Beta-alanine is a popular amino acid supplement used to enhance exercise and athletic performance. It improves heart fitness and reduces muscle fatigue and acid build-up. Read ahead to learn how beta-alanine may improve your health as what are the risks associated with its use.
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine (β-Alanine) is an amino acid naturally found in muscles and the brain. Together with histidine, it forms carnosine, which helps reduce acid build-up during exercise. Despite mixed evidence of success, it is sold as a performance-enhancing supplement under names like Carnosyn and its slow release version, SR CarnoSyn .
Beta-alanine is most effective during anaerobic exercise (intense and exhaustive exercise that causes lactic acid to accumulate in the muscles), such as high-intensity interval training or sprinting. Most notably, it delays fatigue during repeated bouts of intense exercise with short recovery periods .
Women and vegetarians have lower amounts of muscle carnosine than men and meat-eaters, respectively. Furthermore, body carnosine naturally decreases with age. These groups may particularly benefit from beta-alanine [2, 3].
The only confirmed side effect is tingling. However, lower or time-released doses can reduce this effect .
It also acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and a neuromodulator. For instance, beta-alanine inhibits uptake of the amino acid taurine in cells; this can cause oxidative stress, cell damage, and respiratory problems [8, 9].
Health Benefits of Beta-alanine
1) Beta-alanine May Improve Athletic Performance
Success varied due to the athletic condition of the subjects, and the type of exercise or sport tested. For instance, beta-alanine improves short-lasting and high-intensity exercise (anaerobic exercise, lasting 1 to 4 min) .
Furthermore, beta-alanine improves resistance training volume and performance for athletes who play in team sports, which may improve game performance .
For instance, a 6-week study (DB-RCT) of 15 male water polo players showed improved throwing speed during a repetitive sprint and 200 m swimming performance after taking 6.4 g of beta-alanine daily .
In another study (DB-RCT) of 25 female soccer players, beta-alanine improved repeated sprinting, jumping, and endurance. Notably, a study (DB-RCT) of 20 combat soldiers saw similar jumping results [15, 16].
Overall, however, trends suggest that non-athletes benefit from beta-alanine during lab-based, but not in field tests. Furthermore, athletes show some improvement in both athletic performance and high-intensity training. In team sports, beta-alanine improves resistance training performance and volume .
Beta-alanine Improves Military Combat
A review showed that beta-alanine improves soldiers’ performance, especially during short bursts of high-intensity combat (lasting 1 to 5 minutes) .
In a 4-week study (DB-RCT) of 20 elite combat soldiers, beta-alanine improved jumping power, shooting speed, and marksmanship .
Another 30-day study (DB-RCT) of 18 elite combat soldiers showed mixed improvements. Beta-alanine improved speed during a 50-m casualty carry exercise and increased cognitive performance while under stress. However, it did not improve running, sprinting, or marksmanship .
2) Beta-alanine Increases Muscle Mass
In a 3-week study (DB-RCT) of 46 men undergoing high-intensity interval training, beta-alanine increased oxygen intake and ventilatory threshold (the point during exercise when oxygen use exceeds oxygen intake), endurance, stamina, and lean body mass .
In a similar 8-week study (DB-RCT) of 44 women, beta-alanine decreased body fat and increased fat-free mass and overall body mass .
3) Beta-Alanine May Delay Fatigue and Reduce Lactic Acid in Muscles
A meta-analysis of 360 people showed that beta-alanine improved high-intensity exercise that lasts more than a minute .
A review on the subject found that beta-alanine reduced acid build-up during a high-intensity anaerobic performance, which delayed fatigue .
In a 4-week study (DB-RCT) of 14 male students, beta-alanine reduced muscle acid during high-intensity cycling .
However, individual improvement widely varies. For instance, in a 5-week sprint study (DB-RCT) of 11 men, beta-alanine neither improved performance nor reduced fatigue .
4) Beta-alanine May Lower Anxiety and Improve PTSD
Beta-alanine boosts carnosine and serotonin in the brain. Carnosine reduced anxiety in rodents. It increases the anti-anxiety molecule brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is lower in rodents with PTSD. Beta-alanine may reduce anxiety by maintaining a normal concentration of this molecule [30, 31, 32].
Beta-alanine may also decrease PTSD-like behavior. In rats, beta-alanine improved PTSD behavior and maintained normal levels of BDNF .
However, a similar rodent study did not show behavioral improvement .
5) Beta-alanine May Improve Cognitive Function While Under Stress
In a 30-day study (DB-RCT) of 18 elite soldiers, beta-alanine improved cognitive function during combat practice .
6) Beta-alanine May Be Anti-Tumor
In colon and rectal tumor cells, beta-alanine reduced tumor cell growth .
7) Beta-alanine May Fight Aging
Beta-alanine may benefit the elderly. 18 elderly patients experienced improved exercise capacity after taking beta-alanine for 3 months in a DB-RCT .
It also enhanced leg muscle function in old mice .
Beta-alanine forms the molecule carnosine in muscles. Carnosine reduced aging-related stress (glycoxidant stress) in old rats. This stress damages cells and increases the risk of age-related chronic disease [37, 6, 38, 39].
8) Beta-alanine May Help In Brain Injury
In rodents, beta-alanine reduced behavioral changes from mild traumatic brain injury .
Health Risks of High Beta-alanine Levels
1) Beta-alanine May Cause Oxidative Stress
A study on hyper-beta-alaninemia (high beta-alanine levels) in rat cells found that beta-alanine increased free radicals decreased oxygen intake, and triggered mitochondrial death. This reduced cell energy production and caused oxidative stress, which can lead to heart failure .
However, the molecular byproduct of beta-alanine, carnosine, actually functions as an antioxidant that protects against Parkinson’s disease in rats. In rat brains, it inhibits programmed brain cell death, increases antioxidants, and decreases reactive oxygen species (ROS) [41, 37].
2) Elevated Beta-alanine Causes Hyper-beta-alanemia
Hyper-beta-alaninemia is a rare disease that increases levels of beta-alanine. It causes brain damage, decreased muscle tone, and breathing problems. People with this condition should not take beta-alanine .
3) Elevated Beta-alanine May Contribute to GABA-Transaminase Deficiency
GABA-transaminase deficiency is a seizure disorder (epileptic encephalopathy) that also causes accelerated growth in babies. It is associated with increased beta-alanine in the spine, and it is possible that GABA-transaminase deficiency and hyper-beta-alaninemia are variants of the same disorder .
High doses (>800 mg) of beta-alanine can cause tingles (paresthesia) or itching. It causes itching by binding and activating MRGPRD, a G-protein-coupled receptor found in the skin’s sensory neurons .
- Taking doses under 800 mg
- Taking slow-release doses (sustained-release doses), which slowly release beta-alanine over time
Other side effects have not been well researched .
However, some users report flushing/hot flashes.
Health Risks of Low Beta-alanine Levels
Decreased Beta-Alanine May Contribute to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
In a study of 76 people, four people with chronic fatigue syndrome released higher levels of beta-alanine through their urine. However, they represented only by a small subset of the 33 chronic fatigue syndrome patients .
Yet another study of 65 people found more significant results; chronic fatigue syndrome patients released significantly more beta-alanine in their urine .
Additionally, higher beta-alanine levels in the urine were linked with :
- Higher symptom incidence
- Increased symptom severity
- Chronic fatigue symptoms (nausea, muscle weakness, dizziness, headache, tingling, and eye discomfort due to light)
- Physical symptoms of psychiatric disorders (Symptom Checklist-90-R (SCL-90-R) somatization)
Limitations and Caveats
Overall, although beta-alanine supplementation has some positive effect on high-intensity, anaerobic exercise, it has little impact on aerobic exercise performance .
Gender, age, diet, and physical composition may influence beta-alanine’s effect on performance. Groups most likely to benefit from beta-alanine include :
- The elderly
- People with high amounts of Type I muscle fibers/low amounts of Type II muscle fibers
There is limited information on how beta-alanine impacts long-term training. Furthermore, the only confirmed side effect is tingling. Additional research should focus on identifying any other side-effects .
Also, some health effects are only seen in animal or cell studies. Take caution when using beta-alanine for its purported health benefits.
Do not take beta-alanine supplements if you have hyper-beta-alaninemia or GABA-transaminase deficiency.
Sources of beta-alanine include :
- Protein-rich food such as meat and fish
- Dietary Supplements
Dosage and timing affect beta-alanine supplementation outcomes. Beta-alanine induced exercise improvements with higher doses (3.2-6.4g/day) taken for at least a month .
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends 4 to 6 grams/day for at least 4 weeks. They divide the doses or use sustained-release supplements to reduce tingling .
A higher dose of 12 grams/day (sustained-release) is also safe and effective .
Importantly, in a survey of 167 rugby players and 303 football players who used beta-alanine, most of them did not follow supplement recommendations, which may potentially be unsafe .
Beta-alanine vs. L-alanine
L-alanine is the most common form of alpha-alanine, a nonessential amino acid found in the body. Beta-alanine and L-alanine have the same molecular formula (C3H7NO2). L-alanine helps break down sugar and acid and is a source of energy in the body. It also supports the immune system and protein formation [52, 53].
Interactions with Other Supplements
1) Beta-alanine and Creatine
In a 10-week study (DB-RCT) of 33 male college football players, combined supplements increased lean body mass and decreased body fat more than creatine supplements alone .
2) Beta-alanine and Sodium Bicarbonate
In a 4-week study (DB-RCT) of 37 athletes, combined supplements improved performance, perceived exertion, and the total amount of exercise work done .
3) Beta-alanine and Taurine
High concentrations of beta-alanine decreased taurine levels in rats .
However, the recommended dose for a beta-alanine supplement is too low to cause taurine depletion .
For example, a study (DB-RCT) of 13 males found that 10 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation did not decrease taurine levels .
Taurine supplementation offsets depleted taurine caused by beta-alanine. The combined use of beta-alanine and taurine supplements helped mice fight muscle fatigue .
A man reported that beta-alanine delayed muscle fatigue and improved his routine. He used it every day and experienced tingling and stomach issues.
A woman said that beta-alanine benefited her middle-aged husband, who was active military. A low dose was sufficient to reduce his fatigue.
Additionally, a middle-aged man said that beta-alanine reduced muscle pain and improved performance. He also experienced hot flashes.