Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beta-Alanine - Past and Future

Around 2009, I discovered the supplement beta-alanine and at that time I was intrigued by something that could potentially improve H+ buffering capacity and exercise performance. In the summer of 2011, I went to a symposium at the ACSM's annual meeting that discussed (as well as promoted PowerBar's) beta-alanine supplementation for performance enhancement.

Below is a presentation I gave later that summer as an intern at Carmichael Training Systems. Since 2011, we've had more literature published and I'll try to discuss a few of those below the posted presentation as well as provide some food for thought and suggestions for future research.



In short - beta-alanine supplementation has consistently shown that it increases carnosine in skeletal muscle and carnosine is understood to be an effective intracellular buffer. What's not clear is if that leads to increases in performance - but there is potential.

Since the time of this presentation, we've had much more literature published on beta-alanine's effects on performance.

A new study (link here) has demonstrated that supplementation failed to improve 1-hr cycling time trial performance. At first look, this may dissuade endurance athletes from supplementing - but one should also ask the question, "Why didn't it work?" Could it be that H+ accumulation is not a limiting factor in 1-hr performances? Certainly. Perhaps the limiting factor was glycogen availability. Therefore, H+ buffering would have no effect on 1-hr performance. Further, what would happen if all the athletes undertook high-intensity-interval training? Would the supplementation group make greater gains in training that would translate to greater performance improvements?

To demonstrate beta-alanine's effects on high intensity interval performance, take a look at this study and beta-alanine's effect on 800m run performance. The 800m run is a unique event that requires both high aerobic and anaerobic contributions to ATP production. The authors note that others have demonstrated exercise performances lasting 60–240s are more likely to show improvement following beta-alanine supplementation because of the high [HLa-] seen (12–14 mmol/L). And indeed, high levels of HLa- were demonstrated in the current study (~9–12 mmol/L).

A review from Hobson et al. (2012) states, "From the data available to date, it can be concluded that b-alanine supplementation elicits a significant ergogenic effect on high-intensity exercise, particularly in exercise capacity tests and measures, and where the exercise lasts between 1 and 4 min."

There are two things I would like to see addressed with beta-alanine supplementation:  its effect on monocarboxylate transporters but also, performance at altitude

We know that when training or racing at altitude, athletes may rely more glycolysis for ATP production. This may result in greater accumulations of lactate and H+ (Engelen et al. 1996) at submaximal work rates and the work rate at VO2max will be reduced. So, could beta-alanine prevent H+ accumulation and declines in power at altitude? Perhaps there is potential there.

References

Chung, W., Baguet, A., Bex, T., Bishop, D. J., & Derave, W. (2014). Doubling of Muscle Carnosine Concentration Does Not Improve Laboratory 1-h Cycling Time Trial Performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab.

Ducker, K. J., Dawson, B., & Wallman, K. E. (2013). Effect of Beta-Alanine Supplementation on 800-m Running Performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism, 23(6), 554-561. 

Engelen, M., Porszasz, J., Riley, M., Wasserman, K., Maehara, K., & Barstow, T. J. (1996). Effects of hypoxic hypoxia on O2 uptake and heart rate kinetics during heavy exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(6), 2500-2508. 

Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids, 43(1), 25-37.

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