Are Pre Workouts Harmful or Helpful? Beta-Alanine

In part 1 of pre workouts (PW) we discussed that some manufacturers have added chemicals that are banned by the FDA as supplements to increase performance and what to look out for. Then we discussed that L-citrulline may be beneficial for exercise but the jury is still out and more studies need to be done. If you missed it check it out here:

In this post lets take a look at beta-alanine (BA) and see if it merits your time or money.

Beta-alanine: Performance enhancer or just another white powder?

BA is a modified form of the amino acid alanine. When it enters the body it is transformed into carnosine which acts as a buffer to drops in pH. This is likely to occur with lactate production during exercise.

As an aside, BA can cause pins and needles or warmth when ingested. This is more likely to occur as the dose increases. While for some this is uncomfortable it is important to know that it isn’t harmful.

But is it useful?


In the first study researchers looked at trained 400 meter sprinters. They separated the 15 young men into two groups, placebo and BA supplementation. It started as 2.4 g/day during the first 4 days, 3.6 g/day during the subsequent 4 days, and from then on 4.8 g/day until the end of the study which was 4-5 weeks.

Carnosine levels increased with supplementation and knee extension torque was increased, but time taken to run the 400 meter sprint was not decreased. [1] The authors noted that even in trained athlete’s carnosine levels can be raised but that 4-5 weeks of supplementation either wasn’t enough time or just wasn’t going to decrease sprint times.

In a rowing study, elite rowers from Belgium were separated into placebo and BA groups. Carnosine was measured in the soleus and gastrocnemius (calves) and performance was measured in 100m, 200m, 2000m and 6000m times. The BA dose was 5g/day as 1g doses every 2 hours for 7 weeks.

Carnosine increased as in the previous study. The increased amount of carnosine did improve performance in the 2000m race, although times were not significantly faster. What this means is that the athletes that had the greater increase in carnosine levels from baseline did in fact perform the tests more quickly. As a whole group there was no difference.[2]

In a cycling high intensity interval training study, 46 college aged men were given 6g/day of BA for 3 weeks then 3g/day for another 3 weeks or placebo. VO2 peaks power was measured (O2 utilization) and body composition as well. Subjects focused on 90-110% of individuals VO2 max during the first 3 weeks, then 115% VO2 max during the 2nd 3 weeks.

Diet was to stay the same during the protocol. Participants also performed total time to exhaustion tests at 110% VO2.

Maximal oxygen consumption and time to exhaustion improved in both groups from baseline to 3 weeks but only improved again from 3-6 weeks in the BA group. Ventillory threshold showed no changes except in the placebo group from 3-6 weeks. [3]

It makes sense that improvements would be seen in both groups as high intensity exercise repeated over time will increase fitness levels. The change from 3-6 weeks is what makes BA seem to outshine over placebo.

Although there was an increase in lean body mass in the BA group during the first 3 weeks I don’t look at these results with much attention. Since the diets weren’t controlled in ward setting there are far too many confounders to really pay attention to any “significant changes”.

The authors did not that the BA group did train at higher workloads and at longer periods of time over placebo, but no significant difference was noted.

In another cycling study 16 highly trained cyclists were separated into BA or placebo at 68mg/kg over 4 weeks and looked at muscle contraction power and average power over 4 minutes of cycling. Average power/repetition was significantly increased. Fatigue index was significantly reduced. Average power output was higher in the BA group but it didn’t reach significance. [4]

In a study of swimmers, BA was given to the test group at 4.8g/day for 4 weeks then 3.2g/day after for 6 weeks. Training set times were improved at 4 weeks with supplementation but not at 10. There was a very small but insignificant improvement in competition performance. [5] What gets me is that the test group didn’t have a very good mask compared to placebo. Because BA can cause paresthesia (pins and needles) it was easy for 12 out of 22 in the test group to tell they were downing BA while 12 out of 19 in the placebo group guess correctly because of absence of paresthesia and 3 could tell because of taste. That could have caused quite a confounding of results.

Think about it. If you knew you were getting a supplement, the real deal, could your psychology increase your performance alone? If you knew you weren’t getting the real deal would you try as hard? I guess we won’t know, at least not in this group.

It’s akin to giving some people a brand new corvette and some others a VW bug and seeing who is going to drive the speed limit more of the time. Need I say more?

Another study looking at rowers came up with mostly negative results. Similar to the above mentioned rowing study, rowers times decreased at the 750m mark and 1000m mark but the decreases were both less than 1 second. [6]

In an endurance test of leg extensors, participants held a leg extension in a machine until exhaustion. The active dose of BA was 6.4g/day as 800mg tabs 8x/day separated by 2 hours each compared to placebo over 4 weeks.

After 4 weeks the active group was able to increase time to exhaustion by over 9 seconds, compared to the placebo group which decreased in time. [7]

A meta-analysis concluded that supplementation was greatest for activities that last between 60-240 seconds and at a dose of 179g total is supplemented. Benefits above 240 seconds overall were significant but not as pronounced. The researchers also commented that it is beneficial in high intensity activities. Most of the studies were conducted on men so no real concrete conclusions could be made about the benefits in women. [8]

A review of the literature has come to similar conclusions about BA. [9] There seems to be enough evidence to support ergogenic effect for high intensity exercise and more research is needed to quantify it. It appears that people with lower starting carnosine levels may benefit more from BA than others whose baseline is higher, but again more research is needed.

Another issue with many of the studies is the small sample size. Small size makes it difficult to detect true benefit from anything. I personally believe there is a benefit to be more readily detected from BA supplementation, but until they can consistently prove it with larger samples I can only speculate.

Review Points

-Beta-alanine raises carnosine levels in cells which can buffer decreases in pH

-Beta-alanine appears to benefit exercise when:

* exercise lasts at least 60-240 seconds in duration

*doses are on a regular basis and probably at least 4-5g/day

-Doses can be multiple times a day and don’t have to be pre workout to be effective

-Beta-alanine appears to have no side effects other than paresthesia

As I stated before I think BA has potential to be useful. I use it myself and have felt both the paresthesia and increased endurance while lifting and sprinting. I would like to see more conclusive studies on it but I’m not holding my breath in the mean time.

Next we’ll discuss creatine.


Disclaimer: All info on this website is for education purposes only. Any dietary or lifestyle changes that readers want to make should be done with the guidance of a competent medical practitioner. The author assumes no responsibility nor liability for the use or dissemination of this information. Anyone who chooses to apply this information for their own personal use does so at their own risk.

1.Derave, Wim, et al. “β-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters.” Journal of applied physiology 103.5 (2007): 1736-1743.

2.Baguet, Audrey, et al. “Important role of muscle carnosine in rowing performance.” Journal of Applied Physiology 109.4 (2010): 1096-1101.

3.Smith, Abbie E., et al. “Effects of β-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 6.1 (2009): 1-9.

4.Howe, Samuel T., et al. “The effect of Beta-Alanine supplementation on isokinetic force and cycling performance in highly trained cyclists.” International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 23.6 (2013): 562-570.

5.Chung, Weiliang, et al. “Effect of 10 week Beta-alanine supplementation on competition and training performance in elite swimmers.” Nutrients 4.10 (2012): 1441-1453.

6.Ducker, Kagan J., Brian Dawson, and Karen E. Wallman. “Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on 2000m rowing ergometer performance.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 23.4 (2013): 336-343.

7.Sale, Craig, et al. “β-alanine supplementation improves isometric endurance of the knee extensor muscles.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 9.1 (2012): 1-7.

8.Hobson, Ruth M., et al. “Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis.” Amino acids 43.1 (2012): 25-37.

9.Culbertson, Julie Y., et al. “Effects of beta-alanine on muscle carnosine and exercise performance: a review of the current literature.” Nutrients 2.1 (2010): 75-98.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s