Beta-alanine: The Next Creatine
An Interview with Dr. Jeff Stout
We've heard it before: this supplement or that supplement stands to be the next creatine.
Only it never does pan out to be the next creatine. Worse, whatever it was that initially prompted such lofty comparisons usually gets dumped to the back of history's medicine cabinet, forgotten and eventually discarded.
But this time, this time, I think we've got it.
In many ways, Biotest's BETA-7 is reminiscent of creatine in that it allows you to do more work, and all things being equal, more work means more muscle. Like creatine, it works for just about everybody, and there's usually no guesswork involved: you know it's working; the results are concrete.
What's more, BETA-7 also works for endurance athletes. Soon, no one, professional or amateur, strength athlete or endurance athlete, will dream of training or competing without it.
Like creatine, it's found naturally in the body, and by giving the body more of this substance, it allows the body to do more work.
Sweet, elegant, if I do say so myself.
The active ingredient in BETA-7 is called beta-alanine. The trouble is, up until now, there's been a fly in the ointment concerning the proposed use of conventional beta-alanine:
If you take it once a day, it's not very effective.
If you take it twice a day, it's not very effective.
If you take it three times a day... you guessed it, it's not very effective.
In fact, ordinary, run of the mill beta-alanine must be taken 4 to 8 times a day for it to work effectively, but Biotest bludgeoned that problem to smithereens with a cool drug-delivery technique, making BETA-7 a time released beta-alanine (more on that later).
Beta-alanine already has a list of research studies behind it that might soon match that of creatine's in length and scope, but in order to help you understand this exciting new supplement better, we've interviewed Dr. Jeff Stout, one of the world's foremost experts on beta-alanine.
Prepare to learn and prepare to be blown away.
TC: First of all, Jeff, what is BETA-7 and what does it do?
Dr. Jeff Stout: Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid found naturally in both the body and in foods such as chicken or whale meat... not that many of us eat whale, of course.
When beta-alanine is ingested, it enters the blood stream and is taken up by muscle cells. It then becomes what I call the "rate limiting substrate" to carnosine synthesis. Now, carnosine is a dipeptide found primarily in fast-twitch muscle whose primary function, as far as you and I are concerned, is bufferinghydrogen ions (H+).
So without beta-alanine, carnosine doesn't get produced, and you don't have the buffering of hydrogen ions.
TC: Why is buffering so important? What I want to know is this: Will it make me hyoooge?
JS: Well, we need carnosine to buffer H+. If we buffer H+, the pH levels in our muscles don't drop so low that our muscles start burning and force us to quit. If we don't buffer, the acid levels in the muscle get very, very, high, and we have to cut our sets off prematurely.
And, if you're cutting your sets prematurely, you're not growing.
Increasing muscle carnosine levels allows you to do more reps and more sets in a given workout. It means more sets at a higher intensity with less fatigue. That, my friend, means more growth and more strength.
There's a theory, of course, that we're limited not only by genetics, but also how hard we can train to get huge. If fact, one of the many actions of anabolic steroids is the ability to train harder which results in much greater muscle and strength gains.
It's also interesting that steroids can significantly increase the muscle's ability to delay fatigue by increasing creatine and CARNOSINE synthesis! So, delaying fatigue, and thus increasing training volume and intensity is extremely important to growth.
TC: So why can't you just take sodium bicarbonate? Isn't that a buffer, too?
JS: Sodium bicarb (i.e. baking soda) will increase your blood pH if you take enough of it. This may indirectly help consume the build-up of H+ because the higher extracellular (blood) pH may act like a magnet and pull the H+ out before they cause muscle fatigue.
However, this doesn't always work or guarantee exercise performance enhancement, and it often ends up giving you a stomachache. Also, you need to ingest the right amounts (it varies from person to person) at least 45 minutes before every workout or competition for the chance it might work.
However, with beta-alanine supplementation you can increase carnosine inside the muscle cell, thus preventing the build up of H+ inside the muscle. That makes it 10 times more effective, without the stomachache! It's really pretty cool.
TC: Okay, so why can't a person just take a lot of carnosine?
JS: Good question! First of all, carnosine is not absorbed effectively in humans. Only a small amount remains intact, but it's that nominal quantity where you encounter the real problems. The intact carnosine is hydrolyzed into histidine and beta-alanine, which is then taken up by skeletal muscle and synthesized back into carnosine.
Because of the initial hydrolysis, the ingested carnosine can't be taken up into muscle intact. As such, the only value you gain by ingesting expensive carnosine is the beta-alanine that's formed, since it's the beta-alanine that can "remake" carnosine in muscle.
So it's much more logical and much more efficient and much less expensive to take beta-alanine directly.
TC: Is there any research supporting the effects of Beta-alanine?
JS: You bet! There have been studies showing significant increases in anaerobic threshold, training capacity, effects of training, muscular strength, muscular endurance, lean body mass, and even a significant drop in body fat percentage.
I've personally been involved in a few of these studies.
TC: Tell us about the study that's going to appear in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition?
JS: Dr. Hoffman and his colleagues assembled a highly trained group of 33 college football players and split them into three groups: a creatine group who took five grams twice daily; a creatine and beta-alanine group who took the same amount of creatine plus a total of 3.2 g of beta-alanine daily; and a placebo group, who took nothing.
Prior to and following the 10-week study, the researchers measured the athletes' body composition, body weight, one-rep maxes in the bench press and squat, and had them keep a log of their training. All were placed on a weight training program that included all the usual suspects: bench presses, squats, deadlifts, power cleans, incline presses and flyes, rows, etc.
Here's what they found: when you combine creatine and beta-alanine, your training volume goes up and you get stronger. The athletes were able to knock out more reps with the same weights, and although this was the case with the other groups, it happened to a greater and more significant extent in the creatine plus beta-alanine group. The one-rep bench and squat max was significantly higher than that seen in the placebo group.
The most impressive results of beta-alanine, at least in this study, were its effects on lean mass gains and fat loss, effects not seen in either of the two other groups.
Only in the creatine plus beta-alanine group did the investigators record a significant increase in lean mass, with percentage of fat dropping roughly 1.2%.
Oh, by the way, they were not on a restricted caloric diet. They ate whatever they wanted and still lost fat!
This adds promise to a supplement that, until this study, could only be viewed as a performance enhancer. Fat loss is also a benefit you just don't get from creatine alone.
TC: Fat loss? Why would there be a reduction in body fat?
JS: We were stumped on this one, too. When we analyzed the diet of the creatine vs. creatine + beta-alanine groups, we found no difference in total calories or protein content in their diet.
However, the creatine and beta-alanine group had a much higher training volume for every workout for the 10 weeks. The only thing we can think of is that the creatine and beta-alanine group burned more calories (via higher training volume) per workout than the creatine group, which led to loss in body fat.
Other mechanisms are being explored (i.e. beta-alanine may have a small thermogenic effect). The future will tell.
TC: Forgive me for saying this, but don't the results of that study suggest that I'd better take beta-alanine with creatine?
JS: Well the problem with the Hoffman study is that all of the benefits could have been from beta-alanine. We don't know because there was no group using beta-alanine only. Further, the football players were only taking 3.2 grams per day — a very small dose for a group of big guys.
It would have been interesting to see the same study, with a beta-alanine only group. My guess is that the results would be just as impressive.
However, another very recent study that I'm aware of examined the effect of training versus training plus beta-alanine supplementation on strength and muscle hypertrophy. It was just completed.
The preliminary results were amazing! Relative to body weight, the muscle hypertrophy (muscle cross sectional area) and strength looked more impressive than similar studies using creatine.
Also, in a research study that I just got accepted for publication in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated that beta-alanine was 70% more effective than creatine in delaying fatigue and increasing physical working capacity in young men!
Also, in another study, we demonstrated a 7% increase in anaerobic threshold in men after supplementing only 3.2 g of beta-alanine for 28 days. However, while significant, that doesn't come close to the women's study we just completed! In that study we also found a 13% increase in Physical Working Capacity and 16% increase in Anaerobic Threshold.
Anyway, I am not saying there wouldn't be a benefit with stacking creatine and beta-alanine, but beta-alanine alone definitely promotes greater lean body mass, strength and endurance.
TC: Speaking of endurance, what can you tell me about this study from South Korea on Olympic caliber cyclists?
JS: Sure, in a study presented just this summer, Dr. Kim from South Korea, examined the effects of supplementing Olympic caliber cyclist on either beta-alanine (4.8 g per day) or placebo while training for 12 weeks.
The beta-alanine group increased their carnosine levels by 33%, thus increasing anaerobic threshold and time to exhaustion, while the placebo group saw no or very little change.
The placebo group changes are typical in elite athletes as very intense training results in very small performance changes in elite athletes. But the effect of supplementing beta-alanine is huge and could be the difference between a medal and not finishing in the top 10.
The specific results of this study will be presented in 2007, but I can't say anything more about it right now.
TC: I understand that some of the athletes in your studies came back to you several weeks after the conclusion of the study and wanted to get back on beta-alanine because their workouts now "suck" in comparison?
JS: Ha! Yes, that's true of every study on beta-alanine I've done thus far. Athletes came back 6 weeks later begging me for more beta-alanine because their training "sucked!" without beta-alanine.
Just to make sure, I did the same and stopped taking beta-alanine 6 weeks ago. My subjects were right, my workouts "suck" without it!
TC: Are there any negative side effects?
JS: There's one, at least in conventional beta-alanine supplements. Users sometimes experience a slight flushing/tingling effect with high doses (at or greater than 1.6 grams) called paraesthesia. This is resolved by taking 4 to 8 smaller doses several times a day.
Traditionally, you take six grams daily, in the aforementioned 4 to 8 doses, for at least two weeks to see its first effect. The reason for taking multiple doses is to ensure a constant presence of beta-alanine, which helps drive beta-alanine into the muscle cell, where it's synthesized into carnosine.
However, Biotest's BETA-7 uses the very latest in time-release technology which will allow for a 24-hour presence of beta-alanine in the blood from only 3 doses a day.
This will solve the problem of having to take 4 to 8 doses per days to get the same effect and that annoying paraesthesia! Nice!
TC: So you do need to "load" it, like creatine?
JS: Well, research so far suggest that maximal increases in carnosine happen within 4 weeks with about 6 g per day, or 40 to 60 mg per kg of body weight. After that, I think you could cut the dose in half to maintain your elevated carnosine levels.
TC: Does it have this buffering effect on just slow-twitch fibers, or fast-twitch fibers, too?
JS: Dr. Harris — the man involved in many of the early creatine studies — recently demonstrated that after 4 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation (6.4 g per day), subjects experienced a significant increase (60%) in muscle carnosine levels. The percentage increase was similar in fast and slow-twitch muscle, suggesting the increasing carnosine in slow twitch muscle will also benefit the endurance athlete by enhancing the H+ buffering capacity.
TC: So strength athletes and endurance athletes could benefit equally?
JS: Yes, finally a supplement that can enhance performance in ALL athletes! Can you think of a single sport that doesn't try to deal with delaying fatigue during training or competition? I can't.
TC: Do the effects diminish over time? Does it have to be cycled?
JS: While the research isn't there yet, it appears anecdotally, that if you stop supplementing, your carnosine levels will return to baseline in about 6 weeks. I would suggest taking a maintenance dose (2 to 3 g per day) to keep carnosine levels up. I see no need to cycle.
TC: Are any groups of athletes using it now?
JS: Yes, all the ones I've consulted and as many as can get their hands on it (NFL, College FB, etc.). Up to now, it's been hard to find a good Beta-alanine supplement. I know that the South Korean Speed Skating team used it prior to the last Olympics — I was invited to Italy to watch and speak. The entire team from South Korea won 7 medals, 6 gold and 1 silver. All in Speed skating!
TC: Is it on any banned lists?
JS: No! Typical NCAA rules state that coaches can't give it out for free, just as they can't give out any other amino acid or protein supplements to student athletes. However, anyone can take it without fear of testing positive for anything.
TC: Let's wrap this up by synopsizing the effects of BETA-7, Jeff. As I understand it, BETA-7:
• Increases anaerobic threshold (muscular endurance)
• Increases aerobic threshold (endurance in general)
• Increases physical work capacity
• Increases lean mass
• Increases intercellular carnosine levels dramatically in both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles
• Decreases body fat (possibly)
JS: It sounds like you got it all.
TC: I understand there have been a couple of new studies on beta-alanine. Give us the scoop!
JS: Yes! The biggest question we scientists had regarding beta-alanine was, will it increase muscle carnosine in elite, Olympic caliber athletes and will it improve performance. Also, we wanted to know if intense training (endurance or resistance) would increase muscle carnosine levels sufficient enough to improve performance or do we need to supplement beta-alanine.
Well, here are the studies presented in 2007:
1) Kim et al. (2007)
The effect of ß-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine synthesis, ventilatory threshold, and exercise capacity in Olympic cyclists, during 12 weeks combined endurance and weight training. (Presented at ACSM 2007.)
a. Training-only resulted in a non-significant increase of 7% carnosine.
b. Training + beta-alanine resulted in a significant 31% increase in muscle carnosine levels.
c. Only in the beta-alanine group did anaerobic threshold and endurance performance go up in these elite cyclists.
2) Kendrick et al. (2007)
The effect of §-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine synthesis during a 10 week program of strength training. (Just completed.)
a. Training-only resulted in no increase in muscle carnosine.
b. Training + beta-alanine resulted in a significant 36% increase in muscle carnosine levels.
3) Harris et al.
The effect of physical training on the carnosine content of V lateralis using a one-leg isokinetic training model. (Presented at ACSM 2007.)
a. Training-only resulted in no increase in muscle carnosine.
b. Training + beta-alanine resulted in significant 28.3% increase in muscle carnosine levels in the untrained leg.
c. Training + beta-alanine resulted in significant 52.2% increase in muscle carnosine levels in the trained leg. Could there be a synergistic effect of training and beta-alanine supplementation?
4) Derave et al.
Beta-alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue in trained sprinters. (Presented at NSCA 2007.)
a. Beta-alanine resulted in a 47% increase in muscle carnosine.
b. Maintained a higher strength output during repeated maximal contractions compared to placebo.
So, the conclusions we can draw are:
• Acute resistance or endurance training (10 to 12 weeks) alone does not increase the muscle carnosine content.
• Muscle carnosine is increased only if ß-alanine supplementation is also included.
• Muscle carnosine, while very high in elite athletes, can be augmented even further with beta-alanine supplementation and appears to enhance performance.
TC: Thanks for the updates, Dr. Stout!
Note: Biotest's BETA-7 is available right now. Add it to your supplement arsenal and become a physical juggernaut!
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