Beta alanine is an amino acid that is often taken in supplement form by athletes for improved performance. But is it helpful for runners? Here we will explore the benefits of beta-alanine for runners, and implications for taking it.
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Maybe you’ve heard of beta alanine and you’re curious if it can help your half marathon training or endurance running in general.
To understand the impact of beta alanine for endurance athletes, it’s first important to understand what it is and how it works.
What is Beta Alanine?
Unlike essential amino acids, which require dietary intake, we don’t need to consume sources of non-essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids, like beta-alanine, are usually produced from glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for our bodies, especially for long-distance and marathon running.
Check out the best carbs for runners to learn about foods that can best fuel your training runs and races.
While beta-alanine is produced in the body, it can also be found in foods like chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and fish. These foods also happen to be a great source of iron, an important nutrient for runners.
So if your body uses readily available glucose to produce beta-alanine, why do people take it as a supplement?
Should you, too, be taking it to improve running performance?
Is Beta Alanine Safe for Runners?
Beta alanine supplementation seems to be safe for runners who are healthy, though it’s always best to check with your medical provider before starting a new supplement.
The ISSN’s most recent recommendations for beta-alanine supplementation are 4-6 grams every day for 4 weeks. Supplementation is seemingly safe for those who are healthy.
Beta-alanine works by assisting in the production of carnosine—which helps to buffers acid in the muscle. If you’ve ever had a tough workout, you’ve felt the aftermath of lactic acid buildup.
Essentially, the harder your muscles are working, the more lactic acid builds up. As a result, muscles get fatigued and are unable to optimally contract.
Because carnosine helps to neutralize this acid, it aids in muscle endurance during bouts of high-intensity activity. And that’s why beta-alanine (a helper to carnitine) is an amino acid of interest.
As a runner, muscle endurance is key. Aren’t you looking for a way to push harder and longer? Especially if you’re going for a PR!
Beta Alanine Benefits for Runners and Research
One of the primary reasons athletes take beta-alanine is its suspected ability to improve endurance performance by delaying blood lactate accumulation.
For example, supplementation with beta alanine has shown small improvements in physical performance by delaying time to exhaustion.
According to the ISSN position stand, prolonged supplementation (over the course of 4-10 weeks) can increase carnosine levels, thereby buffering (more) lactic acid.
In a 2016 study of collegiate women, there was a significant improvement in leg press repetitions when they paired beta-alanine supplementation with resistance training (4 days a week).
So, beta-alanine supplementation may enhance muscle endurance in the lower body.
Likewise, a 2018 study found that those supplementing with beta-alanine were able to lift more and gain strength, increasing overall power.
These results seem positive, not just for small bouts of endurance, but also for strength work too. Beta alanine also has some antioxidant properties.
However, other results seem mixed. While some studies have found that there is a muscle-enhancing benefit to taking beta-alanine supplements, others have found no significant improvement.
So, Should Runners Take Beta alanine?
Taking beta alanine may not be necessary or helpful for all runners. The research doesn’t seem to conclude that there are obvious benefits for runners.
This was the case in this recent 2023 study, published in August, where it was discovered that there was no significant strength or power increase in those who took beta-alanine supplements, at least in the short term.
This review suggests that the sport matters in terms of beta alanine supplementation.
The events that reap the most benefits from beta-alanine supplementation are cycling (race of 4 km), rowing (race of 2,000 m), swimming (race of 100 and 200 m), combat exercises, and water polo.
Similar to creatine, beta-alanine is the most effective in exercises lasting one to several minutes, such as sprinting, racing or high impact strength exercises. It can help increase exercise capacity and muscle endurance, reduce lactic acid buildup and help reduce fatigue.
Who Should Take Beta Alanine?
So when might beta-alanine supplementation be more helpful?
Beta-alanine supplementation in older adults (age 60 and over) helped to improve exercise capacity. When compared to those taking a placebo, participants who were taking beta-alanine were able to cycle for a longer duration than their pre-supplement period.
However, the results were not overwhelming. Participants were only able to add ~1 minute to their cycling duration.
In fact, we have research showing that carb loading for runners can be more beneficial for performance!
Since beta-alanine is readily available in dietary sources like meat and fish, a supplement is not likely required if you are an omnivore.
What is the Recommended Dose of Beta Alanine?
The ISSN’s most recent recommendation for beta-alanine dosage for runners is 4-6 grams every day for 4 weeks. Supplementation seems to be safe for those who are healthy.
At this dosage, beta-alanine improves carnosine levels for acid buffering.
A potential side effect is a tingling sensation in the skin, but this can be prevented by dividing the doses (taking 1.6 grams at a time) or using an extended-release formation.
Best Time to Take Beta Alanine
In terms of the best time to take beta alanine, like most supplements it comes down to the best time you can remember to take it consistently.
For that reason, many people choose to take it with or in a pre workout. While there may not be concrete evidence that taking it at a certain time makes it more effective, when it is co-ingested with a meal containing carbohydrates and protein, or caffeine, carnosine levels may increase more.
In contrast, combining it with creatine may enhance beta alanine’s effectiveness.
Best Beta Alanine for Runners
Some of our favorite third party tested brands are:
Here are some of the key takeaways to consider for beta alanine for endurance running.
- Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that the body produces. It’s also found in meat, like poultry, beef, pork, and fish.
- Beta-alanine helps to improve levels of muscle carnosine—an acid buffer that aids in endurance.
- Some research shows that there is an increase in power, exercise capacity, and strength after supplementing beta-alanine.
- Certain populations may benefit more from supplementation, such as older people and vegetarians.
- Supplementation of beta-alanine has been found to have benefits in certain sports but has not been strongly beneficial in running events.
- If you do choose to supplement with beta alanine, the recommended dose is 4-6 grams per day for 4 weeks.
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