Beta-Alanine – 5 Key Benefits
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that you can find in the brain and muscles. When combined with histidine, the two amino acids produce carnosine, which is a compound that prevents the buildup of acid during physical activity.
Despite the conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of beta-alanine, many experts and athletes swear by the performance-boosting properties of this amino acid.
The efficacy of beta-alanine is most apparent during anaerobic exercise (e.g., strength training) since the latter leads to the accumulation of lactic acid.
We should note that women and vegetarians usually have lower amounts of carnosine compared to men and non-vegetarians. Additionally, the levels of this compound also tend to decline with age.
In this article, we will cover 5 key benefits of beta-alanine, including how it affects physical performance and mental well-being.
The benefits of beta-alanine
1. Increases Time to Exhaustion
Time to exhaustion is an important parameter to consider for athletes. It translates to the amount of time it takes before you feel exhausted while exercising.
Studies showed that beta-alanine increases time to exhaustion, helping athletes train more before they run out of energy.
In one study that recruited cyclists, researchers found that 4 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation increased total work by 13%. After 10 weeks, this number increased by an extra 3.2%.
2. Benefits shorter-duration exercises
When you work out intensely, the body will not have time to undergo the usual way of producing energy. In other words, your muscle cells will not be transforming glucose into energy with the help of oxidative phosphorylation.
Instead, anaerobic metabolism kicks in, which is a quick way to produce energy. The final byproduct of this reaction is lactic acid, which tends to accumulate in the muscles, limiting your ability to exercise.
Think of lactic acid accumulation as your body’s own way to hit the brakes before irreversible damage occurs. However, this system is imperfect and often stands between you and optimal performance.
Fortunately, beta-alanine is a fantastic supplement to prolong your exercises since it reduces the levels of lactic acid.
In one study, scientists found that 6 weeks of supplementation with beta-alanine increases time to exhaustion by 19% and improves the effectiveness of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Another study found that rowers who received beta-alanine were 4.3 seconds faster compared to the placebo group in a 2,000-meter race.
3. Promotes muscle hypertrophy
Some evidence supports the positive effects of beta-alanine on body composition.
One study demonstrated that taking this supplement for 3 weeks increases lean muscle mass. Researchers believe that supplementation with beta-alanine leads to muscle hypertrophy by increasing training volume. However, the jury is still out on this part.
Regardless, increased lean muscle mass will boost basal metabolic rate (BMR), further contributing to weight loss. The good news is weight loss that occurs due to the rise in BMR generally consists of fat, which improves your physical appearance.
For fairness’s sake, some studies found negligible changes in body composition after taking beta-alanine.
4. Slows down the aging process
According to preliminary findings, beta-alanine can benefit elderly individuals, slowing down the aging process.
Most notably, this amino acid improves exercise capacity in older adults, which is usually severely impacted.
During explosive training, the main substrate that the body uses to produce energy is ATP, which stands for Adenosine Tri-Phosphate.
This molecule is incorporated in several metabolic pathways to release energy necessary for all biochemical reactions, including those that mediate muscle contraction.
Generally speaking, ATP gets broken down into two molecules:
- ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate)
- A single phosphate molecule
All the reactions take 8-10 seconds to be completed.
Explosive training focuses on activities that require short-duration movements, such as weight lifting, sprints, and rugby scrum.
If you are a fan of weight lifting and you want to take advantage of explosive training, you need to keep the number of repetitions under five to prevent the muscles from switching to another energy-producing metabolic pathway.
During the recovery phase, you must be in complete rest so that the body is able to regenerate creatine phosphate and ATP.
Some experts suggest that you can train this system by running short, very fast sprints lasting 5 to 15 seconds with 3 to 5 minutes rest between each repetition.
Being able to engage in explosive exercises will dramatically improve your cardiovascular health and decrease the risk of coronary artery disease in susceptible individuals.
Moreover, explosive movements lead to impressive muscle growth and optimize bone mineral density, reducing the risk of muscular atrophy and osteoporosis.
5. Promotes mental health
Aside from all the physical benefits we listed above, beta-alanine also seems to promote mental health well-being.
One study included 18 elite soldiers who took this supplement for 30 days. After analyzing the results, researchers found that the soldiers experienced improved cognition and critical thinking during combat practice.
On a similar note, beta-alanine increases the levels of carnosine and serotonin in the brain. The first compound reduces anxiety and promotes the secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Note that scientists found a connection between low BDNF levels and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Serotonin, on the other hand, is the hormone responsible for inducing feelings of happiness and satisfaction. In fact, patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) have extremely low levels of serotonin. It is for this reason that most modern antidepressants work to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
With all of that said, we still need more research before drawing any conclusions about the real effects of beta-alanine on mental health and cognition.
Beta-alanine is an excellent amino acid that provides the body with an array of health benefits, spanning from optimized physical performance to a lower risk of mental disorders.
We hope that this article managed to highlight the role of beta-alanine in promoting physical and mental health.