In this post we review an ingredient that you may not be familiar with, beta-alanine and its benefits to Footballers.
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid. Regarding athletic performance, beta-alanine works by increasing levels of carnosine (a dipeptide consisting of beta-alanine and histidine) within muscle cells. As beta-alanine is considered to be the rate-limiting precursor for the synthesis of carnosine in the muscle,1,2 beta-alanine supplementation is proven to be an effective way of elevating muscle carnosine content.3,4
The most documented physiological role of carnosine is to maintain pH homeostasis within muscle cells.5 As such, increases in carnosine due to beta-alanine supplementation are thought to increase the buffering capacity of hydrogen ions – a constituent of lactic acid - within the muscle by roughly 5-10%.2 This increase may be decisive for sports in which performance is limited by muscle acidity, such as prolonged supramaximal exercise, and sports containing repeated bouts of high intensity exercise (e.g. football).6
Daily doses of 4.8-6.4 g of beta-alanine have shown to increase the carnosine content of muscle fibres by 40-60% in four weeks, and 80% in 10 weeks.2,4
A common but harmless side-effect of taking beta-alanine is called paraesthesia. Symptoms of paraesthesia include ‘tingling’ sensations, which may relate to a sensitisation of nociceptive neurons in the skin that occur when a single dose greater than 10 mg.kg-1 of bodyweight is consumed.7,8 In order to avoid this short-term side effect of beta-alanine supplementation, splitting your daily dose into 2-4 servings is recommended.
Beta-alanine in football
Research examining the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on repeated sprint performance is equivocal, with three studies showing no effect,9–11 and a two demonstrating significant improvements in performance.12
In a soon to be published study, I found that ingesting five grams of beta-alanine every day for 28 days, improved fatigability and mean sprint time during 12, 30m sprints repeated at 35s intervals. In addition, Saunders and colleagues,12 who demonstrated that 12 weeks of ß-alanine supplementation lead to a significant improvement in the performance of the YoYo IR2 protocol, suggested that such discrepancies might be due to the shorter periods of sprint activity (< 60 s) used in the studies with lack of ergogenic effects. While this notion is supported by the observations of a recent meta-analysis,13 methodological limitations may also explain the lack of ergogenic effect.
For example, Hoffman and colleagues showed no effect of three weeks of beta-alanine supplementation on three 200-yard line drills interspersed with two-minute rest periods in collegiate (American) football players.10 However, only differences between groups were compared, as no baseline measurements were recorded. Furthermore, Saunders and colleagues examined the effects of four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation on repeated sprint performance during the Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test (LIST) a football match simulation.11 Due to the observation that neither the experimental or control group showed a deterioration in sprint times across the LIST prior to supplementation, any potential increase in muscle buffering capacity due to beta-alanine supplementation may have been masked. Ducker and colleagues failed to observe an improvement in repeated sprint performance after four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation (6g/day). Given that the sodium bicarbonate condition improved repeated sprint performance to a greater extent than the combined condition (sodium bicarbonate and beta-alanine), a lack of statistical power due to the small sample size (six participants per condition) could explain these findings.9
Summary and recommendations
Given the demands of football training and match play, the aim of beta-alanine supplementation would be to enhance repeated-sprinting ability.
As such, my recommendations are as follows:
- Consume 3-5g of beta-alanine per day as part of a loading protocol. There is no need to cycle this.
- If speed of loading isn’t a concern, 2-4 doses of 3g per week will cause carnosine loading in approximately 6-8 weeks. This can also be used as a maintenance dose.
- Three grams of beta-alanine is the equivalent to one serving of our Focus90® Pre-match gel.
Joseph Agu MSc
Soccer Supplement ®
1. Abe, H. Role of histidine-related compounds as intracellular proton buffering constituents in vertebrate muscle. Biochem. Biokhimii 65, 757–65 (2000).
2. Harris, R. C. et al. The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids 30, 279–89 (2006).
3. Derave, W. et al. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J. Appl. Physiol. 103, 1736–43 (2007).
4. Hill, C. A. et al. Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids 32, 225–33 (2007).
5. Artioli, G. G., Gualano, B., Smith, A., Stout, J. & Lancha, A. H. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 42, 1162–73 (2010).
6. Gaitanos, G. C., Williams, C., Boobis, L. H. & Brooks, S. Human muscle metabolism during intermittent maximal exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 75, 712–9 (1993).
7. Derave, W., Everaert, I., Beeckman, S. & Baguet, A. Muscle carnosine metabolism and beta-alanine supplementation in relation to exercise and training. Sports Med. 40, 247–63 (2010).
8. Crozier, R. A., Ajit, S. K., Kaftan, E. J. & Pausch, M. H. MrgD activation inhibits KCNQ/M-currents and contributes to enhanced neuronal excitability. J. Neurosci. 27, 4492–6 (2007).
9. Ducker, K. J., Dawson, B. & Wallman, K. E. Effect of Beta alanine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation on repeated-sprint performance. J. Strength Cond. Res. 27, 3450–60 (2013).
10. Hoffman, J. R. et al. Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players. Nutr. Res. 28, 31–5 (2008).
11. Saunders, B., Sale, C., Harris, R. C. & Sunderland, C. Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on repeated sprint performance during the Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test. Amino Acids 43, 39–47 (2012).
12. Saunders, B. et al. β-alanine supplementation improves YoYo intermittent recovery test performance. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 9, 39 (2012).
13. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C. & Sale, C. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids 43, 25–37 (2012).