The Multi- talented Beta- Alanine : The Buffer & Neurotransmitter

The Buffer…  

Beta- alanine is a natural amino acid that is key to the production of Carnosine. Carnosine has several key functions, chiefly buffering the acidity of the blood in the muscle. This means that it goes around the body acting like a sponge, soaking up excess hydrogen ions that are deposited in the blood and muscle. Hydrogen ions are a waste product of numerous energy pathways that take place during exercise so beta- alanine is key to extending training duration (Tiedje, Stevens, Barnes, Weaver, 2010). This buffering process has a special term known as the intramyocellular pH-buffering effect, and can reduce muscle burn and pain during intense exercise. As well as the pain associated with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), usually felt within 1-3 days after a heavy bout of exercise. If hydrogen ions are allowed to build up during exercise, the acidity of the muscle increases proportionately making the muscle too acidic. If the muscles are allowed to become too acidic then the transporters within the muscle become less effective which will reduce muscle contractility.


The neurotransmitter…  

Beta- alanine is neuroexcitatory, meaning it excites your neurons and stimulates them into action. Not that your neurons ever really turn off per se (excluding incidents seen in chronic conditions), but the deliberate administration of beta- alanine definitely stimulates your nerve endings. Need proof of this, then ask one of the 25% of users who feel the ‘pins and needles’ effect associated with beta- alanine consumption. Although beta- alanine stimulates nerve endings in everyone, the paraesthesia (pins and needles) is not felt by everybody. The fact that it has this neuroexcitatory effect means beta- alanine also doubles up as an exercise stimulant that switches you on, and readies your muscles for exercise.


How Beta- alanine can improve performance  

So, the combined benefit of buffering and nerve stimulation makes beta- alanine a very useful supplement for optimal performance. Its cumulative benefit of being able to ready the muscle for exercise and improve the ‘mind – muscle connection’ (nerve stimulation), combined with its capacity to reduce the fatigue process and lengthen time to exhaustion makes it remarkable. It’s for this reason that beta- alanine has made a similar impact on the sports supplementation industry as creatine did all those years ago! Should you include Beta- alanine in your supplement regime? If you haven’t already, why not? Few supplements make such an impression on the sports nutrition world as Beta- alanine has, and the hype is warranted. The effects of beta- alanine are felt, be it through the tingling effects it delivers, the mental stimulation, or the inexplicable improvements in endurance and focus that it yields. If you are considering trying it, then in the first week aim for smaller doses of around 400- 800mg spread out over the day in order to saturate the muscle with Beta- alanine first. Then look to increase the dose (depending on bodyweight) to approx. 2000- 3500mg per day from then on. If you haven’t tried beta- alanine, then consider incorporating it into your training routine…you won’t look back (well, except to look at your opposition).


Tiedje, K, E., Stevens, K., Barnes, S., Weaver, D, F. (2010). β-Alanine as a small molecule neurotransmitter. Neurochemistry International. 57: 3 pp 177-188.   Tipton, K, D. & Luc van Loon, J, C. (2013). Nutritional coaching strategy to modulate training efficiency. Nestle Nutrition Institute. Basel: Karger.

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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