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Beta-Alanine and Anabolism

While many studies related to supplemental beta-alanine have used untrained subjects, a few have used more experienced subjects.

A number of studies, many of which have been reported here, demonstrate that using supplemental beta-alanine may boost gains in muscle size and strength. Beta-alanine acts as a substrate for the synthesis of carnosine in muscle. Carnosine is a dipeptide, composed of two bonded amino acids, histidine and beta-alanine. Muscle usually contains more than enough histidine, so the limiting factor is beta-alanine. Taking carnosine itself would not be effective, as it’s rapidly degraded by the enzyme carnosinase before it has a chance to enter muscle.

Carnosine acts as a major intramuscular buffer. That means it neutralizes the excess acidity that builds up during high-intensity exercise. Studies show that regular intense training increases muscle carnosine. In fact, bodybuilders tend to have higher-than-normal muscle carnosine as a result of regular intense training. On the other hand, even experienced athletes who take extra beta-alanine get a boost in muscle carnosine as high as 64 percent over normal.

While many studies related to supplemental beta-alanine have used untrained subjects, a few have used more experienced subjects. One study, for example, found that giving beta-alanine for 10 weeks to experienced trainees led to a significant increase in workout volume on the squat and bench press. Because higher training volume is related to a greater release of anabolic hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone, a new study tested the effects of supplemental beta-alanine in eight college-aged men with at least three years of training experience.1

The men took beta-alanine for 30 days, getting 1.6 grams three times daily. Other subjects got a placebo, as the study featured a double-blind, randomized, crossover design, the gold standard of clinical research. Before and after using the beta-alanine, the subjects did six sets of 12 reps of barbell squats using a weight equal to 70 percent of their one-rep maximums. At the end of 30 days those in the beta-alanine group had increased their completed reps by 22 percent. Measurements of testosterone, growth hormone and cortisol showed no differences between the groups, indicating that while those hormones were affected by the exercise, beta-alanine had no discernible effect. No changes occurred in body mass or strength, but as the authors note, rapid gains don’t occur too often in advanced trainees, especially in only 30 days. Meanwhile, the fact that beta-alanine clearly increased training endurance shows that it may pump up training intensity, which is likely to increase gains in muscle size and strength over the long haul.

—Jerry Brainum

Hoffman, J., et al. (2008). Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med. In press.

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