What is Beta Alanine?
Beta Alanine is a non-essential β-amino acid and a rate-limiting precursor to carnosine—meaning carnosine synthesis depends on the availability of beta alanine. As a nonproteinogenic amino acid, the body can store beta alanine in high concentrations as it does not incorporate it into proteins. Animal meat is the primary food source of beta alanine. Skeletal muscle contains the highest concentrations of beta alanine in the form of carnosine, a combination of beta alanine and l-histidine. The animal’s activity levels determine the carnosine and beta alanine levels in its muscles. The more active the animal, the higher the levels.
The most abundant food sources include:
- Pork: 2439 μg/g
- Beef: 1500-1961 μg/g (+/- 13)
- Poultry: 666 μg/g (+/- 9)
- Fish: 0.125g/oz
Vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower carnosine levels, as it is only found in meat. Individuals eating a plant-based diet may benefit from taking beta alanine supplements to help boost their carnosine stores.
What Does Beta Alanine Do?
Beta alanine is an essential building block of carnosine, a dipeptide molecule that is responsible for 10-20% of the body’s muscle buffering capability. Buffering helps remove waste and lactate buildup in muscle fibers during anaerobic and high-intensity exercise. Beta alanine may exert anti-aging effects, as carnosine helps buffer H+ ions that contribute to aging. Carnosine levels also deplete with age, and boosting the body’s carnosine supply may enhance longevity.
Why Not Just Take Carnosine Instead of Beta Alanine?
The body metabolizes carnosine and breaks it down in the gastrointestinal tract into beta alanine and l-histidine. The body then transports the compounds to muscles and reassembles them into carnosine via carnosine synthase enzymes. Taking beta alanine directly eliminates the step of breaking down carnosine to deliver beta alanine to muscle tissue. Beta alanine supplements are also more effective at producing carnosine than taking a carnosine supplement directly. Beta alanine only accounts for roughly 40% of a carnosine dose, meaning carnosine delivers less beta alanine to muscle fibers than taking beta alanine directly. The body also requires sufficient beta alanine to produce carnosine. Without an abundant supply of beta alanine, the body is limited in how much carnosine it can synthesize.
Beta Alanine Benefits
Beta Alanine + Pre Workout
Beta alanine buffers lactate from muscles during intense exercise. The harder a muscle works, the more oxygen it needs. However, anaerobic exercise reduces the availability of oxygen, and the body produces lactate as a non-oxygen-dependent energy source for muscles. However, muscles have a lactate threshold. Once the body starts producing lactate faster than it can clear it, individuals often feel nauseous and can no longer exercise. Lactate also prevents the breakdown of glucose for energy and inhibits the muscles’ ability to contract. Beta alanine helps buffer excess lactate to delay muscle fatigue and allow individuals to exercise for longer. Beta alanine supplements may facilitate lean muscle growth, too. Several human trials noted that participants taking beta alanine before their workouts experienced significant increases in lean muscle mass, whereas the control groups did not.
Beta Alanine + Longevity
Beta alanine possesses antioxidant properties and exerts neuroprotective effects as a metabolite of carnosine. It supports other antioxidant enzymes, such as SuperOxide Dismutase (SOD), and it reduces oxidative damage to proteins and lipids. Beta alanine also possesses anti-aging properties once it converts into carnosine. Depleting carnosine levels are a significant biomarker of aging. It shares a similar mechanism with resveratrol, another anti-aging compound, and has a strong correlation with exercise. It also inhibits other processes that contribute to aging, including protein alteration, protein misfolding, and the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
Beta Alanine Side Effects
Most individuals tolerate beta alanine supplements well. Continual administration of beta alanine may cause taurine levels to decline temporarily. However, this side effect was only seen in animals continually ingesting beta alanine through their drinking water. Human research using typical dosing schedules has not noted this side effect.
Beta Alanine Tingle
Large doses of beta alanine can lead to paresthesia, a harmless condition that causes face tingles. It can sometimes affect the trunk and extremities as well. Keeping doses at 800mg or less can help individuals avoid the beta alanine tingle.
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