Is Sports Performance Really Improved With Alanine Supplementation ?

Fit people doing press-ups on the gym floor.
L-alanine is a notable supplement for intense exercising. Photo by Ambro. Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Competitors looking for advantages will try sports products in the hope of boosting performance or minimising the time to recover. One such ingredient β-alanine has been touted to improve muscle performance and reduce tiredness, especially during high intensity or endurance exercise.

EFSA have already knocked many of the claims for beta-alanine on the head when they rejected  Article 13.1 claims relating to  improved physical performance during short-term high intensity exercise, an increase in time to exhaustion and an increase in muscle carnosine stores (EFSA, 2010).

Two studies illustrate some of the confusion that has troubled users of alanine supplements.

The supplement, β-alanine is an amino-acid which is required for muscle carnosine manufacture and general protein synthesis. Early studies from the University of Chichester (UK) showed that supplementation with β-alanine (CarnoSyn™) helped to improve the capacity for anaerobic exercise and increased endurance (Hill et al., 2007). One study involving 25 males, was a high intensity cycle test which determined total work done (TWD) at 110% of their maximum power (Wmax). Half the subjects received the supplement, the other a placebo. After 10 weeks study, muscle carnosine had increased by 80% in the supplement fed subjects. The increases were seen in both type I and IIa muscle fibres but not the control subjects.

A following study at the same Sports Institute showed that β-alanine supplementation may not achieve the endurance results desired. The study, a 10-week strength training exercise involved 26 healthy subjects, half of which received β-alanine and the other received the placebo (Kendrick et al., 2008). Whole body strength, their isokinetic force production, muscular endurance and body composition were measured before and after the training. The researchers found that the carnosine content increased significantly in those fed β-alanine whereas there was no difference in the placebo group. Unfortunately, there were no differences between either groups for the other factors at the end of the study. The study also demonstrated that strength training does not increase muscle carnosine levels.

Subsequent studies demonstrated that β-alanine alone regulates muscle carnosine synthesis and that training itself has little impact on its levels (Kendrick et al., 2009). Much of the evidence for the use of alanine supplementation has been reviewed (Culbertson et al., 2010; Sale et al., 2010). It is the case that carnosine itself could be used as a supplement given the aim is to improve its synthesis in muscle. This too is a supplement and will be reviewed in an additional post on its benefits in improving sports performance.

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References

Culbertson, J.Y., Kreider R.B., Greenwood, M., Cooke, M. (2010) Effects of Beta-Alanine on Muscle Carnosine and Exercise Performance: A Review of the Current Literature. Nutrients 2(1), pp. 75-98

EFSA (2010) EFSA Journal 2010;8(10):1729

Hill, C.A., Harris, R.C., Kim, H.J., Harris, B.D., Sale, C., Boobis, L.H., Kim, C.K., Wise, J.A. (2007) Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids 32 pp. 225–233

Kendrick, I.P., Harris, R.C., Kim, H.J., Kim, C.K., Dang, V.H., Lam, T.Q., Bui, T.T., Smith, M., Wise, J.A. (2008) The effects of 10 wk. of resistance training combined with beta-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino Acids 34 pp. 547–554

Kendrick, I.P., Kim, H.J., Harris, R.C., Kim, C.K., Dang, V.H., Lam, T.Q., Bui, T.T., Wise, J.A. (2009) The effect of 4 weeks beta-alanine supplementation and isokinetic training on carnosine concentrations in type I and II human skeletal muscle fibers. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 106, pp.131-138. doi:10.1007/s00421-009-0998-5;

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