What is beta-alanine? Supplement Benefits and Side Effects
ADDITIONAL SALES HAVE booming in recent years. From vitamin C to zinc to elderberry extract, many of these supplements have gained popularity due to their supposed abilities to repel Covid-19 – or the disease in general.
But there are also beta-alanine supplements, which don’t really market themselves as “immunity boosters” but too seem to be everywhere.
What exactly is beta-alanine? And do beta-alanine supplements actually deliver what they promise, including muscle building and endurance? Do you need beta-alanine to get and stay strong?
“Beta-alanine (BA) is a non-essential amino acid, which means your body can naturally produce everything it needs through food alone,” says Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RDof NutritionWithMaddie.com.
Fair warning: here’s where things about beta-alanine get geeky.
Most amino acids form the building blocks of proteins, which participate in nearly every cellular reaction in the body and have countless vital functions, Pasquariello explains.
“Beta-alanine is used to synthesize carnosine, a molecule that is stored in muscle and helps improve performance,” she says. “And what’s more, you can increase your beta-alanine intake through your food choices, especially foods high in carnosine (which will break down into its components, histidine and beta-alanine, in the body),” explains Pasquariello.
So, yeah, stuff in the weeds. But all of these athletic performance promises are what make beta-alanine supplements so appealing. And there is some science behind BAs.
“Beta-alanine is one of the most researched amino acids, given its popularity as a pre-workout supplement and endurance aid for athletes,” says Pasquariello.
That said, you still need to know a lot more about beta-alanine supplements before deciding to take them.
What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, which means your body can already produce as much of it as it needs.
“It’s not incorporated into proteins, like most amino acids – it’s a component of carnosine, a dipeptide,” she says.
What does beta-alanine do for you?
In short, beta-alanine helps in the production of carnosine.
In a slightly longer explanation: “Beta-alanine is primarily of interest because, as noted above, it is used by the body (along with histidine) to make carnosine,” says Pasquariello. “Carnosine is a molecule that is found in high concentrations in muscle tissue and plays an important role in increasing muscle strength and reducing muscle fatigue.”
Researchers who have studied the effects of beta-alanine for athletes found potential benefits for maintaining muscle endurance and power, and for reducing muscle fatigue, as well as improving muscle torque during dynamic movements, says Pasquariello.
“Beta-alanine is more likely to exert a beneficial effect on fast-twitch muscle fibers (i.e. those used during anaerobic exercise, which is intense but of shorter duration, and includes the weightlifting and sprinting),” she says.
That said, Pasquariello says there is a general lack of scientific evidence that uses larger sample sizes and that there can be dangerous side effects from taking high doses of beta-alanine.
“There is also speculation regarding the safety of beta-alanine, and unwanted side effects may occur with higher doses,” she says. These side effects include headaches and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Is beta-alanine the same as creatine?
Beta-alanine is not the same as creatine, although they both involve amino acids, so we understand why some might potentially confuse them (especially if you don’t have a dietetics degree).
“Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is a building block of carnosine, while creatine is a molecule made up of three different amino acids (methionine, glycine, and arginine),” Pasquariello explains. “Creatine, like beta-alanine, is made naturally in the body and plays a role in maintaining constant levels of ATP (the body’s natural energy source).”
There’s more: “Beta-alanine is often studied in conjunction with creatine because research suggests that the two act synergistically to enhance athletic performance more than supplementing with BA or creatine alone,” says Pasquariello. . “Again, however, supplementation with either is not necessary for the general population and should in fact be approached with great caution due to potential risks.”
Should you take beta-alanine every day?
No, the general population should not take beta-alanine daily.
“Unless you are a vegan or vegetarian athlete and can’t get beta-alanine through your regular diet, or your doctor/dietitian recommends it, supplements are generally not necessary. , because your body can produce everything it needs from your diet alone,” says Pasquariello.
“For those who do not follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and are considering taking supplements, the current state of research is probably not sufficient to merit the risk of potential side effects except in very specific cases” , she says, adding that most of the studies have been so small that it’s very difficult to apply their findings to the general population.
As Pasquariello points out, not only can your body produce all the beta-alanine it needs for day-to-day functioning, unless there’s a problem with synthesis or you’re on a strict vegan diet, so it’s very unlikely that you will need to supplement. So, most people who are not vegan can also get beta-alanine from food sources.
You can find beta-alanine in foods. So how do you incorporate beta-alanine into your daily diet? For most carnivores, this is quite simple. “Among the major dietary sources of carnosine (and therefore beta-alanine) are animal products, including beef, chicken (and chicken broth) and fish (with the highest levels of BAs found in mackerel, tuna and salmon),” says Pasquariello. Smaller amounts of BA can also be found in dairy products and eggs.
Perri is a New York born and based writer; she has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University and is also a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute’s Plant-Based Culinary School, which is now the Institute Of Culinary Education’s Natural Gourmet Center. His work has appeared in the New York Post, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She’s probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she’ll never turn down a Bloody Mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.