Beta-alanine is an amino acid of the beta class and it has grown popularity in the exercise and sports world because of some of the specific effects it has been said to have such as enhancing performance during cycling (1). For this literature review, the effect of beta-alanine on someone’s performance during endurance activities will be the primary focus. It has been said to produce this effect because it has the ability to increase muscular carnosine levels, which allows carnosine to continually perform it’s buffering effect on acid build-up in the muscles and inhibit the effects of fatigue (2). The activation of this process in relation to the claims made about beta-alanine regarding its effects on improving endurance performance in individuals will be focused on in this literature review.
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The first claim that will be discussed is the claim that is supposed to be how beta-alanine supplementation begins what is supposed to lead to it improving endurance performance. This claim that will be focused on is that beta-alanine supplementation leads to increased carnosine levels in the body (specifically the muscles). All the studies in this review refer to beta-alanine supplementation increasing carnosine levels in the body. For example, a study in 2014 stated that beta alanine leads to increased carnosine levels in males and females (3). In regards to endurance performance, a study performed in 2009 found that beta-alanine supplementation was effective in increasing power output in individuals while they were sprinting compared to the placebo group, resulting in better sprinting performance (1). Another study performed in 2015; however, stated that for performance beta-alanine supplementation does not produce significant effects, but in regards to exercise capacity it is effective (5). Regarding this claim, none of the articles seemed to have a specific time frame for when beta-alanine supplementation would lead to increased carnosine levels in the body. This is possibly because not enough research has been done on the topic to specify a time frame or that it isn’t fully understood when the effects of beta-alanine are supposed to kick in. The studies in the research articles also utilized various doses of beta-alanine and its effect of increasing carnosine levels in the muscle took effect for each of the varying doses that were used. For example, one study had its participants in an experimental group supplement 0.1 g/kg beta-alanine (4), while another study had its participants in an experimental group take an acute dose of 1.6 g of beta-alanine (3). This was likely the case because there isn’t an agreed upon amount for the minimum amount of beta-alanine that needs to be supplemented for this effect to begin. The other reason this is likely the case is because the amount varies depending on a multitude of factors such as age, gender, activity level, and body size. Lastly, the studies had different lengths, and this is another factor that could have affected how much beta-alanine an experiment group would have to supplement.
After the beginning process of beta-alanine increasing muscular levels of carnosine in the muscles, these increased levels of carnosine are claimed to lead to it performing functions that can help with the performance of endurance activities. One of these claims is that beta-alanine supplementation can lead to reduced acidity in muscles. According to a meta-analysis done in 2011, fatigue can be caused by the buildup of hydrogen ions in the muscle because this buildup can impair important processes such as phosphorylcreatine resynthesis, glycolysis, and the contractile machinery of muscle (5). This same meta-analysis done in 2011 also states that carnosine is one of the physicochemical buffers in the body that provide defense against local changes in pH (5). There were other research articles that are a part of this review that mention the buffering activity of carnosine within the body so this claim that beta-alanine supplementation can lead to reduced acidity in the muscles is supported by the research. Lactate production in the body can occur due to decreased levels of oxygen and this buildup of lactate decreases the pH within the body as stated above, resulting in multiple consequences to metabolism within the body. According to a study performed in 2011, the experiment group that supplemented beta-alanine compared to the control group for an incremental test performed on a treadmill demonstrated better performance (6). In opposition to this support for beta-alanine improving endurance performance, a study performed in 2015 stated that beta-alanine supplementation is not effective for activities lasting less than sixty seconds (7). The research articles in this review don’t explain the amount of carnosine needed within the body for the buffering capabilities of carnosine to be effective. This in turn means there isn’t information on how much beta-alanine you should take for carnosine in the body to be plentiful enough to perform it’s buffering function optimally while exercising. This is possibly the case because the amount of carnosine needed by someone depends on factors such as age, genes, activity level, and gender. Another reason for this information not being available is because more research is needed on the topic of the optimal amount of carnosine needed in the body for optimal buffering activity to occur in its presence.
The next claim that will be focused on is beta-alanine reducing the overall effects of fatigue. In a study performed in 2017, it was mentioned that the supplementation of beta-alanine increasing the carnosine amount in fast and slow twitch fibers leads to the buffering capabilities of muscle being improved and fatigue being delayed (8). Slow and fast twitch fibers can be utilized for a variety of endurance activities ranging from lower intensity exercises like walking to higher intensity exercises like running. This type of info coming from a research article signifies the support for the claim made about beta-alanine reducing the effects of fatigue. In this same study performed in 2017, it was mentioned that the group that used beta-alanine supplementation for the experiment demonstrated increased training effects for the RAST (running based anaerobic test) and twenty-minute multistage shuttle run test compared to the control group (8). High intensity activities like sprinting can cause someone to fatigue rapidly based on the increased needs for energy as exercise intensity goes up. Since fatigue is a factor that will hinder performance in endurance activities like sprinting, anything that can function in reducing this effect will be desirable by people performing these activities. This study provided a practical example of the reducing fatigue effects claimed of beta-alanine being put to the test. In a study done in 2014, it was stated that beta-alanine supplementation did not produce an ergogenic effect in relation to the effects low oxygen can have on someone during a workout (9). This provides a practical example that goes against what many articles in this review state about beta-alanine being effective in reducing the effects of fatigue. The condition of this study; however, was in low oxygen conditions so that may have been the determining factor in beta-alanine not being effective for the endurance performance of the subjects in the study. On the other end, it does provide a counter to the claim that beta-alanine reduces the effects of fatigue, so it is notable information that must be accounted for in this review.
The next claim that will be discussed in relation to beta-alanine improving endurance performance is that beta-alanine supplementation enhances high intensity workout capacity. Multiple endurance activities require someone to increase their intensity to a high level and these types of activities can lead to exhaustion and fatigue very quickly. In a study performed in 2015, it was stated that beta-alanine supplementation has led to increased workout capacity in a variety of endurance type activities such as cycling and running (7). As stated earlier in this view by various studies, beta-alanine can lead to increased carnosine levels in the muscles and this carnosine has buffering activity which is used to counteract the effects of acid build up. High intensity workouts can trigger the buildup of acid in muscles rapidly and the buildup of carnosine to counteract this effect is essential for someone working who is trying to improve their high intensity workout capacity. This same study performed in 2015 stated that beta-alanine supplementation had effects that were beneficial for quick workouts lasting a minute to four minutes in length (7). Many high intensity activities have a short duration for time and people will be looking for ways to have better workout capacity when working at this type of intensity. There are high intensity activities that can have longer durations like a basketball competition, but the types of movements that are performed during some activities like these require a short burst of action. In a study performed in 2009, it was mentioned that beta-alanine supplementation produced longer times to exhaustion in experimental group compared to the placebo group, but the time differences were not significant (1). In regards to endurance performance, time to exhaustion is an important factor in relation to high intensity workout capacity, so this finding from the study provides information that goes against beta-alanine supplementation being effective for improving endurance performance. More research will need to be done to cover all the different factors of high intensity exercises that need to be accounted for and beta-alanine supplementations relation to them.
Side effects are a topic of concern for any supplement and they should be discussed in regards to reviewing any potential supplement that could be intook. The magazine articles that were reviewed all had no mention of a side effect other than a pins and needles feeling known as paresthesia. These same magazine articles also stated that there were not any significant side effects that were associated with beta-alanine supplementation. The research studies support the claim that so far there are no other notable side effects associated with beta-alanine supplementation other than paresthesia. According to a meta-analysis performed in 2015, multiple studies have reported that beta-alanine supplementation (typically at higher doses) has been associated with someone having paresthesia and that supplementation has not affected clinical markers of health (5). From what has been studied up to this point, beta-alanine supplementation could be “safe” but further research is still necessary on this topic to see what new side effects may arise from supplementation of beta-alanine.
The effects of beta-alanine supplementation on endurance in regards to an individual being trained or untrained is another important topic to discuss. The magazine articles did not bring up the effects of beta-alanine supplementation in regards to this topic, but the research studies in this review produced results based on subjects being trained or untrained. The results produced by the studies in regards to beta-alanine supplementation and its effects on improving endurance performance were mixed in relation to the subjects being untrained or trained. Athletes (whether recreational or elite) will likely be the population that is most interested in the effects beta-alanine can have on endurance performance, but if it can benefit those who are not trained then it can serve as something untrained individuals could utilize as they increase their training level. One specific example in regards to the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on trained versus untrained people was demonstrated by a study performed in 2014 that stated that the buildup of carnosine in the gastrocnemius muscle was greater for trained athletes vs untrained athletes (10). For trained athletes beta-alanine supplementation may produce more pronounced effects in comparison to untrained individuals for endurance performance, but overall both groups will have mixed results based on how well beta-alanine will be able to improve endurance performance.
Finally, the topic of cost will be reviewed. Based on price ranges presented by the amazon company website, beta-alanine prices range from about ten to thirty dollars in price. The cost of the product is an important topic to consider because if people are going to put their money into purchasing a supplement for its claimed effects, they’d want it to work for them. Beta-alanine supplements aren’t too costly overall, but for performance effects that aren’t conclusive, the price they are ranged at may not be worth it for an individual.
The next discussion will begin with the weaknesses that the magazine articles demonstrated. One of these glaring weaknesses is the lack or absence of supporting articles for the information that was stated in these articles. It’s difficult for any body of information to exhibit credibility when there isn’t any peer-reviewed article evidence supporting it. Without this support from scientific evidence, the information isn’t any more credible than most things you find while looking up information on google. One of the magazine articles did have one scientific article that was used as a reference, but that isn’t nearly enough for information to be taken seriously among professionals in a specific field. This type of information may be seen as legitimate and credible by many people, and this kind of misinformation is detrimental to a population’s knowledge about a subject. Another weakness that was demonstrated by the magazine articles was the credibility of the authors. In the article “Why Beta-Alanine works”, the author is a sports nutritionist. Anybody can claim to be a “nutritionist”, and this is an issue that can lead to people being misinformed about nutrition topics. These people who classify themselves as “sports nutritionists” do not possess the necessary credentials or knowledge/experience to talk about supplements that a registered dietitian has. Unfortunately, this person is giving out info on an active ingredient in a supplement that could have adverse effects on someone depending on factors like what medications they are taking. This self-proclaimed sports nutritionist could be endangering readers of the information they are putting into articles. The article “New Info on Beta-Alanine” has an author that is classified as a “top researcher”. This classification doesn’t inform people what makes this person a top researcher and it doesn’t tell what credentials they possess. It is contradictory for anyone to be stated to be a “top” anything without some credential showcasing that. As stated about the other article’s author, this can be dangerous because readers will assume this person’s information is true just because of some key words that signal to them that someone is credible like “scientist” or “researcher”. The title “top researcher” looks appealing to readers, but it can mislead them about the legitimacy of that person in relation to the information they are talking about. Also, anyone can claim to be “top” in regards to any subject, but whether that is backed up properly is a whole different matter in itself. The article “Supplement Guide: Beta-Alanine” does not have any author listed so the credibility of that person cannot be evaluated. This is an issue though because no one can know the background on the person who put the information up for this article. A credible author for the subject would likely present themselves in that manner by having their name and credentials stated somewhere in an article. Two of the articles “Supplement Guide: Beta-Alanine” and “Why Beta-Alanine Works” provided a dosage recommendation for beta-alanine supplementation and this is a weakness that must be addressed. The recommended dosage for supplementing different ingredients is not regulated (at least not heavily) by regulatory authorities and this is a big safety concern. Someone can take this information as being a definite truth and it can lead to adverse consequences for them. This dosage recommendation ties in with the credibility of the authors in these magazine articles and further demonstrates the weakness of the articles.
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Moving on to the discussion of the strengths of the magazine articles, one of the articles did not present a dosage recommendation for beta-alanine supplementation. There is plenty of research that must be done on the safe amounts of intake for a supplement and recommendations can’t be given loosely when that can lead to someone harming their health in a major way. This article not putting dosage recommendations is the safe side of the topic to take until more research is performed. None of the articles explicitly state that the claims made about beta-alanine are definitive truths. This shows that those who wrote these articles at least acknowledge that what they are supporting isn’t completely the truth and that more research is necessary to better back up the claims. Some of the supporting articles are not even referenced and one of the articles only referenced a single study, but many lay information articles don’t even do that much so that is a strength of the magazine articles.
The next topic that will be discussed is the weaknesses of the research articles. To start, the studies in the research articles contained small sample sizes across the board. The highest amount of people in a study didn’t even surpass the sixties for the amount of people and most were in the ten to twenty range for participants. This is a concern because small sample sizes for studies don’t represent the varying populations in the world effectively. Even if multiple studies show similar results for what is being experimented on, the small sample sizes will always have people questioning the size of the study in relation to the results that are discovered for an experiment. Some of the studies had only male or female participants. Males and females have distinct physiological differences and it’s hard to show how effective a supplement is if one sex group has no representation in a study. Aside from representation, people will have issues relating to the information in a study if they are a male or female and no one of that group is within in a study. Some of the studies only focused on a specific age group like young males or older citizens. Even if some studies have the aim of focusing on a specific age group, it doesn’t change that these studies are not properly representing the other age groups that are not included. Across the life cycle, there are many physiological changes that occur and many physiological differences between different age groups. For example, older citizens who age from the age of fifty and up don’t absorb nutrients as well as those who are younger than them. This is just one way in which the effects of a supplement would differ in one age group compared to another. These age group differences are very important to consider for someone who wants to start utilizing a supplement and it’s beneficial to the credibility of a study if as many age groups as possible are represented in it. The articles in the study did use a variety of methods that involved testing the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on endurance performance; however, the research articles in this review did not have a test on the supplements effect for a longer duration endurance activity. The energy and performance requirements for longer duration activities are vastly different, so it would better support the claims about beta-alanine supplementation improving endurance performance with this topic researched and covered. The type of tests that were used included activities such as a quick spring and running on a treadmill. With this being the case, more research will need to be developed on activities such as marathon or cross-country events. The research studies in this review did not measure the blood levels of beta-alanine for individuals. This type of information would be beneficial to see how increasing beta-alanine levels in the body through supplementation can lead to the increase of carnosine in the body and use this value to compare the effects of beta-alanine supplementation for the experiment group in comparison to the group that is receiving a placebo. As mentioned earlier in this review, the research articles did not have any dosage that could be recommended for people to intake. The dosage amounts were all over the place and the results produced by each article were likely skewed by the differing dose amounts. Combining the various dose amounts with the effects of supplementation that is acute over done for a longer duration of time before the study activity was performed, it makes the results less uniform because there isn’t a range specified for how much should be taken to produce ergogenic effects.
The next topic to be discussed will be the strengths of the research articles. The research articles all contained studies that utilized a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. This is beneficial because using double blind studies can prevent bias from researchers since they’d know who would be in what group for an experiment. A double-blind study can also prevent participants from demonstrating the effects they expect from the group that they are placed in. A double-blind study preventing these things is a way to increase the legitimacy of a study and to prevent these factors from skewing the results of an experiment. Continuing with the topic of study design, the studies in the research articles also did an effective job of controlling for factors that could skew the results in unwanted ways. The studies in these articles would make sure that before being tested to see the results that beta-alanine would have on endurance performance that factors such as time since last meal, environment for testing, and time since the last workout for an individual were properly accounted for so these factors wouldn’t impact the results that were produced. In doing this, these studies are addressing and preventing these variables from leading to results that wouldn’t be produced otherwise. Following these strengths, the next topic to be discussed is that some articles used multiple tests to demonstrate the effects of beta-alanine supplementation. No matter what is being experimented and studied, more tests means there are more ways to evaluate something and this is very essential for when testing the effects of something. One exercise test for seeing how beta-alanine affects endurance performance doesn’t show that the supplement can work under various conditions. A study utilizing more than one test to see the effects of something allows for the study to demonstrate what tests produced results supporting or not supporting the suggested effects. One article, “Beta-alanine (CarnosynTM) supplementation in elderly subjects (60–80 years): effects on muscle carnosine content and physical capacity”, had a study with an extensive length of eight months. Longer term studies like these allow for results to be gained for a longer period to see if the results remain consistent as time goes on. Most studies are not able to examine the long-term effects an item has on a person so the more months an experiment can run, the more results can be produced. This increases the credibility of a study as well and allows for stronger correlations to be made utilizing the results that were produced. Finally, some of the studies in the articles had variety in the ages represented. As mentioned earlier, there are many different aspects about people physiologically based on what age group they fall into. The more age groups that are present in a study, the more representative a study is of different populations of people.
The claims made for beta-alanine supplementation for its physiological effects on individuals have support behind them in regards to the research articles in this review. The performance effects of beta-alanine; however, have produced mixed results. In some different exercise tests, beta-alanine was shown to be effective in improving endurance performance for an activity but in other cases it does not produce a performance effect based on the articles in this review. This suggests that on a case by case basis, beta-alanine can be effective in improving endurance performance, but there isn’t a majority of evidence from the articles in this review backing this claim. There also is a lack in research on beta-alanine in relation to endurance events that are longer durations. This is the type of information that would be beneficial in showcasing if beta-alanine supplementation is effective for improving endurance performance. So in conclusion, beta-alanine will need more research in regards to its effects on the improvement of endurance performance and should be taken with caution in regards to this. Beta-alanine can also be obtained from food products in amounts that are significant, so the supplementation of beta-alanine is not necessary for improving beta-alanine amounts in the body that can be used for the synthesis of carnosine.
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