Beta-alanine is found in large quantities in the brain and muscle, where it has a number of roles. Most notably, for its anti-oxidant properties as well as its ability to help the muscle’s ability to buffer the acidity (H+ ions) produced by high intensity exercise. There is good evidence to show the benefits of beta-alanine supplementation on lowering the build up of H+ ion in the muscle and therefore aiding high-intensity performance lasting 1-7 minutes or repeated bouts of high-intensity activity.
Over the last few years, there have been some significant publications that support the efficacy of beta-alanine supplementation with athletes competing in specific events. Sale and Harris (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2012) published evidence to show beta-alanine supplementation (6.4 g per day over 4 weeks) improved isometric endurance capacity of the knee extensors. The reason this model was used was to further test the hypothesis that it is an increase in carnosine content, following supplementation, which improves exercise capacity as a result of enhanced muscle buffering.
Although no changes were found in the maximal velocity of the muscle, isometric endurance increased by 13.2%. Therefore, there appears to be the potential for beta-alanine supplementation to benefit real world applications where isometric contractions are performed such as lifting and carrying, sailing and climbing, to name just a few.
Another study by Saunders and Sale (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2012) demonstrated that beta-alanine supplementation (3.2 g per day for 12 weeks) improved YoYo Intermittent Recovery Test performance. This test evaluates the athlete’s ability to perform repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise, and is applicable to team sports players. This is the first study to investigate the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on team sport specific exercise capacity. Distance covered during the YoYo test improved by 34% after supplementation compared to a 7% decline in the control group.
These recent studies add to the growing body of evidence to suggest that beta-alanine supplementation may have performance benefits in a range of situations in sport. More research is required to ascertain the optimal loading protocol and any interaction effects that may be evident.