If you’re a fitness fan, gym goer or health guru, you may have heard of beta-alanine.
It’s one of the most popular sports supplements around, with many people choosing to use it as a way to enhance their workouts.
But what is beta-alanine? What does beta-alanine do? Is taking beta-alanine supplements worth it and should you include them in your workout routine?
We’ve got everything you need to know below.
Beta-alanine is a type of amino acid. It’s what’s classed as a non essential amino acid – which means that your body is able to produce it on its own.
As it’s made by the body – specifically the liver – beta-alanine is a natural substance. It’s also found in some foods, and a concentrated version of beta-alanine is isolated to use in sports supplements.1
As the body makes some beta-alanine on its own, you don’t technically need to obtain beta-alanine from your diet, or from extra supplementation.2
However, some people choose to take a supplement containing beta-alanine. This is usually to help support their exercise performance and support workout recovery.
Beta-alanine is one of the two building blocks for a molecule called carnosine. The other building block of carnosine is an amino acid called histidine.
Carnosine is found in a high concentration in muscle tissue and has a number of key roles to play in muscular function.3
Beta-alanine ingestion increases the carnosine content in muscles, which may lead to enhanced benefits compared to relying on the beta-alanine produced by the body alone – although research is ongoing into the benefits of supplementation.4
It’s thought that beta-alanine could help with:
Getting extra beta-alanine could help you work out harder and longer.
Studies have indicated that after 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation, people were able to work out longer before their exhaustion threshold was reached.5
This means you could boost your performance by adding beta-alanine to your diet or workout shake.
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During and after exercise, your muscles produce lactic acid which can lead to painful, sore muscles.
This production in lactic acid causes a slight drop in the pH levels in the body (lower pH = more acidic).
Higher levels of beta-alanine in the body act as an acid buffer against this drop in pH, thanks to its ability to convert into carnosine.
Studies show that four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation (4–6 g daily) significantly increases carnosine levels in the muscles, which acts as an acid buffer for the cells.6
If you experience cramp during exercise, or sore muscles afterwards, it’s worth giving beta-alanine supplementation a go to see if it improves.
Beta-alanine can help support short, intense bursts of cardiovascular exercise such as high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Studies indicate daily supplementation with 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks works best to improve performance in exercise bursts lasting between 1 – 4 minutes.7
Supplementing with beta-alanine could boost the amount of lean muscle you have – promising news for any fitness fan.
One study found that supplementing with 6g beta-alanine every day for three weeks, followed by three weeks supplementing with 3g daily showed an increase in lean muscle mass among 46 young men after the full six week period.8
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Beta-alanine supplementation isn’t just for young gym buffs. Research indicates it could be significantly beneficial for older adults, too.
A study conducted on those in the 55 – 92 age group found that 90 days beta-alanine supplementation pushed back the exhaustion threshold in elderly adults, while delaying the onset of muscle fatigue.9
We lose muscle mass as age, so the extra support offered by beta-alanine could benefit you if you’re concerned about muscle loss.
Beta-alanine may help to offer protection against oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. This is down to its key role in creating carnosine in the body.
Carnosine has a number of antioxidant properties and has been proven to scavenge free radicals from cells.10
The molecule that beta-alanine builds inside the body – carnosine – is thought to deplete with age.11
This is why beta-alanine is thought to have promising potential as an anti-ageing agent in the body, although more research is needed.12
Due to beta-alanine’s ability to minimise the impact of extra acidity on the body’s cells, it might be a useful supplement to those following the ketogenic diet.
The high-fat, low-carbohydrate keto diet triggers a state of ketosis in the body, where there is no available glucose from carbohydrates to burn so fat becomes the preferred fuel source.
This raises the level of ketones– an acidic chemical - in the body. Beta-alanine supplementation may help protect the body from excessive acidity from these ketones – although research isn’t definitive.13
Beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to be potentially beneficial in managing type II diabetes.
One study found that supplementing with 4g beta-alanine every day for 28 days lowered fasting blood glucose levels in people with type II diabetes as well as an increase in exercise capacity.14
If you're thinking of taking beta-alanine, there is one mild side effect you should be aware of.
The main side effect identified with beta-alanine supplementation is a tingling or itching sensation in the skin, which has been described as similar to pins and needles.
This is called paranesthesia. It’s a common phenomenon of taking beta-alanine, and isn’t harmful, although it may be a little strange at first.
It usually lasts a few minutes after taking each dose, although some people don’t experience it at all.15
Lower doses of beta-alanine have shown to produce a lesser tingling effect.16
If you experience this side-effect, consider lowering your dosage or stop taking beta-alanine supplements altogether.
Talk to your GP before starting a new supplementation.
Beta-alanine is a naturally-occurring substance in the body, and is found naturally in certain foods. It’s not bad for you, although side effects are possible in some people.
According to a review by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) from 2015, beta-alanine supplementation currently appears to be safe in healthy people at recommended doses.17
Most studies have been performed using doses of 2g to 6g of beta-alanine per day.
You may wish to start on the lower end of the scale to see how your body responds to beta-alanine supplementation, before gradually increasing your dose.
Always follow the instructions on the supplement label, as strengths and formulas vary.
Taking beta-alanine for at least four weeks will give you the chance to see results.
Oral beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to increase carnosine concentrations in the muscles (the molecule which is linked to benefits such as greater exercise endurance) by up to 64 % after four weeks.18
Taking beta-alanine for ten weeks has shown to increase carnosine concentration in the muscles by up to 80%.19
Take beta-alanine with a meal or snack.
Studies show that taking beta-alanine supplements alongside food enhances its effectiveness.
This is because more carnosine is created in the muscles if it’s ingested alongside carbohydrates or protein. Researchers think this might be due to the insulin released after food can help this process along.20
It’s also a good idea to take your beta-alanine doses across the day, rather than all at once. This will ensure the carnosine levels in your muscles remain steady and could minimise the effects of paranesthesia.
A healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone. This is especially true if you’re hitting the gym regularly and want to see lean muscle growth.
As beta-alanine is an amino acid, it may come as no surprise to learn its most abundant in animal proteins.
Vegetarians can easily have low levels of beta-alanine due to reduced complete protein sources in their diet.
As a result, they have lower levels of carnosine.
In fact, studies have demonstrated significantly lower muscle carnosine levels in vegetarians compared with those who eat meat.21
However, if you’re veggie – don’t worry! One study found that meat-eaters who were put on a six-month vegetarian diet did not experience a drop in their muscle carnosine stores, so it appears that the body can produce enough to stay healthy on its own.22
For vegan athletes, however, sports scientists suggest adding or beta-alanine supplementation to the diet.23
Beta-alanine is available in powders, tablets, or capsules. Always follow the instructions on the label and speak to your GP if you have any concerns.
Vegan beta-alanine supplements are available.
Some beta-alanine foods include:24
Last updated: 7 July 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.