In female study populations ranging from young to old and various levels of physical fitness, the amino acid beta-alanine showed potential benefits.
Mark LeDoux | Dec 24, 2020
In the U.S., roughly half of all individuals over the age of 18 use some form of dietary supplementation, and similar figures are noted globally.1 The use of supplements is more common among male athletes than female athletes, however.
Surveys have shown a variety of reasons for supplement use, including overall health maintenance and deficiency management. Athletes report performance enhancement, muscle recovery and even mood support as benefits of their supplement use. Given the specific concerns and needs of female athletes, including bone and joint health, as well as mental health, scientific research continues to reveal the added benefits of supplementation in a female population.
According to the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, beta-alanine is an established, evidence-based performance supplement widely used by athletes across the globe.2 Beta-alanine increases muscle carnosine, preventing the acid buildup that contributes to soreness and fatigue. Studies have shown that this delay in the onset of muscle fatigue leads to increased endurance, extended training at increased intervals and reduced recovery time.3 Organizations such as the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommend proper supplementation with beta-alanine for the vital role it can play in improving athletes’ performance, including cognitive functioning and muscle and bone support.4 And beta-alanine supplementation is recommended for vegan athletes whose diet cannot supply optimal levels.
Supplementation with beta-alanine has been shown to have similar effects on both men and women, as well as noteworthy effects specific to women of varying ages and athletic abilities. In a research trial conducted specifically within the aging population of elite female cyclists, incremental effects were observed on the performance of masters-level female athletes.5 Supplementation of beta-alanine for 28 days increased performance via an extended time to exhaustion and the total work completed with associated lactate clearance during passive rest.
A similar 28-day trial studied the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on isokinetic exercise performance and body composition in female masters athletes.6 The study concluded that beta-alanine supplementation increased peak torque and capacity and improved lower-body exercise performance.
An examination was also made of the effects of 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation on the physical working capacity at both the fatigue and ventilatory thresholds, maximal oxygen consumption and time to exhaustion in women.7 The study noted improved submaximal cycle ergometry performance and time to exhaustion in young women, thought to have resulted from an increased buffering capacity due to elevated muscle carnosine concentrations.
A fourth beta-alanine study on women was conducted to evaluate the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on markers of oxidative stress.8 It was the first study to evaluate the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on in vivo antioxidant effects, and extended its use in both aerobic and anaerobic activities.
Finally, a study was conducted specifically on the effects of beta-alanine on body composition, muscular strength and endurance improvements among recreationally active females participating in progressive resistance training.9 The research suggested that over an eight-week period, progressive resistance training four times a week, combined with beta-alanine supplementation, may be effective for improving lower-body muscular endurance.
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that supports the synthesis of muscle carnosine in the body. It combines with the amino acid histidine to form the dipeptide called carnosine. Over time, carnosine acts as a buffer to help delay the onset of lactic acid and muscle fatigue and failure while building endurance and improving recovery.
Carnosine is a dipeptide, or a compound made up of two linked amino acids: beta-alanine and histidine. This compound is in the active tissues of the body, including the heart and the brain. Carnosine is instrumental in the improvement of muscle strength and performance during exercise.
Beta-alanine and carnosine work together during the process of glycolysis, or the breaking down of glucose to generate energy. For sustained or intermittent high-intensity exercise, glucose is the body’s primary energy source. When the intensity of a workout increases, equal amounts of lactate and hydrogen ions become the major end-products of glucose metabolism.
These highly reactive hydrogen ions cause a fall in pH in the muscle, a process also referred to as acidification. Throughout a workout, hydrogen ions can be actively transported from the muscle cells and into the circulatory system. However, at higher exercise intensities, the rate of hydrogen ion production becomes increasingly insufficient. Progressive acidification may then occur, especially in the strength-generating fast-twitch muscle fibers.
As the muscle pH falls, it exacerbates the onset of fatigue. This rise in acidity compromises the proteins responsible for power generation and shortening of the muscle fibers. Essentially, carnosine buffers that pH decline. When histidine attaches to beta-alanine, it takes on an additional hydrogen ion. The histidine half of the carnosine molecule acts as a buffer, while the beta-alanine prevents the histidine from combining with other amino acids to form proteins. As a result, high concentrations of carnosine accumulate in the muscle cells. High concentrations of carnosine act as a buffer to delay or prevent muscle fatigue.
Beta-alanine, the key building block of carnosine, is well known for its buffering pH capacity; however, supplementation with beta-alanine also offers comprehensive wellness support. Carnosine’s antioxidant and anti-glycation can improve heart function and lung capacity, as well as promote healthy aging.10 Such benefits are especially evident in the studies conducted on master athletes when different activity levels were measured before and after supplementation.
The strong anti-glycation ability of carnosine specifically protects the brain and supports cognitive function and mental acuity.11 It also decreases everyday occasional anxiety, supports memory, delays mental fatigue, speeds up executive function and increases focus.12 Such mental support has been shown to be a tremendous asset for a wide variety of individuals from female athletes to aging women. Similarly, since carnosine helps regulate muscle contractions and prevents lipid peroxidation in the body, significant potential benefits are available to heart health.10 The same review indicated supplementation with beta-alanine supports healthy circulation and already-healthy blood pressure levels through vasodilation.
Additional benefits include improved muscle function, systemic protection and bone health.13 Promoting muscle quality and optimal function is vital in supporting the musculoskeletal frame, aiding balance, and maintaining strength for both athletic and everyday activity. Beta-alanine supplementation has even been shown to improve physical working capacity in older adults.14 Through its anti-glycation action, carnosine benefits bone and joint health.10 Supplementation can thus contribute to overall skeletal integrity by directly protecting bone structure and supporting muscle function. Carnosine also chelates heavy metals, supports blood sugar levels already in the healthy range and supports healthy immune system response.10 The same review indicated its antioxidant properties protect against free radicals throughout the body.
Finally, carnosine levels naturally decrease with age. Supplementing with beta-alanine (as SR CarnoSyn, from NAI) was shown to increase muscle carnosine content and improve the physical capacity of aging adults.12
Supplementing with beta-alanine may offer significant benefits for female athletes, from improving physical performance to gaining comprehensive wellness support.
Mark A. LeDoux is founder, chairman and CEO of Natural Alternatives International Inc. (NAI), an organization established in 1980 with facilities in the U.S. and Switzerland engaged in the research, design and manufacture of nutritional supplement programs and products for multinational clients. He is a proud member and leader of many industry organizations.
1 Maughan RJ et al. “IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete.” Br J Sports Med. 2018;52:439-455.
2 Peeling P et al. “Evidence-Based Supplements for the Enhancement of Athletic Performance.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018;28(2):178-187.
3 Hoffman JR, Varanoske A, Stout JR. “Effects of β-Alanine Supplementation on Carnosine Elevation and Physiological Performance.” Adv Food Nutr Res. 2018;84:183-206.
4 Trexler ET et al. “International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:30.
5 Glenn JM et al. “Incremental effects of 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation on high-intensity cycling performance and blood lactate in masters female cyclists.” Amino Acids. 2015;47(12):2593-2600.
6 Glenn JM et al. “Effects of 28-Day Beta-Alanine Supplementation on Isokinetic Exercise Performance and Body Composition in Female Masters Athletes.” J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(1):200-207.
7 Stout JR et al. “Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women.” Amino Acids. 2007;32(3):381-386.
8 Smith AE et al. “Exercise-induced oxidative stress: the effects of β-alanine supplementation in women.” Amino Acids. 2012;43(1):77-90.
9 Outlaw JJ et al. “Effects of β-Alanine on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Women.” J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(9):2627-2637.
10 Hipkiss AR. “Carnosine and its possible roles in nutrition and health.” Adv Food Nutr Res. 2009;57:87-154.
11 Furst T et al. “β-Alanine supplementation increased physical performance and improved executive function following endurance exercise in middle aged individuals.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15:32.
12 Del Favero S et al. “Beta-alanine (Carnosyn) supplementation in elderly subjects (60-80 years): effects on muscle carnosine content and physical capacity.” Amino Acids. 2012;43(1):49-56.
13 Stout JR et al. “The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on neuromuscular fatigue in elderly (55-92 Years): a double-blind randomized study.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:21.
14 McCormack WP. “Oral nutritional supplement fortified with beta-alanine improves physical working capacity in older adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled study.” Exp Gerontol. 2013;48(9):933-939.