Beta-Alanine: An Amino Acid of Interest to Veteran Athletes

Introduction

Beta-alanine is a legal but non-essential amino acid supplement that has gained a lot of recent interest in the performance research. Furthermore, a recent and soon-to-be published study involving female masters cyclists suggests beta-alanine may have role in all-out efforts and thus may be of use to other masters athletes who like pain! The review below I hope may be interest to those of you out there who love the pain that comes with all-out efforts  where lactic acid build-up is a necessary evil!

Does beta-alanine enhance performance?

In younger athletes, beta-alanine has been shown to indirectly enhance performance in extremely high-intensity events of short-duration (1-5 minutes). Supplementing with beta-alanine is suggested to improve performance in high intensity races like these by increasing the levels of another amino acid (carnosine) that has been shown to buffer acid concentrations in muscles and thus delay fatigue in events that produce high levels of lactic acid. There is also research evidence that beta-alanine supplementation may decrease feelings of subjective fatigue and perceived exhaustion.

Little research as examined the effects of beta-alanine in older athletes. However, a recent study about to be published in the highly respected journal Amino Acids examined the effects of 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation on performance in well-trained female masters cyclists aged 53.3 ± 1.0 years. They found that time-to-exhaustion, an all-out effort for as long as the athletes could go, improved by 23% from about 85 seconds to about 100 seconds in the masters cyclists who supplemented with beta-alanine. They also found the beta-alanine reduced the blood lactate values to lower levels after the all-out effort to exhaustion. This suggests faster recovery between events.

What doses should be taken?

The available research suggests taking 6.4 grams/day but in 8 doses of 800 mg. A common side effect of supplementing with beta-alanine is what is called paraesthesia, a temporary sensation of tingling, burning, prickling or numbness of the skin. The earliest research on beta-alanine suggested 10 mg/kg or about 800 mg was the maximum dose that could be used and not bring on these side effects. The same research showed the concentrations peaked 30-40 minutes after taking the supplement and returned to baseline values 3 hours after supplementing.

 This research suggests taking smaller doses of beta-alanine at three-hour intervals such as the 8 x 800 mg/day at three-hour intervals. Recently, controlled-release tablets of 1600 mg have been shown not to cause the skin tingling sensations. So to achieve the suggested 6.4 g/day, taking 4 of these slow-release tablets of 1600 mg each may be the way to go. 

Conclusions

Beta-alanine has been suggested to have some benefits in athletes who produce high levels of lactic acid in all-out events lasting 1-5 minutes such as the 400 and 800m track events. Try it and see how it goes but beware the costs and possible tingling sensations that may turn you off. It’s one of those one percenters that could make the difference!

For more details on what supplements that work in older athletes, check out chapter 18 (Supplements that work for Masters Athletes) of my book at: http://www.mastersathlete.com.au

Sources:

  1. Dalbo, V. and others (2015). Ergogenic aids for masters athletes. In: Reaburn, P. (Ed) Nutrition and performance in masters athletes, CRC Press/Taylor and Francis, Boca Raton, FL.
  2. Glenn, J. and others (2015). Incremental effects of 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation on high-intensity cycling performance and blood lactate in masters female cyclists. Amino Acids, First Online, 9 August.
  3. Quesnele, J. and others (2014). The effects of beta-alanine supplementation on performance: A systematic review of the literature. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24: 14 -27.