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riding a bicycle

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 240 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

Luckily for us, beta-alanine has been studied more extensively recently so we have more data to help us make conclusions about its safety and efficacy. As always, let’s start from the beginning so everyone is on the same page.

What is Beta-Alanine?

Beta-alanine is a type of amino acid (or protein–same thing). Of course we know proteins are important for building healthy, strong muscles. But we’re learning that some proteins may have other important functions especially when it comes to exercise. One of those is beta-alanine and its connection to lactic acid build-up.

I am sure you have experienced this before. Imagine you’re sprinting really hard across a field. Besides your heart feeling like it wants to explode, your legs will start to burn at some point. This burning sensation is caused by the build-up of lactic acid. When we perform high intensity exercises like sprints, high intensity interval training, or even when lifting weights, we can experience lactic acid build-up.

You might be thinking, “Ok, so my muscles start to burn a little when I’m sprinting, so what? I can push through it.” And you’re right, you can push through this! But for many people, this is the leading cause of early fatigue during exercise. When lactic acid starts to accumulate, it blocks the muscles from being able to access other fuel sources like glucose (or sugar) for example. If your muscles don’t get any fuel, you will reach muscle failure quickly.

What if there was something that could prevent lactic acid from building up when we’re exercising? Well, scientists discovered that something called carnosine does just that.

What Does Carnosine Have To Do with Beta-Alanine?

Stick with me here… beta-alanine (a protein, as I mentioned) helps the body create carnosine. Carnosine is our muscles’ best defense against lactic acid build-up. The theory is: if we can supplement with beta-alanine, our bodies can create more carnosine. This will prevent our bodies from producing too much lactic acid, and that will help us work out at optimal levels!

The question now is: does this actually happen in reality? We do find that when folks supplement with beta-alanine their bodies produce more carnosine. But…

Does Extra Carnosine Actually Reduce Lactic Acid Build-Up?

Available data suggests that for high intensity exercises that last between 1 and 4 minutes, supplementing with beta-alanine may lead to modest improvements in exercise performance. For those activities that last less than 1 minute or longer than 4 minutes, supplementing has no benefit.

Beta-Alanine supplementation is really only beneficial for a very specific duration and intensity of exercise.

What’s the Recommended Dosage of Beta-Alanine?

Bottom line: we don’t know. I can’t recommend 150 g of beta-alanine each day or 10 g once a month. We simply don’t have any idea.

Researchers have tested supplementation at 6.4 g per day up to 200 g per day and up. Some research suggests that 179 g of beta-alanine each day is optimal.

Is Beta-Alanine Safe?

The most common side effect is experiencing tingling or pricking sensations in the toes and fingers. This could mean that the nerves in the fingers and toes are being damaged. If you do choose to supplement with beta-alanine watch for that. If you experience this symptom, stop taking it. Please know that it may take as long as 4 months for the beta-alanine to be cleared from the body. If you decide to supplement with beta-alanine, first let your doctor know. Then be sure that the supplement is relatively free of impurities. If you look for NSF and/or USP on the packaging, you’re on the right track. Better yet, go to ConsumerLab.com and do a quick search using their database. They are an independent company that tests for the quality and purity of supplements.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 240 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik leads the Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness program and teaches core courses at Bastyr University California. He has a Doctorate in Public Health from Loma Linda University and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist from the American College of Sports Medicine.Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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