Beta-Alanine, the amino acid that supposedly is the "next creatine" is making huge waves in fitness and bodybuilding circles. Are the high hopes warranted? Current scientific reviews might dampen the enthusiasm a bit.
The Reviews Are In!
Two reviews have been published in recent years discussing the usefulness of beta-alanine as a supplement to enhance physical performance (1,2). Supplementation studies testing the efficacy of ergogenic aids very commonly have the key drawback of small sample sizes, diminishing statistical power. A meta-analysis allows the data to be pooled and holistically assessed reducing several disadvantages inherent within small studies.
For the first time, a meta-analysis has been performed on the effectiveness of beta-alanine (3). Published last month in Amino Acids, the study included only double-blind trials with a beta-alanine only group (vs placebo). In an analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials, a significant overall effect was observed for beta-alanine supplementation compared to placebo (P = 0.002). Results were then stratified into exercise performance, capacity and duration.
When exercise performance was measured, the effect of beta-alanine did not reach statistical significance (P = 0.204). There was however, a significant effect for exercise capacity (P = 0.013). Exercise duration was further stratified into bouts lasting <60 seconds, 60-240 seconds and >240 seconds. In the former case, there was no observed advantage (P = 0.312), while for exercise lasting 60-240 seconds, beta-alanine showed significant benefit (P = 0.001). But once exercise duration exceeded 240 seconds, the benefit largely attenuated (P = 0.046).
A Few Caveats
Firstly, the analyzed studies looked at running and cycling performance, not weightlifting per se. This makes it very difficult, if not totally impossible to extrapolate the benefits to a resistance training regimen. Further to this, it must be remembered that the duration of a conventional weightlifting set would not exceed 60 seconds, a duration period where beta-alanine showed no benefit anyway.
And secondly, with a total effect size of 2.85% its definitely important not to get too carried away with these results, given that this level of benefit would only be appreciable by an elite athlete. Despite glowing anecdotal reports, there is no reason to believe beta-alanine is 'the new creatine', not by a long-shot. Still, the results from this meta-analysis hold, but further research is required to confirm how effective beta-alanine really is for the layman.Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.