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Over the past few years, one new supplement to hit the market with intense popularity has been beta-alanine. Beta-alanine was actually discovered over 100 years ago, but it wasn’t given much attention until the same man who brought us the creatine craze, Dr. Roger Harris, began sharing the possible benefits as a supplement.

As it can be seen, the name of the amino acid alanine is contained within the name, beta-alanine. These two amino acids should not be confused, as beta-alanine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid, which means it is not used in the building of muscle tissue. Beta-alanine is actually similar to creatine in that they are both used in the production of ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) for energy. To understand beta-alanine better, we have to look at its connection to carnosine, which is an intracellular buffer.

Carnosine is found in both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers. During exercise, hydrogen ions begin to build up in the muscles, causing the pH level to drop and become more acidic. This is the “burn” you feel during intense training. Carnosine helps to keep pH levels more stable by “absorbing” errant hydrogen ions. A longer stable pH level means muscles can perform for a longer period of time.

So why not just supplement with carnosine and skip the beta-alanine? Well, when carnosine is ingested, it is rapidly broken down into its two amino acids, beta-alanine and histidine. Any carnosine that does make it to the bloodstream is usually then broken down to the enzyme carnosinase. Beta-alanine and histidine are then converted back to carnosine by another enzyme. To get an adequate amount of beta-alanine from carnosine would require huge amounts of carnosine supplementation. This would not be an efficient or financially sound path to go down.

Generally the endurance benefits of beta-alanine supplementation begin to happen after a few weeks. However, greater pumps and increased vasodilation may be noticed from the first dose. A tingling sensation may also be noticed when using beta-alanine. This is caused by the beta-alanine binding to nerve receptors, but should not be taken as a sign that the supplement is working.

Beta-alanine may be a useful tool in overcoming training plateaus. Beta-alanine combined with creatine may be an incredible combination for increasing muscular output. While one is not necessarily going to replace the other, used together they can lead to dramatic results.