There’s Only One Case When You’d Actually Need a Beta-Alanine Supplement

There’s Only One Case When You’d Actually Need a Beta-Alanine Supplement

ANYONE WHO’S TRIED to bulk up knows building muscle takes tons of time and effort. Building a figure worthy of a superhero takes years of consistent strength training in the gym and plenty of protein in the kitchen. When waiting for results starts to get frustrating, those supplements that tout muscle gain as a benefit, like beta-alanine, start to look real appealing.

But, the supplement market is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means companies can advertise any potential health benefits to help sell their products—even if there’s little (or no) scientific evidence to support their claims.

What does that mean for beta-alanine, then? Does it actually help the body build muscle, or is it all just a marketing trap? What even is beta-alanine, anyway?

Look no further to find your answers—we asked the experts.

What is beta-alanine?

“Beta-alanine (BA) is a non-essential amino acid—meaning your body can naturally produce all it needs through food alone,” says Maddie Pasquariello, M.S., R.D., of NutritionWithMaddie.com.

Fair warning: Here’s where things about beta-alanine get geeky.

Most amino acids form the building blocks of protein, which participate in nearly every cellular reaction in the body, and have countless vital functions, Pasquariello says.

“Beta-alanine is used to synthesize carnosine, a molecule that is stored in muscles and helps improve performance,” she says. “And what’s more, you can increase your beta-alanine consumption through your food choices, specifically foods that are rich in carnosine (which will break down into its components, histidine and beta-alanine, in the body),” says Pasquariello.

So, yeah, in-the-weeds stuff. But all these athletic performance promises is what makes beta-alanine supplements so appealing. And there is some science behind BAs.

“Beta-alanine is among the most widely researched amino acids, given its popularity as a pre-workout supplement and endurance aid for athletes,” says Pasquariello.

What are some health benefits of beta-alanine?

In short, beta-alanine helps in the production of carnosine.

In a slightly longer explanation: “Beta-alanine is primarily of interest because, as noted above, it is used by the body (along with histidine) to make carnosine,” says Pasquariello. “Carnosine is a molecule that is found in high concentrations in muscle tissue, and is an important part of increasing muscular strength and reducing muscular fatigue.”

Researchers who have studied beta-alanine’s effects for athletes have found potential benefits for sustaining muscular endurance and power, and for reducing muscular fatigue, as well as improving muscle torque during dynamic movements, says Pasquariello.

“Beta-alanine is more likely to exert a benefit for fast-twitch muscle fibers (i.e. those used during anaerobic exercises, which are intense but shorter in duration, and include weightlifting and sprinting),” she says.

That said, Pasquariello says that there is a general lack of scientific evidence that use larger sample sizes—and there may be dangerous side effects to taking high doses of beta-alanine.

“There is also some speculation regarding beta-alanine’s safety, and adverse side effects can occur with higher doses,” she says. These side effects include headache and gastrointestinal discomfort.

Is beta-alanine the same as creatine?

Beta-alanine is not the same as creatine, though they both involve amino acids so we understand why some might potentially confuse them (especially if you don’t have a degree in dietetics).

”Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is a building block of carnosine, while creatine is a molecule that is made up of three different amino acids (methionine, glycine, and arginine),” says Pasquariello. “Creatine, like beta-alanine, is made in the body naturally, and plays a role in keeping ATP levels (the body’s natural source of energy), consistent.”

There’s more: “Beta-alanine is often studied in conjunction with creatine though, because of research suggesting that the two act in synergy to improve athletic performance more than supplementing with BA or creatine alone,” says Pasquariello. “Again, however, supplementing with either one is not necessary for the general population, and in fact should be approached with an abundance of caution due to the potential risks.”

What are potential risks of taking beta-alanine?

There are a handful of side effects of taking beta-alanine. The most common one is paraesthesia, or tingling, and usually occurs when the supplement is take in large amounts.

It can also potentially decrease the taurine concentrations in the body, a naturally occuring amino acid, most commonly found in the eyes, heart, brain, and muscles. Deficiency of the substance can cause diabetes, liver issues, muscle depletion, and eye damage and disease.

Should you take beta-alanine every day?

No, the general population shouldn’t take beta-alanine daily.

“Unless you are a vegan or vegetarian athlete and cannot obtain beta-alanine through your usual diet, or your doctor/dietitian recommends it, there is typically no need to supplement, as your body can make all it needs through your diet alone,” says Pasquariello.

“For those not eating a vegetarian or vegan diet who are considering supplementing, the current state of research is likely not enough to merit the risk of potential side effects, except in very specific cases,” she says. Most studies have been so small in scale that it is very difficult to apply their results to the general population.

Not only can your body make all the beta-alanine it needs for daily functioning—unless there is a synthesis issue or if you have a strict vegan diet—so it is very unlikely you need to supplement. Thus, most people who aren’t vegan, can also get beta-alanine from food sources.

You can find beta-alanine in food. So how do you incorporate beta-alanine in your daily diet? For most carnivores, it’s fairly straightforward.

“Among the top food sources of carnosine (and thus beta-alanine) are animal products, including beef, chicken (and chicken broth), and fish (with the highest levels of BA found in mackerel, tuna, and salmon),” says Pasquariello. Smaller amounts of BA can be found in dairy and eggs, as well.

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