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Put Your Body Into “Beta” | Muscle & Body Magazine

Research shows that beta-alanine can help boost high-intensity performance.

Are you familiar with beta-alanine? You might have heard of this amino acid in your local supplement shop, but have you actually used it? If not, you may be missing out.

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring beta amino acid that can vastly help your performance level during and after your workout or exercise routine. According to research based out of the School of Human Life Science in Tasmania, Australia, beta-alanine can “significantly elevate the skeletal muscle carnosine in both trained and untrained individuals.”

So, what’s the importance of carnosine? Carnosine has been “hypothesized to play a vital role in the delay of onset muscle fatigue,” meaning faster muscular recovery postworkout. This benefit is particularly important for athletes who train in high-intensity routines like cycling, sprinting and rowing. According to research, “a recent study found a significant performance improvement in trained cyclists after eight weeks of beta-alanine supplementation in average and peak power output.…”

Why do these high-intensity routines benefit more from beta-alanine? Because “intense bouts of short-duration exercise performance seems to be the ideal duration of exercise in which carnosine exhibits its role as an intramuscular buffer, [delaying muscle fatigue].”

Takes You To The Next Level

In addition to beta-alanine, sodium bicarbonate has also been thought to elevate performance. The two were recently studied together in a trial period of eight weeks. During those eight weeks, 14 highly trained male cyclists were monitored to determine 1) the effects of 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation during a maximal cycling performance trial of four minutes, and 2) to determine whether there was an additive effect from supplementing sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity cycling performance.

The results seemed to contradict previous assumptions of the effects of supplementing the two together. Researchers determined that “in trained athletes, beta-alanine supplementation did not significantly improve four-minute cycling performance; however, there may be a small meaningful improvement in performance. [Whereas,] acute [sodium bicarbonate] supplementation significantly improved four-minute cycling performance.” In the end, “there seemed to be a minimal effect of combined beta-alanine and [sodium bicarbonate] supplementation.”

So, why would beta-alanine work better for some, but have minimal effects on others? The research identified that athletes who were considered “highly trained” already had a well-developed buffering capacity for carnosine, so increased beta-alanine supplementation may not have allowed for further improvement in exercise performance. Whereas, someone with little to no beta-alanine supplementation, nor those who were not considered “highly trained,” may have had more of a chance to benefit from the effects of this amino acid, because they may be more suscep-tible to developing a greater buffering capacity. Both trained and untrained individuals, however, could benefit from sodium bicarbonate supplementation.

Fighting Fatigue With Sodium Bicarbonate

The human body naturally produces sodium bicarbonate in small amounts. Its primary purpose is to assist the body in normalizing “pH” –alkalinity/acidity. One acid that is particularly important to manage in athletes is lactic acid.

Lactic acid can build up as a result of intense exercise if the athlete has a low lactic-acid threshold. As a result, the athlete’s anaerobic performance can be limited not only during the athletic event or training, but also in the recovery process, causing muscle tightness and soreness. In sports, this is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Sodium bicarbonate comes into play by acting as a buffering agent to high lactic-acid levels in blood. As a result, this buffering effect may allow for better performance levels and delay muscle fatigue.

Too much sodium bicarbonate, however, can have adverse side effects, including nausea, bloating and gas. The dosages found to cause discomfort were roughly “300 mg per kg [2.2 lb] of body weight.” In order to avoid negative side effects, it is important to consume plenty of water, as this will potentially reduce discomfort. In addition, if you suffer from high blood pressure, I might also suggest that you consult your physician first.

While research has shown that athletes, both “trained” and “untrained” may benefit from supplementing with sodium bicarbonate, it is very important to check with your doctor before starting any new supplement routines. Also, sodium bicarbonate may decrease the effectiveness of certain medications, so you must follow your doctor’s instructions on this matter, as no acceptable performance-enhancing compound is worth risking your health.