seriously hampers your ability to maximally overload your muscles and force new muscle gains.
In a nutshell, H+ causes your muscles pH to drop, in turn decreasing your strength and causing you to fatigue faster. These limitations stop you from adequately overloading your muscles and forcing new muscle gains.
To understand how beta-alanine works to fight the drop in pH within our muscle, you must first understand how carnosine works. The reason being is, beta-alanine’s performance benefits are not direct but realized through its ability to boost the synthesis of carnosine.
Carnosine is a naturally occurring di-peptide that is found in both type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers, but is in significantly higher concentrations in type 2 fibers. Type 2 muscle fibers are primarily used in high intensity strength workouts and are most responsive to muscular growth.
There are a handful of ways carnosine is thought to impact performance but its most studied function, and the focus of this article, is its role as an intracellular buffer. Carnosine helps stabilize muscular pH by soaking up hydrogen ions (H+) that are released at an accelerated rate during exercise.
Our bodies work to keep our pH in balance by utilizing various buffering systems. Buffers largely work by soaking up H+ to maintain optimal pH balance, which we need to function most effectively. As mentioned above, our muscles function best in a specific pH range. When pH drops below that range, so does muscular performance. By helping to keep us in a more optimal pH range, our muscles can continue to contract forcibly for a longer time.
There are a handful of buffering systems that work in our bodies. Some maintain pH in extra cellular fluids (ECF) outside of the cell, while others perform their duties in intracellular fluids (ICF) inside the cell and some perform in both. Our focus in this article is on exercise performance and, as mentioned above, the primary source of H+ released during exercise is from lactic acid and ATP breakdown. Take a guess where this breakdown and release of H+ is occurring? If you guessed inside our muscles or intracellular, you would be correct. As a result, the first line of defense in absorbing the H+ is going to be the cell from intracellular buffers such as carnosine, not from extra cellular buffers.
Aside from carnosine being just where we need it, buffering H+ inside our cells, it has additional, unique attributes that make it really shine. Carnosine is unique; in that, other natural buffering systems our bodies use are also used in many other cellular reactions aside from buffering, watering down much of their buffering abilities. However, what makes carnosine really exciting is that by supplementing with extra beta-alanine, we can specifically and dramatically increase carnosine levels.
Researchers have shown that when supplementing with beta-alanine for just 4 weeks, we can increase our carnosine concentration by 42-65%. Longer beta-alanine studies going up to 10-12 weeks, show carnosine concentrations increased up to 80%. This is a tremendous increase in an already powerful intracellular buffer. It is this large increase in buffering capacity within our muscles that is largely responsible for the strength, lean body mass, power and muscular endurance gains that researchers are seeing from beta-alanine studies.
By boosting carnosine concentrations, with beta-alanine, our type 2 muscle fibers can soak up more H+ and stay in an optimal pH range. By keeping our type 2 muscle fibers in an optimal pH range, they are better able to maintain maximal strength and endurance throughout your workout session and bring on new muscle gains.
The answer to the safety question is a resounding YES. Studies, going up to 12 weeks of continued beta-alanine use, have looked at a large array of blood biochemical, hematological and hormonal markers and no negative changes have occurred whatsoever. While it is impossible to say beta-alanine is one hundred percent safe until longer term studies are complete, we do know that up to 12 weeks of continued beta-alanine supplementation is indeed safe.
When you ingest carnosine intact, most of it is broken down in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract into its constituent amino acids, beta-alanine and histidine. Some intact carnosine does escape the GI tract freely but even that amount is quickly broken down in our blood by the enzyme carnosinase. In a very short time, all the carnosine you just ingested is either eliminated or broken down into beta-alanine and histidine. These two amino acids are then taken into the muscle, where they are converted back into carnosine with the help of the enzyme carnosine synthetase.
Unfortunately, only about 40% of the carnosine you take actually contains beta-alanine, making it an inefficient source at best. You are better off, from both efficiency and a financial standpoint, taking beta-alanine directly. You would have to take substantially more carnosine just to approach the increased concentrations of carnosine achieved by taking the scientifically recommended dose of beta-alanine. Clearly, taking beta-alanine is the superior solution to increasing carnosine levels.
No, as histidine is already present in high concentrations in muscle, while beta-alanine is only present only in small amounts. Researchers have determined that it is beta-alanine that drives carnosine synthesis, not histidine. Since this has been proven repeatedly in research, there is no need to supplement with extra histidine to increase carnosine levels. There are potentially some select populations like vegans, vegetarians or the elderly that may not get enough histidine in their diets and are thus deficient, which may compromise optimal carnosine levels. But, we still don’t recommend taking just extra histidine with beta-alanine. Instead, we recommend these groups and simply bump up their total protein intake which will in turn solve their possible histidine deficiency. For the majority of healthy people, only beta-alanine is needed as histidine deficiency is rare and no extra supplementation is needed to increase carnosine concentrations.
Research has shown that you can take an amount between 3.2 grams and 6.4 grams per day to significantly boost carnosine levels and improve performance. The most recent research, now using 4-5 grams a day, is showing comparable carnosine concentration and performance improvements to those using 6.4 g daily. Based off the current research, we suggest 4 grams of beta-alanine a day, with an “optional” 2 week loading phase of 6 grams a day during the first month of use.
Performance benefits typically occur in as little as two weeks, although some individuals will notice benefits within one week. As carnosine levels increase, the benefits will follow. The most dramatic results are generally experienced within the 3-4 week range but they don’t stop there. Recent research is now showing carnosine levels continue to increase for a minimum of 12 weeks which is why we recommend staying on Beta-Alanine for at least three months to optimize your carnosine levels.
Immediate benefits: Many users experience intense vasodilatation/pumps from the very first dose of Beta-Alanine. Because Beta-Alanine increases carnosine and carnosine is a powerful precursor in generating nitric oxide synthase (a group of enzymes necessary for making the powerful vasodilator nitric oxide), this is an added, immediate benefit of Beta-Alanine.
You can conclude that beta alanine might be perhaps the most versatile supplement yet discovered — whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, endurance athlete, or just someone who wants to get bigger, leaner, faster or stronger.
It’s a simple pathway for success: H+ increases with all types of activity, shutting off muscle contraction.
With beta-alanine we can absorb it, and can literally become “better” at every one of those activities. We can be stronger, we can run faster, we can run longer. We can lift heavier weights for more reps, and as the Hoffman study showed, we can be bigger and leaner.
The greatest attribute of beta-alanine is that it will benefit all types of athletes — not just bodybuilders and fitness competitors.
With beta-alanine all sportsmen and women, no matter the game, are vying for that same hydrogen-ion buffering prize.
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