Beta-alanine has long been a favorite of sports dietitians because of its ability to help maintain and promote muscle endurance and power output in athletes.* But beta-alanine is also being examined for its ability to support performance in the active aging population.*
Muscle loss due to aging, known as sarcopenia, is a natural part of life. Experts in this field estimate that, after age 50, adults lose as much as 1-2 percent of their muscle mass each year, with an accompanying loss of strength of 1.5-3 percent each year.
What does beta-alanine do for your muscles?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning it can be made in the body. It is made internally when the body breaks down the peptide carnosine in the brain, heart, and skeletal muscles to its component amino acids beta-alanine and histidine.
The process of converting glucose to energy in muscles produces lactic acid, which then breaks down into lactate and hydrogen. It is this increase in hydrogen ions in the muscle that increases muscular acidity, the primary contributor to fatigue and soreness. In muscle, carnosine serves as a “hydrogen scavenger,” meaning it mitigates the adverse impact of muscular acidity, which, in turn, increases muscle capacity and time-to-failure.*1,2
The presence of beta-alanine as a component of carnosine is a primary factor in promoting the ability of muscle to buffer the acid-producing hydrogen (H+) ions that are generated during rapid and intense energy production and use.*
Beta-alanine is commonly supplemented by athletes because it is an integral component of carnosine. However, this amino acid is important for optimal health for athletes and non-athletes alike.*
Carnosine versus beta-alanine
Whether or not you are an exercise enthusiast, maintaining an optimal intake of beta-alanine is especially important for older individuals for supporting an optimal level of carnosine in the body.*
Although carnosine levels tend to decline with age, they also can be low from diets consistently low in carnosine-containing foods. Carnosine is abundant in protein-rich foods, like milk, eggs, and cheese, with the best food sources of carnosine being beef, poultry, and pork products. This makes beta-alanine supplementation a reasonable consideration for aging populations, as well as individuals who have a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.3,4
In addition to its emerging role in buffering muscular acidity, carnosine has been shown to have significant antioxidant properties.*5,6 Carnosine also can play a positive role in chelating heavy metals, which in turn, reduces the production of harmful free radicals.*6
So, this might cause you to ask, why not just supplement with carnosine?
If you consume carnosine by itself, then your GI tract breaks it down into beta-alanine and histidine – its two amino acid constituents – and only a small amount of it is preserved. Similarly, carnosine supplements typically contain less than 50-percent beta-alanine, and beta-alanine is a rate-limiting amino acid when making carnosine in the muscles.
Therefore, to achieve an optimal carnosine level in your body, a more effective and efficient method is to supplement beta-alanine.*
Beta-alanine for active aging
Although a majority of the studies in the literature on beta-alanine and physical performance have been conducted on athletes, there is research that has identified significant performance improvement in older adults.*
Two studies found an improvement in physical working capacity in adults ages 65-767 and in neuromuscular fatigue in adults ages 55-92.8*
A 2016 study from the University of Buffalo examined the impact of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise capacity and exercise-associated cognitive decline.9 The researchers noted that while carnosine is found primarily in muscle, it is also found in the brain. Participants – average age 57 – were given 2.4 grams daily of beta-alanine or a placebo for four weeks. The beta-alanine group showed an average increase of eight minutes in time to exhaustion, while the placebo group showed an increase of only one minute.* In addition, the researchers noted a significant decline in performance in cognitive function in the placebo group post-exercise.
In the study, cognitive function was assessed using the Stroop Test – a well-known test in which subjects are presented a list of color words written in different colored fonts (for example, the word “green” written in red font) and timed on their ability to identify the font color. The test was given five minutes before exercise, immediately before exercise, immediately at the point of fatigue, and five minutes after fatigue. The beta-alanine group did not have a decline in the ability to correctly identify the colors at and after the point of fatigue, whereas the placebo group declined between measurements. A second study with the same study design by some of these same researchers found similar results.10
Such findings dictate further investigation into the impact on cognitive function of beta-alanine and carnosine concentrations in the brain.
As more and more researchers apply the learnings found in studying elite athletes to the active aging population, Thorne anticipates seeing more instances where nutritional supplements like beta-alanine can support performance at any level – from the Olympic podium to the local YMCA.
Whatever you’re trying to achieve, Thorne knows how personal your goals are to you, which is why we strive to continue providing the highest quality, research-backed supplements to help you reach them.
Consider adding Thorne’s Beta Alanine-SR to your daily supplement routine. And although it’s NSF Certified for Sport for use by professional athletes, you don’t have to be a serious or professional athlete to desire the benefits of beta-alanine for everyday health.
Dunnett M, Harris R. Influence of oral beta-alanine and L-histidine supplementation on the carnosine content of the gluteus medius. Equine Vet J Suppl 1999;30:499-504.
Harris R, Tallon M, Dunnett M, et al. The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids 2006;30(3):279-289.
Harris R, Jones G, Hill C, et al. The carnosine content of v lateralis in vegetarians and omnivores. FASEB J 2007;21(6):A944.
Everaert I, Mooyaart A, Baguet A, et al. Vegetarianism, female gender and increasing age, but not CNDP1 genotype, are associated with reduced muscle carnosine levels in humans. Amino Acids 2011;40(4):1221-1229.
Klebanov G, Teselkin Y, Babenkova I, et al. Effect of carnosine and its components on free-radical reactions. Membr Cell Biol 1998;12(1):89-99.
Kohen R, Yamamoto Y, Cundy KC, Ames BN. Antioxidant activity of carnosine, homocarnosine, and anserine present in muscle and brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1988;85(9):3175-3179.
McCormack W, Stout J, Emerson N, et al. Oral nutritional supplement fortified with beta-alanine improves physical working capacity in older adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Exp Gerontol 2013;48(9):933-939.
Stout J, Graves B, Smith A, et al. The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on neuromuscular fatigue in the elderly (55-92 years): a double-blind randomized study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008;5:21.
Furst T, Williams B, Massaro A, et al. Beta-alanine supplementation improved workload capacity and cognitive function of middle-age individuals. FASEB J 2016;30(1) Supplement:692-622.
Furst T, Massaro A, Miller C, et al. β-Alanine supplementation increased physical performance and improved executive function following endurance exercise in middle aged individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):32. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0238-7.