by Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS
Looking to improve your functional threshold power? How about edging out your competition at the finish line sprint or attacking on the run up of a cyclocross race? All of these require specific training in certain power zones but this type of training is hard. Enter nutrition science and the supplement beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine has been getting quite a bit of attention in the cycling world lately and for good reason. There are some bold statements regarding its use as an ergogenic aid and it appears that the science actually supports the real world use among cyclists.
What is it?
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is naturally synthesized in the body. Its main function is to aid in the synthesis of carnosine, a dipeptide that is made up of the two amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. Carnosine is important because it can help in the reduction of muscular fatigue, leading to an increase in work capacity. Picture this. You are in the middle of a quad burning, out of the saddle climb when all of a sudden you are forced to sit, slow down and shake your head in disappointment because of the burning sensation in your legs. Maybe you trained too hard the day before. Maybe you didn’t have enough gears for the climb. Or maybe, your body wasn’t quite efficient enough at buffering the overwhelming number of hydrogen ions that were being produced from the intense effort. That’s where beta-alanine comes into play!
How it works
As I just mentioned, carnosine can help reduce the hydrogen ion buildup and the corresponding decrease in muscle pH (a decrease means more acidic which will impair cycling performance) by acting as a buffer to these hydrogen ions. Because beta-alanine is part of the carnosine dipeptide complex, supplementing with it can increase internal stores of carnosine and with that comes an increase in buffering capacity leading to more normal levels of muscle pH.
Why use it?
Beta-alanine supplementation has been well studied in research and has good results in athletes who are hitting threshold and VO2 power zones. Save the beta-alanine supplementation for times of the year when you are doing explosive training such as plyometrics, short punchy hill repeats, big gear sprints or shorter, more intense races such as crits, time trials or cross. No need to take beta-alanine if you are in an endurance training cycle or enjoying some lower intensity tour riding.
How and when to use it
If you are going to experiment with taking beta-alanine, research recommends doses of 3.2-6.4 grams per day for up to 12 weeks. Remember, only take this during higher intensity training cycles. It appears that the best results are noticed after about 4 weeks of supplementation so be sure to plan accordingly based on any races you have on the calendar.
Keep in mind that there is one small side effect. There have been some reports in athletes who experience small bouts of skin irritation, usually in the form of tingling. Remember sitting on your feet too long when you were a kid then getting up and feeling the “pins and needles”? That’s what I am talking about. Although, research says it only happens with higher doses (greater than 10 grams per day), I have noticed it does happen with more moderate doses but only last for about 7-10 days. It’s a slightly awkward feeling lasting for about 45-60 minutes after taking it.
Beta-alanine proves to be one nutrition supplement that is worth the money in trying . How much benefit you get will certainly depend but research shows a 3% or more improvement in performance.
Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, METS is a sport dietitian and elite triathlon coach. He traveled to the 2008 Summer Olympics as the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian and the personal Sport Dietitian for the 2008 Olympic Triathlon Team. He has served as coach for Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympian, was a performance team member (sport dietitian and strength coach) for Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist and was the coach of Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite Triathlete National Champion.
Bob's book, Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat, teaches athletes how to structure their nutrition and training program throughout the year to maximize their body's ability to use fat as energy and improve body composition. He also has a Metabolic Efficiency Recipe book in electronic format with over 100 metabolically efficient meals and snacks. For more information and to order the books, visit www.fuel4mance.com or contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org