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Beta Alanine for Runners

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.

scoop of supplements powder

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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?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Beta-alanine is considered a non-essential amino acid, which means that most of the cells in the body can make it.

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.

array of meats on a table

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.

man running with flowers in background

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.

woman and man running on track

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.

woman showing muscle with white exercise towel

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.

You would think that improved acid buffering would enhance running performance, but this study found that supplementation provided no significant benefit during a 5000m run or cross country race.

According the the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), it appears that beta-alanine is more helpful in short-burst exercises lasting 1-4 minutes.

Trexler ET, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Jul 15;12:30. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y. PMID: 26175657; PMCID: PMC4501114.

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.

But if you’re looking for something to help you recover after a workout, whey protein may be a better option.

Who Should Take Beta Alanine?

So when might beta-alanine supplementation be more helpful?

Well, research shows, that like creatine or collagen, beta alanine supplementation may be helpful if you’re middle-aged or older.

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.

a man and woman running

However, the results were not overwhelming. Participants were only able to add ~1 minute to their cycling duration.

For a long-distance runner, like a marathoner or ultramarathon runner, adding such a small capacity doesn’t seem like much.

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.

Additionally, because carnosine levels may be lower in those whose diets don’t include meat, vegetarians or vegans may want to consider beta-alanine supplementation.

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.

white bowl of supplements

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

For runners who choose to supplement with beta alanine, we always recommend choosing a third party tested option, Consumer LabNSFInformed ChoiceBSBG, or US Pharmacopeia.

Some of our favorite third party tested brands are:

Key takeaways

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.

References:

  • Huerta Ojeda Á, Tapia Cerda C, Poblete Salvatierra MF, Barahona-Fuentes G, Jorquera Aguilera C. Effects of Beta-Alanine Supplementation on Physical Performance in Aerobic-Anaerobic Transition Zones: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2020;12(9):2490. Published 2020 Aug 19. doi:10.3390/nu12092490
  • Outlaw JJ, Smith-Ryan AE, Buckley AL, et al. Effects of β-Alanine on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Women. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(9):2627-2637. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000665
  • Maté-Muñoz JL, Lougedo JH, Garnacho-Castaño MV, et al. Effects of β-alanine supplementation during a 5-week strength training program: a randomized, controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15:19. Published 2018 Apr 25. doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0224-0
  • DE Araujo Pessôa K, Cholewa JM, Sousasilva R, et al. Does Beta-Alanine Supplementation Potentiate Muscle Performance Following 6 Weeks of Blood Flow Restriction or Traditional Resistance Training?. Int J Exerc Sci. 2023;16(2):999-1011. Published 2023 Aug 1.
  • Ashtary-Larky D, Bagheri R, Ghanavati M, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on body composition: a GRADE-assessed systematic review and meta-analysis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2022;19(1):196-218. Published 2022 May 31. doi:10.1080/15502783.2022.2079384
  • Franco GS, Noronha NY, Oliveira BA, et al. Beta-alanine fails to improve on 5000 m running time despite increasing PAT1 expression in long-distance runners. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2021;61(12):1605-1612. doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.20.11946-7
  • Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Stout JR, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:30. Published 2015 Jul 15. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
  • Furst T, Massaro A, Miller C, Williams BT, LaMacchia ZM, Horvath PJ. β-Alanine supplementation increased physical performance and improved executive function following endurance exercise in middle aged individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):32. Published 2018 Jul 11. doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0238-7
  • Brisola GMP, Zagatto AM. Ergogenic Effects of β-Alanine Supplementation on Different Sports Modalities: Strong Evidence or Only Incipient Findings?. J Strength Cond Res. 2019;33(1):253-282. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002925
  • Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:36. Published 2017 Sep 13. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9
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