Beta alanine is derived from the non-essential amino- acid alanine. Ordinarily, the main purpose of an amino-acid is to serve as a ‘building block’ for protein, however Beta alanines main function is to aid in the production of carnosine, an integral component to muscle. Carnosine is located in skeletal muscle (biceps, triceps etc) and plays a major part in muscle function and integrity, particularly during bouts of moderate to intense physical activity.
Most of us will have experienced the nauseating muscle burn that accompanies prolonged exercise or a bout of intense physical activity. This familiar burn is usually felt towards the end of an exercise and is accompanied by fatigue, discomfort and associated reductions in performance. As our body becomes less able to rid itself of carbon dioxide it begins to provide energy anaerobically (without oxygen), resulting in the accumulation of Hydrogen ions in the muscle. The elevated Hydrogen levels increase the acidity of the blood, resulting in that all too familiar feeling.....MUSCLE BURN!
Delaying Muscle Fatigue
As mentioned above, one of the primary functions of Beta alanine is its role in carnosine synthesis. Carnosine plays a major part in buffering (soak up) the Hydrogen ions responsible for ‘muscle burn’. This process is known as an intramyocellular pH-buffering effect, meaning an athlete could quite feasibly train for longer and with more intensity, whilst reducing the onset of muscle pain and weakness. Consequently the pain associated with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that is usually felt within 1-3 days after a heavy bout of exercise, may also be reduced. Another way that Beta alanine could reduce muscle fatigue is its ability to increase cellular sensitivity to calcium. Calcium is an integral component in muscle cellular activity and thus functionality, if muscles become too acidic the muscles transporters become less effective which will ultimately result in reduced contraction capacity and thus reduced performance.
Studies have found that Beta alanine can significantly increase the levels of carnosine found in muscle tissue, making it a very valid supplement in prolonging training duration and quality, whilst minimising associated muscle aches and soreness.
Antioxidant Properties of Beta alanine and Carnosine
An antioxidant serves to limit the oxidative process (damage to muscle, organs, arteries etc) caused by the accumulation of free radicals. These free radicals can increase in numbers for several reasons including stress, poor diet, and lack of rest or overtraining (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012). High antioxidant counts have also been seen to protect against ageing due to its ability to reduce chronic glycolysis, and the subsequent oxidative processes that can damage our skin, in turn causing wrinkles. Antioxidants can also limit the cellular damage caused by an intense training regime, meaning overreaching and over training is less likely to occur.
Increasing Muscle Size and Strength with Beta alanine
When consumed in isolation, Beta alanine positively effects muscular endurance and associated gains in strength. Alongside this, several studies have confirmed the cumulative benefit of combining Beta alanine and Creatine monohydrate in improving strength and endurance during resistance training. People given Beta alanine and creatine monohydrate demonstrated an increase in their one rep max and overall lean body mass compared to those given a placebo. Amongst the group receiving Beta alanine, increases in training volume were also seen, validating the use of Beta alanine as an ergogenic aid (performance enhancer). Results of numerous other studies have led to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2010) classifying Beta alanine as an effective supplement for improving muscular endurance, reducing muscle soreness, and helping to increase lean mass and strength (Stout et al. 2006).