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The latest on beta alanine

Studies continue to be published attesting to the value of beta alanine as an effective ergogenic aid for increasing both training and athletic performance. Beta alanine is an amino acid, and when combined with another amino acid, histidine, it forms the core of carnosine. The significance of carnosine is that it’s a potent antioxidant, and also acts as a primary intramuscular buffer. What this means is that carnosine helps lower elevated acid levels that accrue in muscle following intense exertion, including exercise. Increased acid interferes with the activity of enzymes involved in energy production, so lowering acid levels in muscle would increase athletic performance.

While carnosine is available in supplement form, it’s only marginally effective in boosting intramuscular carnosine levels. A ubiquitous enzyme called carnosinase breaks down most of the ingested carnosine into its constituent beta alanine and histidine forms. But research shows that using supplemental beta alanine at dose of 4 to 6 grams a day does boost intramuscular carnosine as much as 64%. Although hard-training athletes tend to have naturally higher muscle carnosine levels as a result of regular training, these levels still increase when they use supplemental beta alanine.

The typical effects of beta alanine (BA) supplementation is evident by the results of a new study. The study involved 18 high level rowers who used BA for 7 weeks at a dose of 5 grams a day. Other rowers ingested a placebo for the same amount of time. Before and after supplementation, muscle carnosine levels were measured, and performance was evaluated in a 2000 meter ergometer test. The baseline test showed a strong correlation between muscle carnosine levels in the rowers and speed at various distances. After the BA supplementation, carnosine content increased by 45.3% in the soleus muscle (slow-twitch) and 28.2% in the gastrocnemius muscle (fast-twitch). Performance testing also showed that the BA group was 4.3 seconds faster than the placebo group. Prior to BA, they were 0.3 seconds slower. Muscle carnosine levels was positively correlated to 2000 meter rowing performance. As such, carnosine was able to increase speed in these elite athletes. Strength wasn’t measured in the study, although prior studies suggest that BA usage may increase muscle endurance, along with the ability to boost training intensity levels due to less muscle fatigue. What it all points to is that unlike many other sports supplements, BA is the real deal.

Baguet A, et al. Important role of carnosine in rowing performance. J Appl Physiol 2010;in press.

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