Beta alanine is one of the most potent supplements out there when it comes to enhancing your performance in power-based sport. By enhancing the anaerobic capacity of your muscles, beta alanine can result in dramatic improvements in sprinting, lifting, and other power-dominated activities.
If you’re going to use beta alanine to boost your sports performance, it’s important to know how it works and when to use it.
Our research team has provided a detailed run-down on the biggest benefits of beta alanine, and how to incorporate it into your supplementation routine. Here’s what we found.
Beta alanine benefits
1. Beta alanine helps increase intramuscular carnosine levels
Beta alanine, also known carnosine precursor, is a type of non-essential amino acid that gets converted into a molecule called carnosine. Carnosine then acts as a buffer acid into the muscles that helps increase stamina, muscle development and physical performance in the range of 60 to 240 seconds.
Carnosine is stored in the cells and it is released when acidity increases. It acts to counter the rising acidity in your muscles during high intensity exercise, and as such you can improve your performance by boosting the concentration of beta alanine inside your muscle fibers.
2. Beta alanine boosts performance in power-dominated activities
Research on beta alanine have shown that its supplementation can increase muscle carnosine concentrations in the body that ultimately boost the ability to perform high intensity or endurance exercise (1).
Carnosine facilitates buffering capacity of hydrogen ions which accumulate during rigorous or intense exercise (2). If you can delay the buildup of hydrogen ions, you delay the onset of acidosis, the “burning” feeling you get after a tough effort. This means that beta alanine can help you run faster, lift more, and push harder in your next workout.
3. Beta alanine can enhance the benefits of HIIT training
One study showed that beta alanine supplementation over the course of 28 days improved running performance in athletes as it helped in slowing down the negative effects relate to blood-lactate building in the bodies of athletes (3).
Other scientific research studies conducted on beta alanine have proved that the increase in carnosine concentration due to beta alanine supplementation can increase muscle mass by 20 to 80 percent as compared to high intensity interval training alone (4).
4. Beta alanine can boost your muscular power
A study published in the International Journal of Sport Medicine showed that athletes who took beta-alanine supplement for a month completed 22% more squats at 70% of their one rep max primarily because they had greater mean power (5).
Since beta alanine doesn’t build muscle directly, this result was likely the result of better workout performance thanks to beta alanine.
5. Older adults can benefit from beta alanine too
While the initial wave of beta alanine research focused on high level performance in well-trained athletes, it turns out that beta alanine works for older adults too.
One study set out to examine whether older adults would gain the same increases in exercise capacity as high level athletes (6). The results showed that older adults who took the beta alanine supplement increased their work capacity by nearly 30%, but the placebo group experienced no significant increase in their cycling work capacity.
The results of this study are notable first because they demonstrate rather convincingly that beta alanine supplementation works in older adults, and second because they also suggest that older adults may not need the same aggressive loading and maintenance phases of beta alanine doses that athletes do.
The subjects in this study experienced substantial benefits after only a 2.4 gram per day routine (800 mg of beta alanine, dispersed three times throughout the day).
6. Even overweight and sedentary people can leverage the benefits of beta alanine
Beta alanine does not have direct thermogenic or appetite suppressant effects, but if it increases your ability to exercise, you will be able to burn more calories in a workout session.
A 2019 study published in the journal Science & Sports studied 34 overweight and sedentary women who were randomly assigned to a beta alanine or a placebo supplement to take for a six week period (7).
As with the research on older adults, there was a significant increase in the exercise capacity of the women taking the beta alanine supplement compared to the placebo group.
Beta alanine side effects
Large doses of beta alanine supplements can result in paresthesia. Paresthesia is a condition that is accompanied with uncomfortable tingling or prickling feeling on the skin that commonly people experience on the face, chest, and abdomen.
High doses of beta alanine can also cause a itching and burning sensation in your ears and on your scalp. Studies have shown that doses of beta alanine greater than 800 mg pre-workout can cause mild to acute paresthesia that may last for an hour or sometimes even 90 minutes.
If you get this side effect, you can use a time release formulation or take smaller doses of beta alanine around 0.8 to 1g at a time. This will allow you to reach the optimal dosage levels without getting the negative side effects that can result from taking large doses at once.
Beta alanine dosage
For optimal benefits, build up the concentration of beta alanine in your body via consistent dosage. The benefits of beta alanine related to performance are largely based on the increased concentration of muscle carnosine over time.
Thus, the time of day doesn’t really matter as long as an athlete consistently consumes beta alanine daily.
Take a loading dose of 3-5 g, two to three times a day to load. The standard every dose of beta alanine is approximately 3 to 5 g spread over 2 to 3 doses in a day for first 6 days.
For maintenance, take 3 g three times per day. However, as you move to the maintenance phase, 3 g divided in 3 doses daily is enough. This is primarily because carnosine concentration in the body builds up with regular supplementation. However, it also drops by 2% in every 2 weeks in case the supplementation is stopped.
Beta alanine benefits FAQ
Q: What is beta alanine?
A: Beta alanine is a simple amino acid that’s present in small amounts in animal meat like chicken, beef, and fish. Your body can also synthesize it naturally.
Beta alanine is mostly of interest for athletes and health-conscious people because it is a direct precursor to a molecule called carnosine, which is stored inside muscle fibers.
Carnosine plays a critical role in buffering the acidity generated during hard efforts, and physiology research shows that increasing muscular carnosine content increases exercise performance substantially.
Supplementing with beta alanine, in turn, leads to marked increases in intramuscular carnosine content, and clinical trials have also confirmed that taking a beta alanine supplement leads directly to improvements in exercise performance.
That’s why beta alanine is a strong supplement in its own right, and found in many of the top pre-workout supplements on the market.
Q: Is beta alanine bad?
A: In terms of its safety profile, beta alanine is relatively safe, though in higher doses it does have the tendency to cause paresthesia, an uncomfortable burning, prickling, or flushing feeling on your chest, fingertips or other places on your body.
These symptoms only occur in some people, and only occur with doses greater than 800 mg or so. Beta alanine may have garnered a reputation as “bad” because of these unpleasant side effects that can occur at higher doses, but at low doses it’s safe enough to have been used in many different clinical trials, even in diseased populations, without problems.
If you want to mitigate the chance of getting side effects from beta alanine, all you have to do is spread your dosage out over a longer period of time, and keep your intake below 800 mg of beta alanine at any given time.
Q: Is beta alanine the same thing as carnosine?
A: Beta alanine is a precursor to carnosine, meaning that your body can use beta alanine as one of the key building blocks for synthesizing carnosine in the muscles.
Why not take carnosine directly? It turns out that taking beta alanine is a more effective way to boost carnosine levels than taking carnosine directly, because of the bioavailability of carnosine versus beta alanine.
Q: Why does beta alanine cause tingling?
A: The tingling, itching, or flushing that can be caused by beta alanine (especially in high doses) is a side effect known as paresthesia, and is thought to be caused by a specific type of nerve ending that exists in your skin.
A 2012 study used some clever research techniques to demonstrate that beta alanine can aggravate this specific type of nerve ending in a unique way: the itching that beta alanine induces is not an allergic reaction, and isn’t mediated by the same histamine-related itching sensations you might get from a pollen allergy or a rash (8).
Put more simply, beta alanine stimulates nerve endings in your skin, but not because it’s causing an allergic reaction. To reduce this itching, spread your beta alanine dosage out over a longer period, and avoid taking more than 800 mg of beta alanine at once.
Q: Is beta alanine an amino acid?
A: Beta alanine is a so-called “beta” amino acid, but it’s not one of the essential amino acids for humans. That’s because your body is capable of synthesizing it from other precursors.
Still, as the research above shows, there are significant performance benefits associated with taking beta alanine, since augmenting your body’s natural levels of beta alanine can further elevate your intramuscular carnosine content.
Related: Our best beta alanine picks
If you want to sprint faster, lift more, and have better muscular endurance, beta alanine is an excellent addition to your pre-workout supplement stack.
The ideal way to use beta alanine is to take small doses spread throughout the day to maximize the benefit and minimize side effects. After a loading phase, all it takes is a few grams per day to maintain high intramuscular carnosine levels.
By boosting intramuscular carnosine levels, beta alanine augments your performance any activity that demands high muscular power output, whether it’s HIIT training, lifting, or sprinting.