Thursday, April 21, 2011

EAT TO GROW Beta-Alanine: No Age Limit More effective workouts for the geriatric generation by Jerry Brainum

What causes muscle fatigue? One theory holds that a rise in the acid produced in muscle during exercise interferes with the normal production of energy. The body combats it by releasing natural buffers. In muscle the two primary natural buffers are phosphate and carnosine. Carnosine is a dipeptide, meaning that it’s composed of two bonded amino acids, in this case histidine and beta-alanine. Muscle contains more than enough histidine to synthesize carnosine, so the limiting factor for carnosine synthesis in muscle is beta-alanine. The body can get it from two sources: a breakdown of uracil, a primary component of RNA, in the liver; and from the degradation of carnosine itself, usually eaten in meat. That natural source is, however, limited. Many studies that I’ve discussed in past issues of IRON MAN show that taking four to six grams of supplemental beta-alanine a day increases muscle carnosine by as much as 60 percent after only 28 days of supplementation. Taking the beta-alanine for another 35 days boosts carnosine another 20 percent.

When supplied to young adults, age range 18 to 30, at a dose of 6.4 grams daily, beta-alanine increased work capacity before fatigue by 12 to 15 percent after 28 days. What about older people? Would carnosine lower muscle fatigue for them too? Many older people don’t eat a lot of the richest natural source of carnosine, red meat. In addition, enzymes rapidly degrade most of the carnosine from food—which does liberate some beta-alanine in the body. Nonetheless, one study of older people found that their type 2 muscle fibers—where carnosine concentrates, since they’re highly prone to increased acid production—contained 47 percent less carnosine than those of younger people.

Increased carnosine in older people would lower the muscle-fatigue threshold, making exercise easier and more effective. In a recent study researchers gave 800 milligrams of beta-alanine—less than that usually supplied to younger people—three times a day for 90 days to 26 men and women, aged 55 to 92. Others received a placebo. Those in the beta-alanine group were able to exercise 28.6 percent more intensely before becoming fatigued. The exercise was done on a special type of stationary cycle. Those in the placebo group showed no changes.

While athletes and bodybuilders show increased muscle carnosine from the exercise alone, the older subjects were untrained, thus pointing to beta-alanine supplementation as the source of their increased resistance to fatigue. The implications is that beta-alanine is particularly useful for older people, since it makes it easier for them to engage in exercise. Exercise, in turn, is effective in helping to maintain physical and mental health and preventing the muscle frailty that is often the harbinger of mortality.

Stout, J., et al. (2008). The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on neuromuscular fatigue in elderly (55-92 years): A double-blind study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 5:21.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


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