Beta-alanine is a non-proteogenic amino acid that is produced endogenously in the liver. In addition, it is acquired through the consumption of poultry and meat, and increasingly over the last 10 years, in sports nutrition products and supplements.
Several studies have shown that supplementation of beta-alanine – which is legal under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules - can increase muscle carnosine levels and intramuscular buffering capacity, as well as improving high intensity and intermittent exercise.
However, little had been known about the beta alanine supplement behaviours of professional athletes, states the study, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
University of Queensland School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences researcher Vince Kelly surveyed 570 athletes for his research, and discovered a clear lack of understanding about the supplements benefits, effects and recommended use.
He discovered only 35% of Australian professional footballers and rugby players were able to identify the benefits of a supplement they were taking, and 48% admitted to never reading the labels.
“The athletes surveyed consisted of 303 from the Australian Football League, 180 National Rugby League and 87 from Super Rugby,” said Kelly.
“It’s practically unheard of to gain participation by that many professional footballers in Australia.”
Lack of research
Kelly found only 11% of those surveyed completed their own research on beta-alanine and 48% said they never read the labels prior to ingestion.
“The majority of respondents were not using beta alanine in accordance with recommendations,” added Kelly.
Many grossly underestimated the time required for beta alanine to take effect, with almost half of the National Rugby League players surveyed believing it worked in less than 30 minutes, rather than two months.
In contrast to past studies on consumption of creatine, where 75% of consumers ingested too much, the study showed less than 20% of athletes were taking beta-alanine frequently enough or in large enough quantities to comply with recommendations.
“Fifteen per cent of all participants were supplementing with the recommended dosage of 4–6 g a day, whilst 50% were consuming less than half the recommended daily dose. [Super Rugby] players were the most likely to be consuming the recommended does and reported the highest percentage (25%) of recommend use,” reported the study.
Significant proportions of the also athletes wrongly associated the supplement with gains in cardiovascular endurance (20%) and increased strength and muscle mass (16%).
“The reason why supplement companies love beta-alanine is because it gives the consumer an instant physical sensation, one of pins and needles,” Kelly said. “That reinforces the idea that it must work somehow.”
“Often you’ll hear athletes say things like ‘Give me some. I need the tingles’ even though it takes a prolonged time to make changes at a cellular level.”
The research concluded that better guidance and education was needed for players to fully understand what supplements they are taking and the benefits they can provide.
“Over half of the total number of respondents rated their knowledge of beta alanine as nil to limited and the majority of respondents were unsure of how long benefits would take to occur following the onset of supplementation,” the study concludes. “It appears that evidence…is not being clearly disseminated to athletes by the team dietitians and strength and conditioning coaches.”
Source: Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport
“Prevalence, knowledge and attitudes relating to β-alanine use among professional footballers.”
Authors: Vincent G Kelly, et al