Any self-respecting football, rugby or hockey trainer tortures his flock with interval training. And rightly so, as interval training makes athletes faster and more agile. And athletes that take beta-alanine as well make their interval training even more effective, according to an article published by sports scientists at the University of Oklahoma in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid [see its chemical structure here]. If you were to compile a Top Three of the most effective sports supplements, they would all contain beta-alanine. The effects are not dramatic, but they are convincing.
Beta-alanine is a precursor of the dipeptide carnosine. If you take beta-alanine, your muscle cells convert it, together with the amino acid histidine, into carnosine. Carnosine is a buffer. It neutralises the hydrogen ions that build up in hard-working muscles. If the concentration of hydrogen ions gets too high, the muscle fibres can no longer contract well. So more carnosine in your muscle cells means heavier and more effective training sessions and less fatigue.
If you give beta-alanine to endurance athletes it probably improves their final sprint. If you give beta-alanine to strength athletes who also take creatine, it will enhance the effect of the creatine. If you give beta-alanine to elderly people, their muscles tire less quickly.
The researchers here wanted to know what effect beta-alanine has on athletes who do interval training. So they did an experiment with 46 athletic male students, and got them to do interval training 3 times a week for 6 weeks. Every training session the students cycled 5-6 times intensively for 2 minutes. Between sets they rested for 1 minute. The intensity increased gradually over the 6 weeks. The students started at 90 percent of their VO2max and by the end of the 6 weeks they were cycling at 115 percent of their VO2max.
Half of the men were given a placebo, and the other half took 6 g beta-alanine daily for the first 3 weeks. After that the dose was halved. The athletes spread the supplement over 4 smaller doses each day.
The supplement extended the time that the athletes were able to cycle at 110 percent of their VO2max, as the table below shows. You can also see that the beta-alanine enables the athletes to use more energy during their tests [i.e. were capable of doing more work].
The supplement had no effect on the subjects’ oxygen uptake. But the ones who took beta-alanine did gain nearly a kilo lean body mass, whereas the lean body mass in the placebo group remained pretty much constant.