Whether it’s balancing a life full of family duties or a demanding career (or both!) life can sometimes ask a lot of an athlete and leave them feeling depleted before they even set foot in the gym for the day.
The addition of a pre-workout stimulant can be really enticing, especially for those that are balancing a full schedule. Beyond something simple like a black coffee or caffeine pill, many companies market pre-workout supplements with ingredients that claim to give you a boost in energy or strength.
One of those ingredients is beta-alanine. But should you take beta-alanine pre-workout? Let’s find out.
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that has long been beloved by strength and endurance athletes alike.
Unlike many other amino acids, beta-alanine does not assist with protein synthesis. Rather, it helps to produce carnosine which is stored in skeletal muscles. The availability of carnosine can reduce lactic acid in the muscles. This is directly linked to improved athletic performance, which is great news for athletes.
This lessening of acid within the muscles also means the body doesn’t get as fatigued. A less fatigued body is more likely to be able to push harder in the gym and build muscle more quickly.
What Does Beta-Alanine Do for You?
A common unit of measure in fitness circles is TTE, or time to exhaustion. This is quantifying how long a body can stay under pressure before failure. For bodybuilders, this means measuring the number of repetitions of a lift or a higher weight limit before hitting the point of failure (or inability to complete an exercise with good form intact).
Having adequate beta-alanine in one’s system can increase the load they can endure which means they can push farther before reaching exhaustion. The further an athlete can push themselves during each workout, the more quickly they can reach their goals.
Benefits of Supplementing Beta-Alanine Pre-Workout
Beta-alanine will be most attractive to athletes who struggle to fight fatigue in the gym. If you are an athlete struggling with your last few sets because of energy depletion, adding a pre-workout supplement with beta-alanine might be very beneficial.
Beyond fatigue-fighting, it can also increase overall endurance when working out. This can be great for bodybuilders that are prepping for a show in the coming weeks and may be having to add a significant amount of cardiovascular exercise. The combination of eating at a caloric deficit and increased cardio can leave energy reserves depleted very quickly.
What’s an Effective Dose of Beta-Alanine?
Most studies conducted on adults taking beta-alanine have athletes consuming between 4-6 grams per day before a workout.
When researching pre-workout supplements, you will likely find dosages between 3-6 grams per serving on average. With stimulants, it is always advantageous to work with the minimum dose necessary to avoid overconsumption. Start with a half dose and work your way up incrementally until you get the desired effect.
Common Side Effects of Beta-Alanine?
The side effect most commonly noticed by athletes is an itching or tingling sensation under the skin. This is most often noticed where the skin is somewhat thinner, like the forearms, face, neck, and chest. Some barely notice this and equate it to a light buzzing sensation. Others may find the itching to feel quite intense and more like an allergic reaction that they can’t help but scratch at.
Others may also notice a tingling in their scalp or ears, which again can vary. If you have never taken a pre-workout supplement that includes beta-alanine, consider starting with a partial dose at first to monitor how the side effects manifest in your body. If you don’t find them bothersome or agitating, slowly increase your dose incrementally until you are satisfied.
What Causes the Beta-Alanine Tingle?
The exact cause for the notorious tingle simmering under the skin that accompanies beta-alanine supplementation is still a bit unclear. What we do know is it likely isn’t an allergy. As a best guess, some researchers have linked beta-alanine to sensory neurons in the brain and in the skin. These pathways can feel ignited when activated and can be the cause of the sensation.
Those that don’t enjoy the feeling may worry that it is unsafe, but that is not the case. While it may be a nuisance, it is not directly related to any sort of adverse effect that is worrisome. If you’ve ingested too much beta-alanine and want to dampen down the feeling, try ingesting some slow-digesting carbohydrates like oats to help your body slow down the digestion of the beta-alanine.
Is Beta-Alanine Necessary to Take Pre-Workout?
If you’ve got a gym buddy that swears by their beta-alanine-infused pre-workout, but you just can’t get on board with the itching or tingling, never fear. It is never necessary to take beta-alanine before a workout, or any stimulant at all for that matter.
If you are looking for a buzz without the tingle, try a cup of black tea, coffee, or even a standard energy drink to try and get a good boost. For those that don’t want to ingest another beverage besides water, they even make caffeine pills that are quick and convenient.
If your body happens to be sensitive to all stimulants, including amino acids and caffeine, that is perfectly normal too. Try to rearrange your schedule so that you can carve out gym time during a time of day when you have the most energy.
Also, make sure you’re hitting your macronutrient goals and getting adequate rest – a properly fueled and well-rested body will not have to fight signs of fatigue nearly as hard as someone who is depleted.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that can be combined with caffeine to have an explosive effect for some athletes in the gym. The addition of the supplement (and its noticeable side effects) is polarizing – some athletes love the tingle, and some find it far too distracting.
Luckily for us, there are pre-workout supplements with a healthy dose of beta-alanine and those that don’t include it at all, meaning everyone can find their ideal pre-workout boost that suits their body and preferences.
Remember to exercise moderation with any stimulants, and start with low doses before working your way up.