Beta-alanine has become quite popular as a supplement that it is today because of its connection to carnosine, both of which are supplements associated with improving muscular endurance and athletic performance.
Beta-alanine (BA) is a non-essential beta-amino acid which is the antecedent to carnosine, a dipeptide that contains L-histidine.
Carnosine plays several important roles in the human body and is especially noted for its proton buffering effects.
That is, by absorbing positively charged hydrogen ions inside muscle tissues, carnosine acts to reduce intramuscular acidosis, helping to restore optimal pH levels of the muscle tissues, reduce muscular fatigue, prolong muscular endurance and facilitate recovery from vigorous physical activity.
Several research studies have shown that taking a beta-alanine supplement is more effective for increasing levels of carnosine in muscle tissue.
How Beta-Alanine Works in the Body
Beta-Alanine is a beta-amino acid, which means that it has its amino group in the second position away from its carboxylate group, and because of that, beta-alanine is not used for purposes of protein or enzyme synthesis in mammals but used to biosynthesize vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), anserine and carnosine.
The precise mechanisms in which beta-alanine enhances ergogenic functioning are not entirely agreed upon within the scientific community.
However, the agreement is that Beta Alanine’s performance-enhancing benefits come from increasing concentrations of carnosine inside the muscle tissues.
Several pieces of research have shown that routine oral administration of beta-alanine can increase intramuscular carnosine by up to 80%.
This increased carnosine concentration helps to buffer against the effects of lactic acid in muscles and works to reduce fatigue and improve exercise stamina.
For this reason, both long and short-distance runners take beta-alanine as do bodybuilders. They use this supplement so they can train harder and build muscle faster.
How Carnosine Works in the Body
Carnosine is concentrated in the muscles and found in little concentration inside the brain and other organs and tissues. The primary biological role of carnosine seems to be maintaining pH equilibrium by buffering hydrogen ions.
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD) states that carnosine is used for fighting the effects of aging, and can also be used to prevent or treat certain complications associated with kidney dysfunction, diabetes mellitus, and eye/vision disorders.
When we exercise at a high level of intensity, lactic acid is produced and accumulates in the muscles, causing pain in the muscles and resulting in premature fatigue.
But by buffering against the positively charged hydrogen ions (H+), carnosine checks acidosis in muscle cells and allows athletes to perform at a higher intensity for longer periods.
Furthermore, carnosine is being explored for its antiaging, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiglycation, anticancer, antidiabetic, cardioprotective, and neuroprotective properties.
Significant human research has been piloted on the effects of taking beta-alanine supplements, however, human research has been limited to the effects of carnosine administration.
Beta-Alanine Conversion to Carnosine
L-carnosine is a small dipeptide that is biosynthesized from beta-alanine and L-histidine. More specifically, beta-alanine is converted to carnosine by binding to histidine, which is another non-essential amino acid.
Beta-Alanine binds to histidine chemically through the actions of an enzyme called adenosine triphosphate-grasp domain-containing protein 1.
Beta-Alanine Vs Carnosine
In the body, carnosine is utilized as a lactic acid buffer, enzyme regulator, and free-radical fighter.
For bodybuilders or athletes, amplified carnosine levels mean more endurance, and greater power during times when performance would have suffered due to muscle fatigue.
Carnosine is great for athletes, but the problem is that we can’t simply take carnosine in large amounts.
Carnosine is degraded in the body by carnosinases long before it can enter our muscles.
Scientists have even debated whether supplementing with carnosine provides any true health benefits since most of it is broken down soon after you ingest it.
Fortunately, beta-alanine combined with histidine can be made into carnosine within the body.
In fact, beta-alanine is believed to be the rate-limiting step in carnosine production, making its supplementation more valuable for overall inter-muscular carnosine boosting.
Furthermore, glycation has been cited as one of the major causes of aging in the human body, and research continues to explore the anti-glycation effects of beta-alanine and carnosine.
In proteins, glycation occurs when a sugar (e.g glucose) is attached to a protein molecule without the help of an enzyme, and glycation is known to be an untargeted process that disturbs healthy molecular functioning.
All sugars (glucose, lactose, fructose, etc.) are reducing molecules, and reducing molecules donate hydrogen protons.
Thus, accumulations of these H+ (hydrogen ions) are detrimental to cellular health, but increasing beta-alanine and carnosine in the nourishment can help to buffer these hydrogen protons from the systems, preventing them from accumulating.
Beta-Alanine and Carnosine Side Effects
According to NMCD, beta-alanine side effects are rare, and only a small percentage of users have experienced irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, eyes, or skin.
The only other adverse effects associated with proper oral dosage is called transient paresthesia, which is a temporary feeling of tingling on the skin. It goes away naturally after some time.
To reduce the chances of experiencing paresthesia, it is best to break up daily dosages into smaller doses to be taken at intervals of three hours.
This reduces the probability of paresthesia and makes the best use of beta-alanine bio-availability for improved muscle strength and endurance.
Carnosine has been very well tolerated, but it is still best to speak with a doctor who understands your health history before beginning to use beta-alanine and/or carnosine supplementations.