Beta-Alanine Supplementation Increases Time to Fatigue to Yield Strength and Power Gains: A Short Review
By: Mike Zourdos, MS, CSCS
Ph.D. Student â€“ The Florida State University
Skeletal Muscle Laboratory
Fatigue is an unstoppable outcome to any intense training session or period of training. We can define fatigue as any drop in motor output during a session. Do not mistake fatigue for only something an endurance athlete feels during a run; fatigue includes a reduction in bar speed, falling short of a prescribed rep range, or performance decrements during a session of General Physical Prepardeness (GPP). A drop in motor output is inevitable and even failure will always eventually occur, however, we do have the ability to delay fatigue. As powerlifters delaying fatigue allows us to increase our total training volume or even perform a greater number of reps at a higher percentage of our max, thus leading us to greater strength and power gains.
The Problem To Be Addressed
The noted drop in motor output occurs as Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is depleted and metabolites (H+ ions and therefore lactate) accumulate. As Hydrogen ion (H+) concentration increases due to the degradation of ATP, intramuscular pH (the measure of H+ in a solution) decreases into an acidic range. Training also leads to a great deal of oxidative stress. Now, the acidic nature of intramuscular pH, due to the increase in H+ concentration, significantly decreases the force produced through a muscle contraction, as optimal force is produced at a neutral pH (about 7.1).
Physiological Mechanisms To Delay Fatigue
Clearly, to delay fatigue we must find a way to delay the accumulation of H+ therefore hindering the build-up of lactate, and even preventing oxidative stress so that we can operate under a neutral pH. This seems to be done with an increased concentration of intramuscular carnosine. Carnosine is a dipeptide of the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine and when increased in the muscle it serves as a physiological buffer to accept H+ ions and delay oxidative stress, which even leads to a release of Calcium ions (Ca2+). In short, this means that carnosine can hold hydrogen ions up to a certain point to delay the formation of lactate and the total accumulation of metabolites. Furthermore, this ability of carnosine to buffer H+ keeps pH neutral for a longer period of time. Remember, when pH levels drop our force production is compromised, thus increasing intramuscular carnosine delays time to fatigue and allows us to optimize our force output for longer periods of time at the neutral pH of 7.1. These increased levels have shown significant increases in strength and power among trained athletes.
Dosage of Beta-Alanine
First, relax Iâ€™m going to answer your question: Why not just take carnosine, if that is whatâ€™s doing the job? Carnosine itself does not increase levels to a greater extent then beta-alanine, therefore beta-alanine may be a limiting factor in carnosine synthesis and provide an increased bio-availability of carnosine. Beta-Alanine has been examined in doses from 1.6-6.4 grams per day with dose dependent increases in intramuscular carnosine. Thus, I recommend 6.4 grams per day to increase carnosine levels. These levels should increase between 4-10 weeks and remain elevated for up to nine weeks post-supplementation. One must be careful, however, when administering the doses as beta-alanine causes a flushing and significant tingling feeling upon the individual that is quite uncomfortable. This phenomenon can be lessened by channeling the dosage into four doses of 1.6 grams every three hours during the day.
Applying Beta-Alanine Supplementation to Your Training
First and foremost it is important to note that beta-alanine is most effective when concentration of lactate is high due to an excessive accumulation of metabolites. Thus, supplementation will be of greatest benefit working at 85% and below and with low rest intervals. Therefore, no, beta-alanine will not directly increase a max effort lift, but beta-alanine has been shown to be effective when training in the 6-8 rep range and also to increase total training volume. A repetition day or even a speed day that utilizes short rest intervals will likely reap the benefits of beta-alanine along with sprints, pulling the sled, pushing the prowler, and other types of GPP and the benefits of these type of training days to maximize strength gains in our sport are very well known. Always remember that the longer you can go at a given intensity the stronger you will be. It is also interesting to discuss that the addition of beta-alanine to creatine increases more indices of anaerobic capacity than each of them do alone, however, the synergistic or additive effects are unknown at this point. Finally, we know that we canâ€™t prevent fatigue, however, beta-alanine allows us to delay it in a safe healthy way, which in the end only leads to more speed, power, and a greater total.
of the full review published in the February 2010 Issue of the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
Mike Zourdos, MS, CSCS
The Florida State University
Skeletal Muscle Laboratory
â€œPreparation is the key that unlocks the door to success.â€