To Supplement or Not-To Supplement, that is the question
Performance supplements are so commonplace these days that it’s generally not about deciding to use supplements, it’s more about which supplements to use. Beta-Alanine is a performance supplement that increases muscular endurance during short to mid-range, high intensity training. One of the more commonly used supplements on the market today; the question is, is it right for you? Before we jump into the nitty gritty though, it’s good to know how Beta Alanine fits into the big picture.
The Macro view
It may be easiest to start at the top with Macronutrients. In human nutrition we know that there are 3 major Macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat. Macronutrients feed the energy systems of our bodies and while it’s true that we eat food (and not ‘macronutrients’), it’s important to understand how the food we eat supplies the nutrients that we need. It’s also important to understand the role that supplements can play to help us get all the nutrients we need.
Protein is a major component of all our body tissues and it plays a critical role in all of our cells, we’re constantly processing proteins throughout our body to keep all our systems running. When we’re exercising, we’re taught that we need to eat protein to grow our muscles – it’s one of the most common questions I’m asked by new clients “what protein shake should I drink to get bigger?”.
So protein is important for muscle growth and recovery as well as in producing energy. For many of us we can get enough protein through the foods we eat, depending on your training schedule and needs, you may need to supplement. Protein powder as a supplement deserves it’s own discussion and we won’t get into it in depth here, just realize that like other macronutrients, if it isn’t used in the production of energy, excess protein can be stored as body fat – so more is not always better.
There are many foods that are great sources of protein, both animal based and plant based, choosing one source over another is a personal choice that is often may be influenced by a variety of personal, environmental or social factors, so pick the proteins that you’re comfortable with and go for it. Regardless of the type of foods that you choose, proteins have one thing in common: amino acids. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of all proteins.
Amino Acids: Essential vs Nonessential
Your body has about 20 primary amino acids to choose from in constructing all the various proteins your body needs, these amino acids are broken down into two categories: Essential and Nonessential. Essential amino acids are ones that your body cannot make and you must get from the food you eat. Nonessential amino acids can be made or ‘synthesized’ by your body.
Essential Amino Acids
Nonessential Amino Acids
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
What is Beta Alanine?
Amino acids all consist of the same basic chemical elements: Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen and Nitrogen, the particular structure determines what type of amino acid it is. Alanine is one of the Nonessential amino acids and the ‘beta’ designation helps describe its structure, basically where the amine group is located (the amine group contains a nitrogen and two hydrogen molecules).
Beta Alanine is produced in the liver and then transported through the body to muscle tissue where it teams up with the essential amino acid Histidine; this combination creates the dipeptide Carnosine (a ‘dipeptide’ is just two amino acids paired up). Carnosine is important because it buffers lactic acid build up in the muscle.
The buildup of lactic acid has long been recognized as a potential contributor to muscle fatigue [1. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2005, 15, 493-514 © 2005, Human Kinetics, Inc.]. The primary fuel source for our bodies is glycogen; glycogen is the stored form of glucose that is in the carbohydrates that we eat. As our body converts glycogen to energy during high-intensity work, it breaks down and releases excess hydrogen into the muscle tissue – that excess hydrogen is what we refer to as lactic acid and it creates the “burn” that we feel in our muscles.
Generally when you start to “feel the burn” you have a marked reduction in power output as the muscle begins to fatigue. Carnosine helps manage that excess hydrogen allowing your to go longer, sprint faster or push harder.
How much should I take?
Standard daily doses of beta-alanine are between 2,000 – 5,000mg, Beta-alanine supplementation is not timing-dependent, in relation to exercise. Using beta-alanine as part of a pre-workout stack is a popular option, however. Large doses of beta-alanine may result in a tingling feeling called paresthesia. It is a harmless side effect, but can be avoided by using a time-release formulation or taking smaller doses, between 800-1000 mg, several times a day. [2. Examine.com, Supplement Reference Guide, 2015, p. 67. ]
How do I take it?
Beta Alanine comes in a powder form and can be easily mixed with water or other liquid, it is mildly sweet but will generally be unnoticed when mixed with other ingredients. If you’re already taking a pre-workout formula, check the ingredient label to see if it already contains Beta Alanine, it’s a common ingredient in many popular pre-workout powders.
Does it matter what brand I buy?
Whether you’re purchasing a standalone Beta Alanine supplement or checking it out as part of a pre-workout formula, look for CarnoSyn® on the label. Natural Alternatives International, Inc. is the patent-holder on the manufacturing process by which beta-alanine is made. If you don’t see the CarnoSyn® brand, you might not be getting what you bargained for.
Beachbody Performance – Energize
My ‘go to’ pre-workout formula is Energize® from the Beachbody Performance Line of supplements.
- If you’ve ever struggled with low energy, no motivation, or lack of focus—you need Energize Pre-Workout Formula.
- If you want to power through the hardest workouts with more energy and endurance—to help intensify your focus and delay exercise-induced muscle fatigue—you need Energize Pre-Workout Formula.
Beta Alanine is one of the three primary ingredients in Energize® and Beachbody uses CarnoSyn® Beta Alanine so you know you’re getting a quality product. Click on the Supplement Facts label above and look for the CarnoSyn® logo in the lower left for your guarantee that you’re getting a quality product.