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

To Multivitamin or Not to Multivitamin?

Introduction

About 30% of adults in the western world take a multivitamin. Multis alone make up about 40% of all vitamin and mineral supplement sales. However, research evidence supporting the use of multis is mixed at best with recent large population studies reporting no association between use of multis and better cardiovascular or brain health, and only modest cancer protection. In contrast, one 2011 study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, showed an increased risk of death in women who took multis.

I’m aware of these ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ and have for year taken a daily multivitamin (and Flaxseed oil – source of Omega 3, 6 and 9). I eat very healthily with plenty of natural cereals, 5 servings of vegetables a day and at least 3-4 serves of fruit a day. However, I’m also very active exercising 1-2 hours a day. My belief is that despite eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet, my multi a day might cover my butt with any dietary deficiencies I may have in vitamins and minerals.

Recently I found a great discussion paper in a journal where four experts from Tufts University in the USA discussed their thoughts on use of multivitamins. One was a professor and director of an antioxidant research laboratory, one a professor of nutrition and contractor to the Office of Dietary Supplements in the USA, one a professor of nutrition science and director of a cardiovascular nutrition laboratory, and the other a professor and director of a vitamin and cancer lab. Collectively, world leaders in the field I feel!

What were the main points raised?

  1. Multis are not harmful and help fill the inadequacies in the average requirements for vitamins D, E and K and minerals magnesium and potassium that about 60% of Americans fail to meet. Moreover, about 40% of them fall short on vitamins A and C. Why are this happening? Because sadly people aren’t eating fruit, vegetables and whole grains where collectively all these great vitamins and minerals are found. In general masters athletes like us tend to be well-educated and eat well. So maybe we don’t need multis if we are eating natural foods and not hammering the junk food and take-aways!
  2.  Not every person needs a multi.Some examples where they might be needed include:
    • the very old and / or frail who don’t eat a lot
    • people with disease or illness who may not eat well
    • athletes who train hard and / or long and are not getting enough energy intake in a day so are losing weight
  3. People who might need supplements such as iron or calcium supplements should be taking these supplements and not a multi. The belief that a multi contains enough of a particular vitamin is wrong. In general, the amount of any one vitamin and/or mineral in a multi is not enough to make up for a problem a particular individual may have. This is where a dietician or doctors input is critical.
  4. If you are shown to have an inadequacy in a vitamin or mineral look for a natural food solution rather than a pill. For example, the intake of the mineral calcium and vitamin D is often found to be inadequate in older people, especially in post-menopausal women who don’t get much sun, including older female athletes. So is low-fat greek yoghurt or increasing your dairy intake a better option? These experts think so!
  5. What about the 2011 study that said women who take multis are at higher risk of death than those that don’t? This study has not been supported by other studies since. Moreover, it did not tightly control for other factors that may have contributed to deaths such as smoking, obesity and pre-existing illness. The consensus at present is that taking multis does not increase how long we live but equally it does no harm either. A recent study called The Physician’s Health Study II tested a complete multivitamin in 15,000 men and actually found a reduction in cancer incidence in those men who took multis. They also controlled for confounding variables like smoking.
  6. Taking too much of a vitamin does not appear to be an issue. Except taking too much vitamin A which has been linked to bone loss.
  7. Bottom line is to personalise your intake of vitamins and minerals based on your nutritional intakes, health status and exercise habits. While a multi may not do any harm, they have small amounts of everything and may miss something you as an individual may need. Chat with your doctor or dietician is my suggestion.

Source:  Should you take a multivitamin? Four Tufts experts tackle the multi-billion-dollar question, Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter Sept. 2015.

 

Beta-Alanine: Might it be a Supplement of Choice for Masters Athletes?

Introduction

The use of dietary supplements in sports is widespread as athletes young and old are continuously searching for strategies to increase performance at the highest level. Beta-alanine is a supplement that is becoming increasingly popular over recent years. This review examines the available evidence regarding the use of beta-alanine supplementation and the link between beta-alanine and exercise performance in young and older people.

The Research

Beta-alanine supplementation is well-known to increase muscle carnosine levels. Carnosine is known to lower fatigue levelsand improve high-intensity exercise performance through buffering muscle acidity levels. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that chronic beta-alanine supplementation can increase intramuscular carnosine content. On the basis of its biochemical properties, several functions are ascribed to carnosine, of which intramuscular pH buffer and increasing the release of calcium in muscle to increase the force of muscle contraction are the most cited ones. In addition, carnosine has antioxidant properties, suggesting it could have a therapeutic potential in older athletes.

The suggested protocol for taking beta-alanine to increase muscle carnosine levels is taking up to approximately 4-6 gm per day over 4-10 weeks but in smaller regular doses in the day or using a slow-release tablet form. This is because taking more than 800 mg/day (approximately 10 mg/kg of body weight) has been shown to lead to parasthesia or a burning, tingling sensation in the skin. It appears that being an athlete in regular training increases the efficiency of the beta-alainine in increasing carnosine levels in muscles. Stopping ingestion  of the btea-alanine sees the carnosine levels return to pre-supplementing levels after 6-20 weeks. Maintenance of muscle carnosine levels appears to be maintained by beta-alanine intakes of about 1.2 gm/day.

What about the effect of beta-alanine supplementation on sports performance. Research suggest chronic beta-alanine supplementation increases muscle carnosine concentration leading to improved exercise performance in high-intensity exercise lasting 1-4 minutes after loading for 4 plus weeks. Some small but positive effect has been noticed in 2000m rowing performance (6-7 minutes all-out) but the effect drops off dramatically in longer endurance events. For example, in 2014, a study by Chung and others examined the effect of doubling muscle carnosine by supplementing with oral beta-alanine. Based on previous research that showed that muscle carnosine loading through chronic oral beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to be effective for improving short-duration, high-intensity exercise, the researchers wanted to see what effect it might have on one-hour cycling performance in athletes. 27 well-trained cyclists/triathletes were supplemented with either beta-alanine or a placebo (6.4 g/day) for 6 weeks. Time to completion and physiological variables for a 1-hr cycling time-trial were compared between pre-and post-supplementation. In conclusion, chronic beta-alanine supplementation in well-trained cyclists had a very pronounced effect on muscle carnosine concentration and a moderate buffering effect on the acidosis associated with lactate accumulation, yet without affecting 1-h cycling time-trial performance under laboratory conditions. Similarly, research has also shown that beta-alanine supplementation has no positive effect on repeat sprint performance such as that in road cycling or team sports.

In older non-athletes there is some evidence to suggest beta-alanine may have benefits on performance. Del Favero and others (2012) found that 3.2 gm/day of beta-alanine over 12 weeks improved time to exhaustion on the treadmill in 60-80 year old non-athletes compared to a control group. More recently, McCormack and others (2013) study examined the effects of an oral nutritional supplement fortified with two different doses of beta-alanine on body composition, muscle function and physical capacity in older adults. 60 men and women (age 70.7 ± 6.2 yrs) were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: 1) oral nutritional supplement (ONS; n = 20) (8 oz; 230 kcal; 12 g PRO; 31 g CHO; 6 g FAT), 2) ONS plus 800 mg beta-alanine (ONS800; n = 19), and 3) ONS plus 1200 mg beta-alanine (ONS1200; n = 21). Treatments were consumed twice per day for 12 weeks. At pre- and post-supplementation period, participants performed a submaximal cycle ergometry test to determine physical working capacity at fatigue threshold. Fat mass, total body and arm lean soft tissue mass were measured while muscle strength was assessed with handgrip dynamometry and 30-s sit-to-stand was used to measure lower body functionality. They showed that beta-alanine may improve physical working capacity, muscle quality and function in both older men and women. Previous research has also shown that carnosine levels in muscle decrease about 15-20% from youth to  middle-age with no decrease into older age. This might suggest that beta-alanine may have an even greater effect on performance than in younger people. However, no research to date has examined the effect of beta-alanine supplementation on performance in older male or female athletes.

Conclusions

On the basis of the high concentration of carnosine in human muscles, research supports it’s critical role in skeletal muscle physiology. Recent studies show that increasing carnosine levels through beta-alanine supplementation may improve muscle contraction forces and reduce muscle acidity levels in events lasting between 1-4 minutes.

While results from studies differ depending on the sample (e.g. young vs old; trained vs untrained), the most recent review of the research (Blancquaert and others, 2015), suggest the following:

  1. Chronic beta-alanine supplementation increases muscle carnosine concentration leading to improved exercise performance in high-intensity exercise lasting 1-4 minutes after loading for 4 plus weeks.
  2. Exercise training and co-ingestion of beta-alanine with meals can improve the efficiency of beta-alanine in increasing carnosine levels
  3. The exercise performance benefits of beta-alanine supplementing are equally effective in both trained and untrained individuals
  4. The increased muscle carnosine levels increase calcium release that excites muscle contraction. The increased carnosine also encourages a reduction in muscle acidity.

Sources: 1. Blancquaert, L and others (2015). Beta-alanine supplementation, muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Current Opinions in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 18(1): 63-70. 2. Chung, W. and others (2014). Doubling of muscle carnosine concentration does not improve laboratory 1-hr cycling time-trial performance. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24(3): 315-324. 3. McCormack and others (2013). Oral nutritional supplement fortified with beta-alanine improves physical working capacity in older adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Experimental Gerontology, 48(9): 933-939. 4. Del Favero and others (2012). Beta-alanine (Carnosyn™) supplementation in elderly subjects (60-80 years): effects on muscle carnosine content and physical capacity. Amino Acids, 43(1): 49-56.

Supplementing with Probiotics Reduces Risk of Sore Throats in Physically Active Adults

Introduction

How often do we hear stories of people getting sore throats or ‘the cold’ leading into or following a major sporting goal or event. Research has shown that most adults get 2-3 of these a year and the older we get, the more of them we get. There is no doubt that the physical and emotional stress lowers the functioning of the immune system leading into the event. It also doesn’t help to be exposed to 100’s or 1000’s of people during and after racing – another time our immune system is compromised! Here is some new Aussie research suggesting that taking probiotics can help reduce upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) in physically active adults.

The Research

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines probiotics as live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. Probiotic foods include dairy foods including yoghurt, cheese, and acidophilus milk (eg Yakult) as well as non-dairy foods such as olives, gherkins, sauerkraut and probiotic drinks and supplements that are increasing in popularity. The researchers from a number of research institutions including Griffith University in Queensland and the Australian Institute of Sport conducted a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial (this means well-controlled study!). 465 male and female adults aged between 18 and 60 years who exercise a minimum of three times a week for 30 minutes for 3 months took part. They were assigned to one of three groups:

  1. Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis group
  2. Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis group
  3. Placebo group

Patterns of illness were determined via a web-based questionnaire. Signs and symptoms of URTI included a scratchy or sore throat, sneezing, and a stuffy or runny nose. URTI was diagnosed when two or more of these symptoms were recorded for three or more consecutive days.  The researchers also monitored gut upsets such as diarrhoea, constipation, tummy rumbles, nausea and abdominal pain but did not get enough people experiencing these to do an analysis on gut upsets.

The Results

The risk of an URTI episode was significantly reduced by 27% in the Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis group. While it wasn’t statistically significant, the combined probiotic of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis did reduce the risk of URTI too. Importantly in this study, those taking both probiotics also delayed getting URTIs compared to the placebo group by about 3 weeks.

The So What?

While I don’t advocate or push products through my website, I do like to ‘bridge the gap’ between science and masters sport. In Australia the two probiotics listed above are available as a product called Inner Health Plus. The study reported here showed that risk of an URTI episode was significantly reduced by about 25% by taking probiotics.  Interestingly, taking vitamin C, something most of us are aware of to fight colds, only reduces the risk of getting a common cold by about 3%. Those taking the probiotics in this study also delayed getting URTIs compared to the placebo group. Be aware that probiotics take about 10-14 days to colonise the gut so if you plan to use them leading into an event, travel, or the winter months, plan ahead. For plenty of great ideas on how to stay healthy and well as an athlete over 30 years of age, chapter 14 (Staying healthy and illness-free) of my book The Masters Athlete has heaps of great scientifically-proven tips to stay healthy while training hard and often.

Source: West, N. and others (2013) Probiotic supplementation for respiratory and gastrointestinal illness symptoms in healthy physically active individuals.  Clinical Nutrition (published ahead of print).

Multivitamin-Multimineral Supplements and Longevity

Introduction

I’ve long advocated taking multivitamins and multiminerals as an older athlete. Why? Because despite eating a healthy balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables, a hard training athlete of any age needs to ‘cover their bases’. Thus, a typical multivitamin and multimineral supplement that has moderate levels of B-group vitamins and sprinkling of other vitamins and minerals just gives me the piece of mind that I am getting the nutrients I need to keep training and performing.

Some research published in 2011 from The Iowa Woman’s Health Study showed an increased risk of death in 38,772 older women with an initial average age of 61.6 years  were regular supplementers and tracked since 1986. This study showed that regular use of multivitamins increased the risk of death by 2.4% compared to non-users. Increased risk of death in other vitamins and minerals included vitamin B(6) (4.1%), folic acid (5.9%), iron (3.9%), magnesium (3.6%), zinc (3.0%), and copper (18.0%) were associated with increased risk of total mortality when compared with corresponding nonusers. in contrast, use of calcium reduced mortality by 3.8%. However, this study was clouded by the fact that supplement use was higher in those with a history of disease and therefore more likely to pass away. So what does research say about regular use of multivitamins and multiminerals and how long we live for?

The Research

A group of Australian scientsist from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology performed a large (meta-) analysis of all the vious research studies examining longevity and multivitamin and multimineral use. 21 eligible studies (91,074 people and 8794 deaths) investigated daily multivitamin-multimineral supplementation for ≥1 y. Studies using people described as institutionalized or as having terminal illness were excluded.  The scientsists used sophisticated statistical analysis to determine what we call the relative risk (a ratio of the probability of the event occurring in the exposed group versus a non-exposed group) of death.

The Results

The average age of the sample was 62 years and the average duration of supplementation was 43 months. Across all 21 studies, no effect of multivitamin-multimineral treatment on all causes of death was found. Furthermore, use of multivitamin-multimineral supplements had no effect on mortality due to vascular causes (eg. stroke, heart disease) or cancers.

The So What

This very rigorous study highlights that use of multivitamin-multimineral supplements won’t help us live longer. However, in older athletes who train regularly, use of a multivitamin-multimineral supplement that has a range of vitamins and minerals included in them should be considered. Importantly for older endurance athletes or those who train hard and often, multivitamin-multimineral supplements should be considered. For the most definitive discussion related to sports nutrition for older athletes that you will ever read (biased as I am!) check out Chapter 16 (Nutrition for the Masters Athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete, now available online in pdf format as a whole book or chapter by chapter. Also strongly consider a visit to a sports dieticiano have your own dietary needs and food intake analysed by a professional. In Australia you can find one by clicking here. In the USA, click here, and the UK here.

Source: Macpherson, H. and others (2012). Multivitamin-multimineral supplementation and mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dec 19. [Epub ahead of print]