Supplementation – Beta Alanine

I’ve reviewed a number of supplements since starting this blog, so it surprised me when I noticed I hadn’t taken a look at beta alanine. After creatine, beta alanine is probably the supplement we know the most about. This has led to it becoming one of the most taken supplements among people who train.

The first thing to remember is that supplements aren’t essential for showing gains. It’s perfectly possible to achieve substantial results without any supplementation at all. What we do know though is that there are some supplements that can make that task a hell of a lot easier and have proven benefits. Unfortunately though, the market for supplementation is one that possesses a large number of poor products that have very few benefits – and it’s these that overshadow the effective products.

Luckily for us beta alanine doesn’t fall into that category. As with any supplement review, it’s best to start with a bit of a science lesson:

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, when we work out our body uses ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as an energy source. As this occurs hydrogen ions appear as a by-product, which in turn decreases the pH balance in our muscles. This is what creates the burning sensation that we feel as fatigue. When we take beta alanine (an amino acid) the concentration of carnosine increases in our muscles – and that is the key part. Because it is carnosine that essentially absorbs these hydrogen ions and maintains the pH balance – delaying that burning effect (muscular fatigue).

Now it’s all well and good knowing the science behind the supplement, but I doubt you decided to read this blog for a science lesson. So let’s consider the things you did want to learn about. Firstly, the benefits of using beta alanine. Well by delaying muscular fatigue you might think that instead of running 5km, you can run 10km, or instead of doing 6 reps, you can do 12. That’s not exactly how it works.  The effects of beta alanine are more to do with explosive activity, rather than forms of endurance. Specifically the benefits of using beta alanine can be linked to explosive movements like sprints and one-rep max lifts.

If you’ve taken beta alanine before you’ll probably know what the other main effect of its usage is. Some people call it tingling, scientists call it paresthesia, I like to think of it as pins and needles. If you’re taking it for the first time don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. In fact a lot of people say that the numbness caused by using beta alanine helps them to work harder during their workout. Now I’m not sure I’d agree with that, but if it works for you that’s even better.

This is part of the reason why beta alanine is mostly used as a pre-workout, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact it doesn’t matter what time of day you take it, or what you take it with. The important thing to remember is that if you decide to use it, you need to be taking it consistently. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use it every day, but certainly every day you’re going to the gym.

In terms of dosage the recommendations vary. I’ve seen advice for as low as 2-3 grams a day, or as high as 4-5 grams. It really depends on how much you’re doing, and what feels right. The whole dose doesn’t have to be taken in one go, and in fact if you’re just starting to use it you might want to try 3 servings of 1 gram throughout the day, rather than taking it all at once.

Just remember, no supplement is essential, but it doesn’t mean they are ineffectual. As I always say, you should know better than an anyone else what you need to be taking. If you want to try something new, or you want to see different effects, beta alanine is one of the most researched, and one of the cheapest supplements out there – well worth a try!

Ollie Lawrence
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