Have you ever taken a pre-workout and felt the tingling, skin crawling, burning lips/ears/nose sensation? That is the glorious effect of beta-alanine (also known by the trademarked name Carnosyn®, a more expensive version of the exact same ingredient).
Beta-alanine is an amino acid, naturally produced by your body, and commonly found in meat and fish.
It is one of the most popular pre-workout ingredients due to its ability to improve strength and athletic performance. But is it as effective as promised?
This article aims to explain the mythicized ingredient, by reviewing the available scientific literature and compiling it in simple terms.
To understand how beta-alanine works, you first need a simplified understanding of the muscle energy system.
Carnosine is a combination of beta-alanine and histidine, and can be supplemented itself. However, studies have found that beta-alanine is significantly more effective at increasing carnosine levels when consumed orally .
Cyclists supplementing with beta-alanine had muscle biopsies analyzed on the 4 and 10 week mark and showed an increase in muscle carnosine by 58.8% and 80.1% respectively .
In fact, low beta-alanine levels directly result in low carnosine levels, as commonly noted with vegan eaters.
NOTE: Beta-alanine builds up carnosine stores over time. Consistent daily use is recommended for optimal results.
Beta-alanine supplementation may cause a taurine deficiency because it shares the same transporter to the cells. This effect has been studied in animals, but not in humans. However, the evidence and logic seem sufficient to warrant matching beta-alanine consumption with taurine supplementation.
In the market, it seems split, with many good pre-workouts adding 700-1400 mg taurine, while many of the cheaper pre-workout options skipping it.
The tingling sensation is a harmless side effect known as paresthesia . It is not exactly known why this happens, but it is believed to be a result of the effects beta-alanine has on nerves.
Some love it, some hate it, but either way, it is harmless and doesn't last long (average < 30 minutes).
The paresthesia can be avoided by taking smaller doses multiple times a day, but this is often to cumbersome for most.
As your body becomes accustomed to beta-alanine, the paresthesia effects will dwindle.
Due to the way beta-alanine works in the body - providing a boost to carnosine which acts as an acid buffer, allowing more muscle contractions - the effects should be equally beneficial for both men and women.
Women do not require as much beta-alanine as men IN GENERAL, because their total body muscle weight (and overall muscle mass) is generally less. There is not a specific required dose per kg/body weight, but we recommend aiming for the lower dosage range if you are under 130 pounds.
Beta-alanine has been extensively studied. The following is a compilation of some of the best studies we found and their effects on athletic performance.
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine studied the effects of 30 day (4.8g/daily) beta-alanine supplementation. The results were impressive, showing a 22% increase in total reps performed after 4 weeks and a significant increase in delta mean power, compared to the placebo group .
Another study, again conduced over 30 days, found a significant improvement in total total training volume on already conditioned subjects performing the bench press movement .
This study illustrates beta-alanine's ability to increase weight training in advanced lifters, not just beginners.
Boosting aerobic and endurance exercises is an area where beta-alanine shines.
In one study, rowers improved their 2000 m row time by 4.3 seconds compared to the placebo group, after following a 5g/day beta-alanine regiment for 7 weeks .
Rowing is a sport that requires an extreme amount of muscle endurance, and beta-alanine shows a positive correlation between supplementation and performance .
For high intensity cycling athletes, beta-alanine supplementation at 6.4g daily - the higher end of the dosage range, found an increase in time to exhaustion .
An interesting study on wrestlers looking to lose weight found that those who supplemented beta-alanine over an 8 week period gained lean muscle mass while losing overall body weight, compared to the placebo group that lost weight and lost lean muscle mass over the same period .
This study showed beta-alanine's ability to help attenuate lean muscle mass gains.
Another study looking at 46 male HIIT athletes in their 20s showed a number of benefits. Subjects were given 1.5 g beta-alanine 4 times daily for 3 weeks, followed by 2 times daily for 3 more weeks.
Subjects noticed significant improvements in VO2 max and an increase in lean body mass (fat free weight) when compared to placebo group .
Both the placebo group and the group supplement performed the same HIIT workouts.
Beta-alanine primarily works to increase endurance and efficiency of your muscle energy system. This doesn't immediate translate to improved power output, but prolonged use helps increase the amount of work your muscles can handle, resulting in better trained muscles over time. Improvements in muscle from beta-alanine has shown the ability to increases strength, endurance, power output, and can even play a role in weight loss.
Beta-alanine, like creatine, is most effective with consistent use. The ingredient works to build up carnosine stores in your skeletal muscle system. Most studies are at minimum 3+ weeks, with dosages between 3.2-4.8 grams.
Because these levels fluctuate throughout the day, it is generally regarded as best to consume beta-alanine before you workout, to maximize your carnosine levels going into an intensive muscular workout.
Transparent Labs PreSeries BULK and PreSeries STIM-FREE (for those who are sensitive to caffeine) contains an industry leading, 4g beta-alanine per serving. We have found this amount to be most beneficial for those maxing out their workouts and pushing their bodies to the highest level of athletic achievement.
You can also take beta-alanine à la carte. Most people who do this either are taking an under-dosed pre-workout like C4 and need to increase the beta-alanine dosage, or they want to micro dose multiple times a day in order to avoid the paresthesia tingles.
Either option is fine!
In the studies we reviewed, the dosage of beta-alanine oral supplementation ranged from 3.2-4.6g/daily, with a resulting 40-80% increase in skeletal muscle carnosine levels.
The duration required to achieve these numbers varied study to study. The shortest we reviewed was 3 weeks, and longest was 10 weeks (most were conducted over a period of 4 weeks).
It appears consistent that the longer one consumes beta-alanine, the higher a percentage of muscle carnosine they will achieve, although the percent increase slows and tapers over time.
One study found that the percent increase of muscle carnosine levels were increased when beta-alanine supplementation was consumed along with food.
We have already established beta-alanine as a powerful athletic performance enhancing supplement, but what about general health.
It gets better!
Beta-alanine has also shown promising improvements to bench marks related to aging and working as an anti-oxidant. By increasing carnosine percentage, the body is less susceptible to free radical protein segmentation, and inhibited oxidation of amino acids .
There are also direct studies conducted on elderly individuals, assisting muscle function and efficiency (same mechanism in young adults) - helping to reduce falls and improve quality of life .
Overall, this wonder supplement actually lives up to the hype, with ample evidence to support claims.
Beta-alanine can be found in food, but obtaining sufficient quantities for performance gains can be difficult (turkey has the highest amount per oz). Supplementation is the easiest way to consume clinically tested amounts.
Beta-alanine is considered one of the best pre-workout supplements.