Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Better Sip Your Beta Alanine: Decreased Urinary Excretion from Time Released Beta-Alanine Formula.

Image 1: Tabbing or cabbing, or just washing it down with some water - what is the best way to take your beta alanine?
If you have been following the supplement scene for quite some time now, you will probably remember headlines such as "Beta Alanine, the next creatine!"... well, the hype which was deliberately fueled by the supp-companies, who realized that the price umbrella on creatine was shriveling, has abated and yet, beta alanine and, of course, creatine are both still there. Compared to the number of studies on creatine monohodrate, which were and still are published on almost a monthly basis, the science on beta alanine and most importantly its mechanism of action is however pretty skinny. I am thus happy to share with you a few interesting findings from two recently published studies - one today, the other tomorrow ;-)

The more it tingles the less it works... !?

Despite the fact that I personally like the awkward feeling you get when you take tons of beta alanine, I have always suspected that the "tingling" sensation - whatever its underlying reasons may be - is a very unsatisfactory indicator of whether the supplement "works" or not. After all, there is no physiological reason why the intended recombination of beta alanine + histidine to carnosine and the storage of the latter inside of your muscle tissues would go hand in hand with a "pins and needles" kind of flush. I was thus not surprised to see that Jacques Décombaz and his collegues from the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland were able to show that ingestion of a "time-released" beta alanine tablet (2x800mg) did not only lead to statistically significant reductions in paraesthesia, but did also reduce the urinary excretion of the carnosine precursor (Décombaz. 2011).
Figure 1: Beta alanine (BA) serum values in µmol/L in the 6h after ingestion of 1.6 g of BA in solution or as time-released tablet (2x800mg); small graph: area under the curve (data based on Décombaz. 2011)
As you can see in figure 1, the time-released formulation avoids the rapid increase in beta alanine serum levels (solution: Cmax=248.2µmol/L; tablet: Cmax=81.9) Décombaz et al. observed with a standard solution of 1.6g beta alanine (Carnosyn TM) in aequeous solution.
Figure 2: Urinary beta alanine excretion (in µmol) in 11 healthy volunteers 0-2h and 2-6h after ingestion of 1.6 g of BA in solution or as time-released tablet (2x800mg); small graph: degree of retention (in % of intake) calculated based on urinary excretion (data based on Décombaz. 2011)
And although the area under the serum BA curve may be slightly smaller (AUC; figure 1, right), a calculation based on the decreased 6h urinary excretion in the 11 healthy caucasian volunteers (5 women, 6 men) who consumed the time-released preparation (cf. figure 2) reveals that the tissue retention from the tablet formulation was still 2.6% greater. Within the given standard deviations of 0.9% (tablet) and 2.1% (solution), I would yet be very surprised if this would actually make a practical difference as far as the ergogenic effects of beta alanine are concerned.
Figure 3: Topography of b-alanine-induced sensations. Data shown are the maximal reported values of the body
surface sensitive score (directly from Décombaz. 2011)
Of greater practical relevance is thusly the data on the incidence of "side effects" (did I mention that I like the tingling ;-), which - as the cute graphic in figure 3 goes to show - were significantly ameliorated when the subjects ingested their beta alanine in form of the hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, stearic acid, magnesium stearate, and silicon dioxide containing tablet.

... and why does it tingle? We still don't know!

What I personally do yet find more interesting than the reductions in sensory "side effects" are the speculations the scientists make as far as the underlying physiological reasons for the occurrence of the "pins and needles" (this was the prevailing description of the symptoms the study participants used) are concerned:
There are at least five recognized receptor sites for bA and the mechanism responsible for the sensitization of nociceptive neurons has not been unequivocally clarified [...] candidates include (a) bA-activated strychnine-sensitive glycine receptor sites, in association with glutamate sensitive N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors in the brain and the central nervous system, and (b) the mas-related gene family of G protein-coupled receptors, in dorsal root ganglia neurons ending in the skin, which are triggered by interactions with specific ligands such as bA.
While option b) sounds relatively harmless, option a) and previous studies reporting profound modulatory effects on brain neurotransmitter levels (esp. serotonin, cf. Murakami. 2010) keep me wondering, if beta alanine does not have more (and potentially harmful) side-effects than the minor paraesthesia.

So, in essence, we still don't know what it is that causes this feeling some people like, most people ignore and a handful of people hate so much that the time released tablets may in fact provide an adequate (yet obviously more expensive) alternative to powders or caps to max out their carnosine stores while avoiding the inconvenient sensation of "pins and needles" punctuation their flesh.
Image 2: Time released beta alanine in its natural form
Dr. Andro's tip for outsmarting the supplement industry: The wise guy (or girl) you are you probably don't really need me to tell you that by just sprinkling your beta alanine over your food or sipping on it in the course of your workout (or your daily routine) you can make your own "time-released beta alanine formula". A formula, of which you could even say that it was "invented by nature itself"... after all, poultry is the richest source of dietary beta alanine, so if you are into the whole ancestral diet concept spicing up your chicken drumsticks with another 1g of bet alanine would be the "paleo way of time-released beta alanine supplementation" *rofl*
A pros pos maxing out carnosine stores. I suggest you come back tomorrow if you are interested in whether or not doing this is actually worth it. "Unclear", "possibly", "negligible", "likely beneficial", "likely harmful" and the rest of the vocabulary that is used in a recent study from the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina to evaluate the effects the scientists observed on acute exercise performance after 28 days of beta alanine supplementation does in any case not sound that enthusiastic.

Update: Click here for the second part of this beta alanine double-whammy.