April 16, 2024

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Beta-Alanine: Uses and Nutrition

What Is Beta-Alanine?

Beta-alanine is an amino acid made in the liver and is needed to produce carnosine in the muscles and brain. Carnosine helps prevent fatigue and may help with short bouts of intense exercise.

Beta-alanine is found in some meats and is also one of the most popular sports supplements in the world.

It’s known as an ergogenic aid, meaning a supplement intended to improve athletic performance.

This article discusses the uses and risks of beta-alanine and how to optimize your dose if you decide to add it to your supplement regimen.

Beta-Alanine Supplement Facts

  • Active Ingredient(s): Beta-alanine
  • Alternate Names(s): 3-Aminopropanoic acid, 2-Carboxyethylamine
  • Legal Status: Over-the-counter (OTC) dietary supplement (United States)
  • Suggested Dose: 4–6 grams (g) a day for at least two weeks per the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN)
  • Safety Considerations: Not recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or for children due to a lack of safety data

What Are Beta-Alanine’s Uses?

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Beta-alanine is most commonly used as a performance enhancer for high-intensity exercise. It’s also been studied for its effects on blood sugar and brain protection.

Here’s the latest research about its effects.

Athletic Performance

Beta-alanine’s most common use is as a sports performance supplement, but its effectiveness has not been proven.

It’s been studied extensively for its role in exercise because it increases the muscle’s carnosine levels. Carnosine is known to regulate muscle pH and calcium. It also has antioxidant effects that may protect cells from damage.

Supplementing with carnosine itself is unlikely to raise levels in the muscles because it is quickly broken down into its amino acid components.

In comparison, taking 4–6 g of beta-alanine daily for 10 weeks may increase carnosine levels by up to 80%. However, keep in mind that individual results can vary considerably.

Beta-alanine has been studied for high-intensity exercises like:

  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Sprinting
  • Combat sports

But results are mixed, and most of the data comes from trials in males. More studies are needed to determine its effectiveness for females.

The Department of Defense (DOD) sponsored a review that didn’t recommend beta-alanine for military service members, either as:

  • A performance enhancer, or
  • To aid recovery after exhaustion

The researchers noted there were insufficient safety studies and only limited evidence that beta-alanine was effective.

In a conflicting review, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) determined that taking beta-alanine for at least four weeks increased muscle carnosine levels.

According to thies review, beta-alanine improved exercise performance (particularly for activities lasting between one and four minutes) and decreased muscle fatigue.

Researchers also maintained that there’s less risk of side effects when lower doses are taken throughout the day or when a sustained-release product is used.

And another review concluded that beta-alanine is most effective for exercises less than 10 minutes long.

Interestingly, people who were less fit had greater improvement from beta-alanine than those who were well-trained.

Managing Blood Sugar

Research suggests that beta-alanine and carnosine may decrease the following in people with high blood sugar:

A1C measures how well your blood sugar has been controlled over the previous three months.

Most of the data in the review comes from studies of carnosine. More data is needed concerning the role of beta-alanine.

Brain Health

Because beta-alanine increases carnosine levels in the brain, it may protect against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.

Although limited evidence suggests beta-alanine could play a role in these conditions, only animal studies have been conducted so far.

Robust human trials are needed before beta-alanine can be recommended for these conditions.


Female athlete thinking.

Oleg Breslavtsev / Getty Images


Nutrition

Beta-alanine is found in white meat (like chicken) and red meat (like beef and pork).

Typically less than 1 g per day is consumed in the diet, though, and vegans consume none.

Beta-alanine is also available in supplement form, such as tablets, capsules, and powder.

It’s sold alone and in combination products.

What Are the Risks of Taking Beta-Alanine?

In general, beta-alanine is considered safe when it’s taken at doses of 1.6 g to 6.4 g daily for up to eight weeks.

However, side effects have been noted at doses above 800 milligrams (mg) daily. These include:

  • Tingling or burning sensation of the face, neck, hands, or trunk (paresthesia) that may last up to 90 minutes. Splitting up the daily dose or using sustained-release products may decrease this risk.
  • Itchy skin

There isn’t any safety information on taking beta-alanine for a year or more.

Children and people who are pregnant or nursing shouldn’t take beta-alanine due to a lack of safety data.

An animal trial showed that mice given beta-alanine during pregnancy and lactation had lower-weight offspring prone to hyperactivity.

Since beta-alanine is an ingredient in some combination products, it is essential to carefully read a supplement’s ingredients list and nutrition facts panel. This will help you understand which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included.

Review the supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

Dosage

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

The ISSN suggests taking 4–6 g a day of beta-alanine for at least two weeks to see the effects on athletic performance. The ISSN also recommends dividing the dose throughout the day to decrease the risk of side effects.

For optimal results, beta-alanine should be taken with meals.

Taking just 1.6 g a day for two weeks may benefit exercise training. This daily amount has been shown to increase carnosine levels in the muscles.

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the same way prescription drugs are in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. Choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab.com, or NSF.org, whenever possible. However, even supplements that are third-party tested are not necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, talking to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and checking in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications is important.

Similar Supplements

Some other supplements that may improve athletic performance include the following:

Creatine or sodium bicarbonate, in particular, may increase the effect of beta-alanine when taken together.

Remember, these supplements have not been proven to increase exercise endurance or stamina. Some have been studied in only a few small clinical trials. And even the ones with more data often have conflicting results about their effectiveness.

Just because supplements are available over the counter does not mean they’re safe for all. To minimize the risk of adverse effects, discuss taking them with your healthcare provider, sports medicine expert, or pharmacist before adding them to your pre- or post-workout routine.

Summary

Beta-alanine is an amino acid made in the body. It’s found in meats and as a dietary supplement. It’s primarily used for athletic performance or to reduce fatigue after exercise, but the evidence is mixed.

Because of a lack of safety data, beta-alanine is not recommended for certain people, like children or pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you decide to try it, it’s best to do so under the supervision of a healthcare provider or sports medicine expert.

Taking a sustained-release form of the supplement and taking it with food may minimize side effects like paresthesia.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • What is beta-alanine?

    Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid (meaning the body can produce it even if you don’t get it from food) that’s made in the liver. It’s also found in meats and as a dietary supplement in powder, tablet, and capsule forms.


  • What does beta-alanine do?

    Beta-alanine is needed for carnosine to be made in the muscles. Carnosine regulates the pH of the muscles to help recovery after short, high-intensity exercise.


  • How much beta-alanine should I take?

    The ISSN recommends taking 4–6 g a day of beta-alanine for at least two weeks. To minimize the risk of side effects, it’s best to split the dose throughout the day, take a sustained-release product, and take it with a meal.


  • Does beta-alanine alter body composition?

    It’s unlikely that beta-alanine will alter body composition. It hasn’t been shown to decrease body weight or fat percentage at any doses, either by itself or when combined with exercise.