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.

Stay Warmed Up for Hot Performances

Introduction

Warm-up should be used before every competitive sporting event to prime the mind and body, reduce the risk of injury, and increase performance . However, little research has examined how long the effects of warm-up last. This is of particular interest in team sports where players sit on the ‘bench’ or events where we need to be marshalled for long periods or have long breaks between events. Here is a greek study that showed performance speed and power declines gradually the longer we sit and do nothing after warming-up.

The Research

The aim of the study was to examine changes in performance and biochemical parameters of basketball players while resting for 10, 20, 30 and 40 minutes after warm-up. On four consecutive days, 14 elite young basketball players (7 male and 7 female) performed a structured sports-specific warm-up. They then had body temperature measured, provided blood samples for analysis of blood lactate and glucose, and performed vertical jump and 10- and 20 m run tests. They then rested for either 10, 20, 30 or 40 min. Body temperature measurement, blood sampling, and performance testing were repeated after each rest interval.

The Results

Body temperature dropped from 36.9 degrees C after warm-up to 36.2 degrees C after 40 minutes of doing nothing. Vertical jump decreased gradually over time during rest to be 13% lower after 10 minutes of rest and 20% lower after 40 minutes of rest. 10- and 20-m run times also got worse over time dropping by approximately 3.5% after 10 minutes of doing nothing to 6.3% after 40 minutes of rest. Blood glucose decreased by about 9% during rest independent of interval duration.

So What?

This research, even though it was done using young athletes, highlights the importance of staying warm after a warm-up. If the competition rules or venue allow you to warm-up somewhere after the official warm-up, then do it! If not, think about other options like wearing warm clothes, jogging on the spot, using an ergo or wind-trainer, or pulleys so you can mimic exactly the action of your sport. Also sip sports drink to keep the all-important blood glucose level up. Pages 55-56 in Chapter 4 (The principles of training the masters athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete give very specific guidelines on the structure of a warm-up to maximise performance in any masters sport.

Source: Galazoulas, C. and others (2012) Gradual decline in performance and changes in biochemical parameters in basketball players while resting after warm-up. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(9): 3327-3334.

Anti-Inflammatories and Sport

Does Playing Team Sport into Older Age Protect Us from Chronic Disease?

Introduction

We all know that being active into older age helps protect us from the ravages of chronic disease and many age-related disorders. Indeed, research has shown that the more aerobically fit we are the better off we are in preventing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some forms of cancer. But what about older people that play team sports? Are they as well protected against these age- and lifestyle-related diseases as masters endurance athletes.

A mate of mine, Associate Professor Mike Climstein, from Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast has looked into this question and recently published his findings.

The Research

Mike and his international research team conducted an online survey of 216 35-plus year old Rugby Union players attending the International Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival. They examined the player’s medical history and some physiological measures then statistically compared the under 50’s and over 50’s players then compared the incidence of chronic disease and conditions with those of a normal Australian population.

The Results

Below are dot-pointed findings from the study:

  • The incidence of smoking was low (8.8%) at averaged 72.4 cigarettes per week
  • The percentage drinking alcohol was high (93.1%) at 11.2 drinks per week (Recommended is 2 drinks per day)
  • The top 6 chronic diseases/conditions reported were: 1. hypertension(18.6%) 2. arthritis (11.5%) 3. asthma (9.3%) 4. high blood fats (8.2%) 5. diabetes (7.5%) 6. gout (6%)
  • When compared to the incidence of chronic disease/conditions in a normal age- and gender-matched Australian population, the older rugby players had significantly lower incidence of anxiety, arthritis, and depression but higher incidence of diabetes, and hypertension
  • Medications were common with 13% taking blood pressure tablets, 8% blood fat lowering medications, 6% anti-inflammatories and 4% blood thinning drugs. Those over 50 years of age were taking significantly more blood pressure, blood thinning and blood fat lowering drugs than the younger players.
  • The rugby players over 50 years had a higher waist circumference (a heart disease risk factor) than the younger players.
  • In general, the players under 50 reported a higher incidence of most chronic conditions and diseases compared to the older players.

So What?

The results suggest that playing team sports into older age may not protect masters athletes from some chronic diseases/conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Moreover, the results suggest that younger team players need to be more aware of their lifestyle habits than older players when it comes to maintaining optimal health into older age.

For more reading based on what science supports for successful aging, read Chapter 1 of my book The Masters Athlete that identifies the Keys to Successful Aging.

Source: Climstein, M. and others (2011). Incidence of chronic disease and lipid profile in veteran Rugby athletes. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, 80: 1095-1099.

It’s the carbs the day before that make the difference!

Introduction

Most masters endurance athletes are aware that carbohydrate loading before an endurance event is crucial to last an event longer than 90 minutes. We know that the last three days before a triathlon, marathon or half-marathon, road race, regatta or carnival is the time to load up on the rice, the pasta, and the sports drinks. Here is some research that highlights that it’s the amount of carb taken the very day before the event may be equally critical. More importantly, this research was conducted on mongrels like us – older athletes. The researchers concluded that marathon pace was faster and better-maintained in runners who consumed greater than 7 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight the day before the run.

The Research

An internet-based data collection tool allowed 257 competitors in the 2009 London Marathon (39±8 years, finish time: 273.8±59.5 min) to record a range of anthropometric (body measures such as weight, height), training and nutritional predictors of performance. The English sports scientists used complex multivariate statistical methods to quantify the change in running speed and estimate which of the predictors contributed to performance differences.

The Results

Gender, body mass index, training distance, and the amount of carbohydrate consumed the day before the race were significant predictors of the variability in running speed.  The analysis also revealed that those competitors who consumed carbohydrate the day before the race at a quantity of >7 g/kg body mass had significantly faster overall race speeds and maintained their running speed during the race to a greater extent than with those who consumed <7 g/kg body mass.

So What?

This reseach strongly supports the importance of high carbohydrate intakes for any masters athlete competing in any endurance event, especially marathoners and athletes involved with endurance events including team sports and masters athletes competing in many events in one day or day after day such as at masters games or championships. The table below gives examples of common foods and their carbohydrate content. It is taken from Chapter 16 (Nutrition for the Masters Athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete, the most definitive chapter related to sports nutrition for older athletes that you will ever read – biased as I am! The table below from my book will enable you to calculate how much carbohydrate you should eat the day(s) leading into an event to ensure you get the greater than 7 grams / kilogram of body weight you need to maximize your chances of PBs. Each of these serving sizes gives 50 grams of carbohydrate.

Table 1: Common foods that give 50 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Food

Serving Food Serving

Cereals

Fruit

Cornflakes/Wheaties 60 gm (2 cups) Canned fruit – light 360 gm (1.5 cups)
Muesli 65 gm (1-1.5 cups) Canned fruit – heavy 240 gm (1 cup)
Toasted Muesli 90 gm (1 cup) Fresh fruit salad 500 gm (2.5 cups)
Porridge – milk 350 gm (1.3 cups) Bananas 2 medium-large
Porridge – water 410 gm (2 cups) Mangoes, pears, grapefruit 2-3
Muesli bar 2.5 Oranges, apples 3-5
Rice cakes 6 thick/10 thin Nectarines, apricots 12
Rice boiled 180 gm (1 cup) Grapes 470 gm (2 cups)
Pasta/noodles boiled 200 gm (1.3 cups) Melons 900 gm (5 cups)
Canned spaghetti 440 gm (large tin) Strawberries 760 (5 cups)
Crispbreads/dry biscuits 6 large, 15 small Sultanas, raisins 70 gm (4 tbsp)
Plain sweet biscuits 8-10 Dried apricots 115 gm (22 halves)
Bread 110 gm (4 slices white, 3 thick grain)

Vegetables/Legumes

Bread rolls 110 gm (1 large) Potatoes 350 gm (1 large, 3 medium
Pita bread 100 gm (2 pitas) Sweet potatoes 350 gm (2.5 cups)
Muffin 120 gm (2) Corn 300 gm (1.2 cups creamed or 2 cobs)
Crumpet 2.5 Green beans 750 gm (7 cups)
Pancake 150 gm (2 medium) Baked beans 440 gm (1 large can)
Scone 125 gm (3 medium) Soy/kidney beans 500 gm (3 cups)
Iced fruit bun 105 gm (1.5) Pumpkin or peas 800 gm (4 cups)
Dairy Products
Sugars/Confectionery
Milk 1 litre Sugar 50 gm
Flavoured milk 560 ml Jam 3 tbsp
Custard 300 gm (1.3 cups) Syrups 4 tbsp
Natural or diet yoghurt 800 gm (4-5 tubs) Honey 3 tbsp
Fruit yoghurt – non-fat 350 gm (2 tubs) Chocolate 80 gm
Ice cream 250 gm (10 tbsp) Jelly beans 60 gm
Drinks
Sports Foods
Unsweetened fruit juice 600 ml Sports drink 700 ml
Sweetened fruit juice 500 ml Meal supplement 250 ml
Cordial 800 ml Sports bar 1-1.5 bars
Soft drinks 500 ml Sports gels 2 sachets

Source: Atkinson, G. and others (2011). Pre-race dietary carbohydrate intake can independently influence sub-elite marathon running performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(7): 611-617.