How Does Beta-Alanine Help Build Muscle?

Exercise among athletes is salient in improving muscle strength and stability. Apart from physical activity, the development and strengthening of muscles is usually facilitated by diet and special nutritive intakes that target certain physiological processes.

Beta-alanine (β-ALA) is an amino acid which has been found to influence muscle carnosine levels. Thought to have a significant effect on high-intensity physical activity or exercise, muscle carnosine is a preferred focus in sports-related physiological research. Contemporary studies have shown significant light on the various uses of beta-alanine and its applicability in muscle building not necessarily limited to the field of sports and recreation.

Muscle Building Through Beta-Alanine

The primary source of energy during high-intensity exercise is anaerobic glycolysis, which is the process of acquiring lactate from glucose when oxygen is limited. Usually at the four-minute mark of continuous exercise, hydrogen ions (H+) produced from lactic acid dissociation naturally overpower the intracellular buffering capacity. As an effect, muscle pH levels fall and metabolic processes become limited, ultimately leading to reduced force and muscle fatigue. Other effects of increased H+ production include the disruption of phosphorylcreatine resynthesis, lessened muscle contraction, and inhibited glycolysis.

Image Credit: Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock

Physicochemical buffers within the body defend this natural lowering of the pH levels during exercise. In order to reduce the risk of fatigue and facilitate continuous high-intensity physical activity without the negative effects of hydrogen ion production, the body requires reliable and efficient physicochemical buffers. Carnosine is one type of such buffer (cytoplasmic dipeptide) that particularly limits H+ buffering through its high-concentration imidazole with 6.83 pKa within the skeletal muscle.

Contemporary research has given focus on the properties of carnosine and particular amino acids that could alter its natural concentration levels or mechanisms within the body. Numerous empirical studies and experiments have discovered that beta-alanine is an effective tool in maximizing the carnosine function. In particular, a considerable daily supplement (2 to 6 grams per day) of β-ALA has been found to increase carnosine concentration in the skeletal muscle by at least 20%. As an effect, longer periods of high-intensity exercise is made possible and muscle, through physical activity, is built.

Apart from such function, muscle carnosine is also known to possess antioxidants, influence sarcoplasmic reticulum calcium regulation, and affect the regulation of enzymes.

Empirical Evidences

The effects of beta-alanine in muscle-building and physical performance have been the focus of numerous contemporary empirical studies. Discussed below are some of the relevant findings regarding the utilization of β-ALA in physical activity.

Beta-Alanine in Sports: An International Society Point of View

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) reviewed current literature on the positive effects of β-ALA in inducing muscle development. The Society’s conclusions affirmed the previously-reported empirical findings on the amino acid, specifying that a continued daily supply of beta-alanine within two to four weeks will significantly augment muscle carnosine concentrations, improve exercise and performance, and facilitate muscle build-up (as an effect).

The Society further stated that while beta-alanine reduces neuromuscular fatigue, it could also develop a side effect of paresthesia or tingling. However, this sensation could be alleviated when β-ALA doses are reduced. The Society calls for more research on beta-alanine and its effects, especially on strength, endurance, and other health-related activities associated with carnosine.

Sprint Endurance and Beta-Alanine Supplementation

A double-blind randomized controlled trial was facilitated for four weeks among 22 water polo players. The study aimed to examine the effects of beta-alanine supplementation in the sprint performance of the players. Through two specific repeated sprint ability tests divided by a 30-minute swimming test, participants’ abilities were examined.

Findings showed that players who continuously took beta-alanine for four weeks had a likely beneficial effect in the first set of their sprint ability test and a possible beneficial effect on the second. These findings support other empirical evidence on the applicability of beta-alanine on increasing endurance.  

Beta-Alanine and Other Substances

Research investigating the use of beta-alanine have long postulated its increased efficiency when taken alongside other substances. The International Society of Sports Nutrition, in 2015, officially concluded that beta-alanine is indeed more useful when coupled with a selection of single or multi-ingredient supplements, provided that beta-alanine supplementation is taken for at least four weeks at 4-6 grams per day.

Sources

Last Updated: Oct 23, 2018

Gaea Marelle Miranda

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Gaea Marelle Miranda

Gaea graduated from the University of the Philippines, Manila, with a degree in Behavioral Sciences, cum laude . Majoring in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, she approaches writing with a multidisciplinary perspective.

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