Beta alanine has always been something I have associated with strength training and that world. However, I stumbled across some research to suggest it is actually quite beneficial to runners which got me intrigued.
I am not one to try supplements for the sake of performance gains. I tend to just try to eat well and get on with the running. However, this time I changed my tune a bit and decided to experiment to see if it really was helpful.
I did this experiment a while ago now but figured I would share my findings here. I no longer take beta alanine because I am pure lazy and now that time has passed I don’t feel I need it for the performance boost. However below are my thoughts shortly after completing the experiment in the Summer.
What is Beta Alanine?
Beta alanine is a non essential amino acid. Non essential means the body can produce it and we don’t have to rely on food to get it. Beta alanine, unlike the other amino acids we need, is not used to synthesize protein. It instead produces carnosine with the help of histidine. Carnosine is stored in the muscles and when you work out it helps reduce the build up of lactic acid allowing you to train harder for longer.
Why Do You Need To Supplement Beta Alanine
We tend to have plentiful amounts of histidine in our muscles. Beta alanine, on the other hand, tends to be much lower so therefore the amount of carnosine you have is limited too.(1).
So to get carnosine levels to increase, you need to supplement beta alanine. You can increase your levels by up to 87% through supplementation (2).
As established, carnosine plays a key role in your lactate threshold. As a runner, one of the key aspects of getting faster is improving your lactate threshold. There are many ways to do this including training at just below your lactate threshold to increase it over time.
It is very easy to know when you are training above your level, as you will certainly feel it! You will slow down and become fatigued quickly. Your pace will almost certainly slow. (We have all started an interval session to fast and then crash and burned to the end of the last rep). What slows you down is the build up of lactate.
When you exercise your muscles break down glucose into lactic acid and this is converted in to lactate. This builds up as your workout continues and you start to fatigue.
Carnosine acts like a buffer against lactate, helping you to clear it faster and for longer thn you would without it. It allows you to fight fatigue for longer and thus train for longer increasing your endurance and ability to maintain a pace.
How Long To See A Difference
According to many studies it can take 4-5 weeks before you see a significant increase in your carnosine levels from beta alanine supplementation. Arguably a small price to pay to reap the benefits of being able to work above your lactate threshold for longer (if it actually helps).
Benefits To Runners
If you haven’t worked it out already, there are obvious benefits to runners in increasing carnosine levels. Here I go over some of those specific benefits.
Increases Time To Exhaustion
A few studies have shown that beta alanine can increase the time until you feel exhausted. This essentially means you can workout for longer periods of time (3). This could be potetnailly helpful for interval workouts and tempos where you need that extra help to get through.
Helps Shorter Duration Exercise
Beta alanine is particularly helpful for shorter duration exercise furthering confirming its benefits for interval sessions. One study showed that 6 weeks of beta alanine use increases time to exhaustion significantly when it came to high intensity interval traniing (4).
Beta alanine has also been shown to benefit 800m runners. Runners were given 6-7g of beta alanine for a 4 week period. There was a statistically significant decrease in 800m times of 3.64 seconds.
The study also showed that beta alanine had a particular positive effect on the second half of the distance.
Not Just A Supplement For Men
Many supplements tend to be marketed directly to men and most studies tend to be on men too. They generally are the target market. However beta alanine is a supplement that can be used by both men and women.
One study involving 22 women showed that beta alanine can be effective for women too. 22 women were given either a placebo or beta alanine for 28 days. Before starting the supplementation they all performed a stationary bike test to exhaustion. They then performed the same test 28 days later. They found that beta alanine delayed the onset of fatigue and increased time to exhaustion (5).
Body composition is a contentious subject in the running world, particularly with the issues that women tend to face and lower body weights. I don’t tend to focus on body composition and try to just eat enough to be able to train and not feel hungry all the time.
Beta alanine has been shown to have an effect on body composition usually resulting in an increase in lean muscle mass. One study even showed that supplementation for just 3 weeks increased lean muscle mass (6).
Another found that 32 women decreased their body while while increasing lean muscle after supplementing for 4 weeks (7).
Dosage and How To Take It
The common vein seems to be between 2-5 grams and that you should work up from 2 grams. This is the approach I took while taking it. I built up to 4g daily. I wasn’t completely perfect and on the odd day I did forget, however overall I was pretty consistent.
I mixed it in a bit of water and drank it.
The most common side effect is paraesthesia which is a tingling of the skin. T experienced this from the get go, usually around my lips because the powder touched it while I was drinking it. It disappeared quite quickly and wasn’t really that big a deal for me.
There is no evidence that suggests this tingling is harmful.
From researching, I am not aware of any other side effects. However I did experience an overwhelming feeling in my chest while exercise. The only way I can think to describe it is like being on the cusp of hyper-ventilating, like I am over-breathing slightly. This only happened a few times and didn’t stop me doing my run.
My 90 Day Trial
So I took beta alanine for 90 days to see what would happen. I took 2-4g generally about 30 mins before a run. I even did it before some races.
I found a benefit from the first time of taking it. Harder runs felt easier – comparatively easier. They were still harder but I felt that I could run faster for longer.
One morning I forgot to take the beta alanine and went for a run. It felt tougher and I couldn’t pinpoint why but it did make me go realise I hadn’t taken the beta alanine. There was a definite difference in that run compared to others. Of course it could have been coincidental and I could have had a bad run despite taking the beta alanine beforehand.
At the time of taking, I didn’t find any significant benefit to taking beta alanine before a race and didn’t feel it contributed to better times. On reflection I had some very good races in the heat during this period and I am usually pretty crap in the heat. So potentially, for me, I feel it probably did have a positive impact on my ability to race in the heat. I will do a comparison with how I fair this year in the heat.
I generally only raced 10km races when taking the beta alanine but it would have been interesting to see its effect on shorter races like the 3 or 5km.
My recovery also seemed to be better after a tough session. I felt better the next day than I usually did which was a pleasant surprise.
I didn’t notice a difference in body composition but if I take beta alanine again I think I will get my body fat percentage tested before and after to give an accurate reflection, as sometimes just looking isn’t going to cut it.
So on reflection, I do feel beta alanine had a positive role for me as a pre run supplement in the 90 days I took it. I am really wondering why I stopped taking it!