What does beta-alanine do? Is it a supplement fad or a helpful tool that can optimize your workouts? When it comes to building your perfect workout routine, understanding the different supplements available can make all the difference.
No one supplement is going to transform your endurance or muscle mass overnight. But combining the benefits of beta-alanine with the other components of your pre-workout nutrition plan can boost your performance and speed your recovery.
Of course, to get the benefits and avoid any negative beta-alanine effects, you’ll need to know how much beta-alanine to take and when to take it. Let’s take a closer look at beta-alanine so you can decide where it belongs in your workout.
What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is one of the 11 non-essential amino acids. Here, the term “non-essential” doesn’t mean you don’t need them to survive. “Non-essential” amino acids are molecules that your body does need – but can make for itself.
“Essential” amino acids, on the other hand, are chemical compounds you can only get through food.
As a non-essential amino acid, what does beta-alanine do in your diet? Do you need it at all? Absolutely. Consuming non-essential amino acids can play a huge role in meeting your full potential.
Just because your body can create beta-alanine, effects of this compound might not be visible in your normal routine. This is because your body may not have the ability to create enough beta-alanine to make up for your activity levels or regular diet.
Beta-alanine is also the primary building block in carnosine, a dipeptide responsible for reducing acid buildup in muscles. So what does all this mean for your workout?
What does beta-alanine do?
The benefits of beta-alanine for athletes largely come from the way it interacts with other amino acids in your muscles during a workout. What does beta-alanine do in your muscles that other supplements don’t?
Since beta-alanine is an amino acid, it’s one of the smallest and most flexible building blocks in the body. Many supplements require your body to break them down before it can use them, or risk getting changed significantly in the digestion process.
Protein is a great example. With the exception of hydrolyzed or nano-hydrolyzed proteins, your body doesn’t absorb all of the protein you consume. The molecules are simply too large to pass through the pores of your stomach, and a large portion of them ultimately go to waste.
Small molecules, on the other hand, can pass into the bloodstream and take effect almost immediately. Frog Fuel specifically has been proven to digest completely in 15 minutes or less.
So, what are the positive beta-alanine effects you can expect if you add this mighty molecule to your workout routine? Here is what beta-alanine does for your body:
Beta-alanine boosts carnosine production
We’ve mentioned carnosine already, but it’s one of the key reasons to include beta-alanine in your supplement routine, so let’s go a little more in-depth. What does beta-alanine do to boost carnosine production? And why does that matter?
Beta-alanine is one of only two “ingredients” in carnosine. The other is histidine, an essential amino acid found in nearly every source of protein we consume. Since beta-alanine typically has to be synthesized in the body from other “ingredients”, we naturally tend to have less.
High-level athletes have naturally higher levels of carnosine in their muscles. This links carnosine with endurance, strength, and faster recovery times. So, if carnosine is what’s causing all these benefits, why not supplement with that?
Supplementing with carnosine orally tends to be less effective than supplementing with beta-alanine. This is because, in the digestion process, the body splits the carnosine back into beta-alanine and histidine. Your body would then have to “rebuild” carnosine to see any effect.
Supplementing with beta-alanine allows your body to use natural stores of histidine to make carnosine more effectively.
Beta-alanine can enhance endurance
Endurance factors into almost every part of an athlete’s life. If not in competition directly, then in training, where you build up the muscles you rely on. Building endurance happens over time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to support your training.
Taking protein before workouts, for example, can give you staying power through an entire training session. For endurance athletes and sprinters alike, the ability to go just a little farther can make all the difference. So what does beta-alanine do for your endurance?
Beta-alanine reduces the sensation of fatigue during a workout, allowing you more time to move before feeling tapped out. And of all the benefits of beta-alanine, this one has been studied with the most conclusive results.
In one study, beta-alanine increased the endurance of athletes by as much as 30%. Another saw a measurable increase in muscle mass when participants supplemented with beta-alanine during resistance training.
Beta-alanine aids regulation of acid buildup in muscles
What does beta-alanine do that produces such intense results in endurance training? It all has to do with carnosine again. When your body synthesizes beta-alanine into carnosine, it becomes a pH buffer.
Lactic acid isn’t the only cause of muscle soreness. However, it and other natural acids can contribute to the burning pain you feel during an intense workout.
Beta-alanine increases strength and endurance in athletes by helping to create a less acidic environment for your muscles. This can help with building muscle, since there’s less waste material interfering with your workout. And endurance gets a boost partly due to the reduction in pain caused by acid build-up, and partly due to reduced fatigue during the workout.
Beta-alanine helps suppress protein metabolism errors
Your body combines more than just beta-alanine and histidine. In a process called “glycosylation”, your body attaches different sugars to protein structures. This can help the body recognize and communicate with different cells.
More importantly for athletes, this happens when your body draws on carbohydrates or fats to produce glucose. The glucose is then burned for energy, leaving behind lactic acid. We’ve already touched on lactic acid production, but what does beta-alanine do around glycosylation?
When your body has an excess number of free radicals, it experiences oxidative stress. This oxidative stress turns glycosylation into a destructive process and has been linked to faster aging and health issues ranging from cataracts to cancer.
Beta-alanine and higher carnosine levels reduce harmful protein glycosylation and antioxidative stress. Because of their pH buffering abilities, they protect the body from individual free radicals, reducing the chances of interference with healthy protein metabolism.
Beta-alanine may have anti-aging properties
Anti-aging isn’t necessarily a goal for athletes, but it deserves consideration. Aging isn’t just about looking older – aging impacts your ability to build and retain muscle.
Aging can also impact your joints, making recovery times slower and increasing the chance of injury.
And, ultimately, aging is about your body breaking down.
There’s no “cure” for aging, but anti-aging can slow this process down, helping you maintain your fitness goals for as long as possible. Anti-aging can be found on lists of liquid collagen benefits, beta-alanine benefits, and frequent exercise benefits. Your normal workout is already anti-aging!
So what does beta-alanine do in particular that’s anti-aging? Reducing free radicals and oxidative stress doesn’t just prevent harmful protein glycosylation. There’s also significant evidence that free radicals impact aging, and reducing them may be able to delay aging.
Are there any negative beta-alanine effects?
When you’re researching what to drink during workouts, understanding side effects is important. Looking at ingredients lists can help you determine whether that odd twitch or ache or sudden bout of nausea is a sign of something wrong, or just a sign that you need to remove a supplement.
When it comes to beta-alanine effects, negative ones are almost non-existent. However, current studies have all been done on healthy individuals who aren’t taking other medications.
Beta-alanine has the potential to interact negatively with some erectile dysfunction or heart medications. The effects of beta-alanine on pregnancy or other health conditions haven't been studied, so there’s no way to know whether it would be harmful to these people.
Talk to your healthcare professionals before adding anything to your supplement routine, especially if you’re already on prescription medications.
But what does beta-alanine do for healthy individuals? Current studies have observed no long-term negative effects, and only one potential short-term side effect – a sensation known as paresthesia.
What is paresthesia?
Paresthesia is the “official” term for that prickly, pins-and-needles feeling you get when your hand or foot falls asleep. When it’s experienced as a side effect of beta-alanine, the sensation can range from tingly to itchy to the sharper prickly feeling of a limb falling asleep.
What does beta-alanine do to cause itchiness? This side-effect is harmless, but it’s most likely caused because high doses of beta-alanine activate nervous system receptors located in the skin.
The feeling typically lasts for about an hour and only occurs when you take a dosage of beta-alanine that’s too high.
How to take beta-alanine
So how can you take beta-alanine to avoid unpleasant side-effects and still get the benefits? To start, look for a high-quality supplement. The FDA regulates supplements to the same standards as food, not medication, which means that dosage and quality can vary greatly from one provider to another.
Look for companies who can back up their claims with results. If a protein supplement claims to let you access beta-alanine benefits, citrulline malate benefits, and high-quality protein benefits all in one supplement, their track record should match.
This might look like great reviews, high-level athlete partnerships, and an overall passion for fitness and health. (All things Frog Fuel has securely under our belt.)
From there, it’s all about tailoring your supplement to your needs. What does beta-alanine do in one dosage size compared to another? Should you take it before or after a workout? Some of these are things you might need to experiment with to find what feels right, but let’s go over a starting point.
Finding the right dosage
In high doses, beta-alanine can cause paresthesia, but what counts as a “high” dose? Typically, side effects are observed when a person takes 6.4 grams or more for longer than 24 weeks. Broken down even further, paresthesia is more likely when someone takes 40 mg or more per kilogram of body weight.
If a tingly sensation occurs when you take too much beta-alanine, what does beta-alanine do in doses that are too small? Nothing, unless you take it consistently for a long time.
Even in small doses, beta-alanine supplements can help you build up your body’s store of carnosine production. You just aren’t likely to see the effects in one particular workout without a dose that’s around 10-20 mg per gram of your body weight.
When to take beta-alanine for workouts
What does beta-alanine do pre-workout compared to post-workout? Beta-alanine is best as a pre-workout supplement, because it can provide that pH buffer to lactic acid buildup and provide extra staying power.
Taking beta-alanine post-workout won’t hurt, and it’ll still help your body build up higher stores of carnosine. But you likely won’t see direct effects on your next workout, since your body will have sent that carnosine anywhere it was needed at the time you took the supplement.
Unlocking the benefits of beta-alanine
Beta-alanine isn’t the most well-known molecule, and it isn’t the most popular supplement out there. Even science is still working to unlock all the potential benefits of beta-alanine, though it has yet to uncover major negative beta-alanine effects.
The question is – What does beta-alanine do for athletes who are looking for health-centric ways to get an edge?
The answer: more than you’d think. From enhancing endurance by reducing fatigue and lactic acid buildup, the immediate effects on your workout are clear.
Long-term, the deal gets even better. By reducing free radicals and protecting muscles from oxidative stress, beta-alanine can slow aging and might even reduce the risk of health problems like cancer.
When you need to go the extra mile, give your muscles the boost they need by choosing a pre-workout supplement with plenty of beta-alanine.