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The Health Benefits of Alanine

Alanine is an amino acid, a building block of protein. There are approximately one hundred amino acids, of which twenty are considered vital for a healthy human body and mind. These vital amino acids are known as ‘standard amino acids’. Of these twenty, half are synthesised by the body (these are called non-essential amino acids) and the rest must be found in food (essential amino acids).

All the twenty amino acids necessary for humans are proteinogenic, literally “protein-building”. In their various combinations they can form an almost limitless number of different proteins.
male bodyAlanine is a non-essential amino acid and is therefore produced by the body as and when it is needed. However, many athletes are finding that alanine supplementation can significantly improve their performance and for these reasons, alanine supplementation is growing in popularity. Alanine is produced in the muscles whenever lactate (lactic acid, “the burn”) is present.
Therefore, when muscles begin to fatigue due to stress and decreased oxygen levels, they produce alanine. The amino acid is then pumped by the blood to the liver, where it is metabolised into quick-burning glucose to help fuel the flagging muscles. It also aids in energy production by stimulating the pancreas in glucagon secretion. Its benefits for athletes are thus quite plain.
There are two strains of alanine: alpha-alanine and beta-alanine. The differences relate to the molecular structure, which in turn informs the function of the amino acid. It is beta-alanine that has shown to be the most beneficial supplement in relation to strength and conditioning work in athletes and bodybuilders.

Beta-alanine is often known to its advocates to produce a stimulant effect. As such, it is ideal if taken as a pre-workout supplement, allowing the participant to get the most from the amino acid and his/her workout.

sportsmanCarnosine is a dipeptide with powerful antioxidant properties. It has also been shown in trials to have anti-ageing properties and may reduce degenerative eye diseases, cataracts and even hinder the growth of some cancers. Carnosine levels also relate to muscle fatigue and the amount of force muscles can employ over time.

Beta-alanine levels in humans are directly proportional to carnosine levels. In other words beta-alanine limits the amount of carnosine in muscles. Supplementation with beta-alanine increases the concentration of carnosine and has been shown to decrease muscle fatigue in athletes 1. As men generally have higher concentrations of carnosine, beta-alanine supplementation may be especially helpful to female athletes and bodybuilders who are looking to bulk up.

Higher muscle carnosine concentrations have also been associated with a higher percentage of Type II ‘fast-twitch’ muscle fibres, which are prevalent in sprinters and any athlete needing short, explosive bursts of movement.

Here is a very good video explaining the science of the benefits Alanine provides as as as well as its sources, dosages, consumption period and more.

Grilled salmon As well as supplements, alanine can be found in any food which is rich in protein, most obviously poultry, meat, fish, dairy products, eggs. Avocadoes are also a good source of alanine for vegetarians or athletes simply looking to change up their diets.

It has been found that carnosine levels in vegetarians decrease significantly from as early as five weeks into a vegetarian diet. As such, beta-alanine supplementation may be especially helpful for vegetarian athletes.

 

Conclusion

There seems to be little doubt among athletes and sports bodies that beta-alanine can produce significant effects for an athlete. It should also be noted, however, that to date no studies have tested the amino acid as a supplement for longer than twelve weeks. For this reason alone, and combined with beta-alanine’s slow rate of decay in the muscles, it may be advisable to supplement for a period, say six weeks, and then take six weeks off, to minimise any as-yet-unknown side effects.

One side effect that has been noted is paresthesia, or pins and needles in the head and neck. The more supplement you take, or if taken on an empty stomach, the greater the likelihood of suffering transient paresthesia lasting anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes.

However, for those looking for that extra edge, this amino acid could well be that final building block towards athletic perfection. Only time and further studies will tell.

Related sources:

  1. “New World Encyclopedia