Beta-alanine Improves Athletic Performance in Cyclists and Runners

November 18, 2022

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid found naturally in white or red meat such as chicken or beef. Non-essential amino acids differ from the essential ones in the inability to synthesize in the body, so they must be consumed through the diet. 


Beta-alanine has gained a special interest in the last decade due to its direct relationship with carnosine (a dipeptide composed of beta-alanine and histidine amino acids) synthesis. 

 

Beta-alanine raises carnosine levels in muscles. The dipeptide is stored in the cells and released in response to pH imbalance.


At the muscle level, which is the most relevant for sports performance, carnosine has another essential function, and that is: activating the enzyme myosin ATPase, which plays a fundamental role in the maintenance of ATP reserves. Raising carnosine levels in the body is positive, as the increase in the peptide delays muscle fatigue associated with training.


How does beta-alanine work?


Several scientific studies show how beta-alanine promotes carnosine synthesis in the muscle fibers, increasing the levels of this substance in the muscles. The amino acid is absorbed into skeletal muscle and combines with histidine to synthesize carnosine. The result is a delay in the onset of fatigue during exercise.


A supplementation of between 3.2 grams and 6.4 grams of beta-alanine is sufficient to raise carnosine levels and is useful for both strength and endurance athletes. Although the sports that make the most use of this supplement are cycling and running, many gym users (fitness and bodybuilding) use beta-alanine to enhance muscle mass formation.


Beta-alanine in the improvement of exercise capacity and performance


Different studies establish that beta-alanine supplementation can increase the muscle concentration of carnosine and that, if we combine this with training, performance is much higher. Beta-alanine offers a general ergogenic effect in exercise.


An ergogenic effect or ergogenic aid is any product that improves work capacity. Thus, supplements for athletes whose purpose is to improve performance are considered ergogenic.


  • Improvements in cycling

Concerning cycling, a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that beta-alanine supplementation before high-intensity training could improve the results of this type of training. Beta-alanine enhances the formation of muscle carnosine, increases motivation, and reduces the sensation of tiredness.


In professional cycling, this substance is considered a legal supplement, a performance enhancer that generates fewer risks and is freely available, unlike doping products.


Beta-alanine and creatine are highlighted as the best among legal sports supplements. The first one dampens lactate production due to its buffering effect at the intracellular level, while the latter increases strength and explosive power regeneration.


At the professional level, many cyclists and teams use these supplements, while at the amateur level, this practice is becoming more and more widespread in mountain biking, road cycling, and triathlon.


  • Beta-alanine for runners

As in the case of cycling, the fundamental mission of beta-alanine supplementation is to increase intramuscular carnosine deposits to improve endurance capacity.


In running, the ergogenic aid is used alone or in combination with creatine. By taking these supplements, the athlete usually experiences a feeling of improvement that leads them to maintain maximum intensity in exercise for a longer time, delaying the accumulated fatigue caused by lactate.


If we differentiate between sexes, the average carnosine concentrations in men are higher than in women, and this is due to the hormonal environment. 


In any case, the main factor affecting muscle carnosine concentration is the differences between the different types of muscle fibers, with fast twitch or type II fibers being the richest in carnosine. Thus, sprinters have a higher concentration of the peptide in skeletal muscle than endurance athletes and the sedentary population.


Carnosine in vegetarians


Carnosine synthesis in skeletal muscle is largely determined by the availability of beta-alanine in the diet, with white and red meat being the main sources of this amino acid.


Thus, it is not surprising that people who follow vegetarian diets have lower muscle carnosine concentration than those who follow an omnivorous diet.


Many athletes who follow vegetarian diets must resort almost obligatorily to the use of these supplements to achieve improvements in their performance.


How to take beta-alanine?


The International Society of Sports Nutrition showed some recommendations on the consumption of this ergogenic substance through a scientific report. The main guidelines include the,


  • Four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation, taking four to six grams daily, significantly increases muscle carnosine concentrations, thus acting as an intracellular pH buffer. There are no known serious side effects, except for paresthesia (tingling), but there are guidelines to attenuate this sensation.


  • In terms of improving athletic performance, a daily dose of four to six grams of this substance is positive and has more pronounced effects in exercises lasting one to four minutes. At present, beta-alanine supplementation is quite safe, as long as taken by healthy individuals who adhere to the recommended doses.