Breaking Down Beta-Alanine

by Erik Tremblay

What is it and What Does It’s Name Mean?

Beta Alanine is derived from the amino acid L-Alanine, as it’s name comes from the fact that it is the beta version of this amino acid. What do you mean the beta version? Well, amino acids can have different forms depending on how the molecule is structured. All amino acids contain nitrogen functional groups on their molecular structure, which is what makes them unique and is the reason these NH2 and NH3 groups are called amine functional groups (these nitrogen groups are used to build proteins that serve a variety of functions in your body). However, depending on where the Nitrogen functional group is bonded to on the molecule depends on whether it’s the “Alpha” version (this version is the common one which is normally just referred to as “L-name of the amino” for example L-Alanine) or the “Beta”. Lets take a look at the structure of L-Alanine (Alpha version) compared to the beta version.

On the left is the Alpha version which contains the Nitrogen (Amine) group on the central carbon. This carbon is bonded by both the carboxy group on the right and the CH3 (methyl group which we discussed in the betaine post a couple of weeks ago) making it the center carbon which is referred to as the Alpha carbon. Since in this version contains the Nitrogen group on that center carbon it is the alpha version. On the right you see the beta version which has the same structure but instead of the Nitrogen group being on the central carbon, there is now a hydrogen in its place and the Nitrogen group is on the CH2 group which was the CH3 group. So basically the Hydrogen and Nitrogen groups switched spots. Since the the carbon that contains the nitrogen group is bonded adjacently to the Alpha Carbon, it is referred to as the Beta Carbon and is the reason this is the beta version. While it might seem a slight difference, this leads to a great difference in function between the two versions, beta alanine having many performance enhancing effects that have been proven time after time (1,2,3).

How Does Beta Alanine Improve My Performance?

The majority of Beta Alanine’s effects on increasing physical performance comes from it’s ability to be used to create a dipeptide(two amino acids bonded together) molecule contained in muscle cells called Carnosine. It is believed that the Beta version of Alanine is effective in causing the increase in Carnosine levels because it’s Nitrogen Group being on the beta carbon makes it more accessible and less sterically blocked (aka when the nitrogen group is on the beta carbon it sticks out into the open more and is less cluttered than when on the alpha making it more easily accessible to enzymes to use it to synthesize carnosine).

The Role of Carnosine


Carnosine is made up of two molecules bonded together, typically Beta-Alanine and L-Histidine. This molecule is extremely important in physical exercise because it is stored in muscle cells and acts to buffer acid in the muscles. When you work your muscles strenuously you need ATP to fuel those muscle contractions so your cellular respiration (discussed in the Cluster Dextrin Blog post and is the process of generating ATP) goes through the roof. This process, specifically the glycolysis step, results in an increase in H+ ions, which cause pH to lower and your blood and cellular levels to become acidic. The most common acidic byproduct is lactic acid, which you can feel burning when you reach muscle failure. Carnosine works to buffer this pH by readily bonding the H+ ions that build up in your muscles and carry them away. This neutralizes their effects and keeps your pH non-acidic, allowing you to pump out more reps, more weight, and delay fatigue. Ingesting Beta-Alanine at 3.2g prior to workout allows your muscles to have a readily available source to synthesize Carnosine and keep up with neutralizing the acid production.

Why not Just Take Carnosine?

Carnosine is too easily broken down in the body by enzyme Carnosinase and most of it lost in your GI tract anyway before it even reaches your blood. However, ingesting Beta-Alanine allows your body to immediately transport this amino to your muscles and directly increases Carnosine production while not facing being broken down.

the beta version of the amino acid L-Alanine, beta alanine has been shown to drastically improve muscular performance. When ingested, it is metabolized into the molecule carnosine which acts as a buffer to harmful acids such as lactic acid in the body. The carnosine is stored in cells, majorly in muscle tissue , where it is then released in responses to pH drops (caused by the buildup of acids in the body due to strenuous exercise). This what makes it so effective in preventing fatigue and protecting muscular tissue.

Why Does it Make Me Tingle?

A common harmless side effect of doses of Beta Alanine is paresthesia, which is tingling and itching of the skin. It is believed this is cause due to Beta Alanine’s interaction with where it binds to in the body. The compound binds to MrgprD receptors in the body, which are a type of G-protein coupled receptors. These receptors are known to play an essential role in mediating itch signals in the body, which is why it is believed this is a side effect, but is completely harmless (and lets you know its working!)

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