Thursday, March 28, 2013

Beta Alanine Thwarts Baking Soda: Increased HIIT Sprint Performance With NaCHO3 - "Very Likely". Individual Effect of Beta Alanine - "Zero". Synergism? Negative.

Does beta alanine hamper instead of improve your sprinting performance?
Did you notice something? Yeah, there have been more news on testosterone boosters as of late than on sodium bicarbonate, here at the SuppVersity. You don't have worry though, I have not been bribed by the supplement industry. The reason that you have not heard about baking soda as of late was merely a pragmatic one: the absence of recent studies. With the soon-to-be-published paper by Kagan Ducker, Brian Dawson and Karen E. Wallman from the University of Western Australia the barren spell has ended - luckily.
Addendum: Only a couple weeks after this study had been published Bellinger et al. conducted a trial, where the expected synergy between beta alanine and sodium bicarbonate was to be seen. It will thus have to be elucidated in future trials, whether the different outcomes are exercise- or athlete-dependent | learn more.
Before we delve deeper into the carbonated results of the study at hand, I want to take the chance to briefly remind you that it's Thursday and thus about time to make sure you you don't miss the SuppVersity Science Round-Up at 1PM EST live on SuperHumanRadio. You are not sure if you can make it? Well, in that case you would be missing even more bicarbonate lovin', a discussion on the potential downsides of intermittent fasting, when you are not dieting, some clarifications on yesterday's Facebook news on the potential liver damaging effects of "cortisol blockers", the latest on the effects of DHEA on testicular health and testosterone levels, the optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio for endocrine health, the life-shortening effects of large amounts of fish oil and much more... and while you are waiting for the show to start why don't you take a peek at what Ducker et al. have found?

Beta alanine added bonus or unworthy opponent?

Inspired by previous yet by far not very conclusive trials which found that the combination of the precursor of the intracellular H+ buffer beta alanine and the often looked down upon alkalizer sodium bicarbonate (cf. Sale. 2011; Bellinger. 2012; read more about the Bellinger study) could yield some benefits over the performance increases baking soda and not beta alanine(!) alone can produce, Ducker et al. wanted to elucidate whether a preload with 3-6g/day of beta-alanine for 28 days either alone or in combined with a pre-exercise dose of 0.3g/kg baking soda would lead to improvements in prolonged repeated-sprint performance in team-sport athletes.

The Australians hypothesized that both, beta-alanine supplementation and an acute dose of sodium bicarbonate, would separately result in improvements in repeated-sprint performance, but that combining both treatments would lead to a greater improvement in repeated sprint ability (RSA) compared to either supplement on its own.
Figure 1: Relative changes in sprint performance (sprint time) for all three and each set of 6x20m sprints (Ducker. 2013)
A brief glance at the data in figure 1 does suffice that the latter was not the case. While it was to be suspected that the 28-day preloading the six of the 24 male competitive football, soccer and hockey players who had been randomized to the NaHCO3 + BA group would yield at least some yet probably not significant performance increase in the during the 3 sets of 6 x 20m sprinting (25 s between sprins, 4 min active recovery between the three sets), the exact opposite was the case.
Contrary to beta alanine, creatine is a perfect match to baking soda... or rather vice versa (learn more)
"Sodium bicarbonate supplementation (alone) resulted in the best repeated-sprint performance, with some improvement also seen (but to a lesser extent) when a combination of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate was used. This outcome was surprising, as it was hypothesised that combining supplementation of sodium bicarbonate (extracellular blood buffer) and beta-alanine (intracellular muscle buffer via carnosine) would result in enhanced repeated-sprint performance beyond what is possible with either supplement alone." (Ducker. 2013)
So, contrary to bicarbonate alone, which was "likely" and "very likely" to produce increases in overall total sprint times (TST) for each individual set, as well as for first sprint (Set 2 and 3) and best sprint time, the combined supplement did not only fail to increase the likelihood that these effects would occur in similarly trained athletes / gymrats, but actually reduced to "possible" and "likely".

 Squats, 8 x 12, Leg Press 6 x 12, Leg Ext. 6 x 12; that's the Quads routine Serge Nubret (photo) trained twice a week in conjunction with chest – it stands out of question that this is the kind of workout that benefits most from an acid buffer like NaHCO(3) (read more)!
Bottom line: The performance decrements the scientists observed when they combined the 0.3g/kg NaCO3 with a 28-day beta alanine preload is actually pretty surprising and that despite the fact that the short sprints are not actually the strength of the carnosine precursor. Significant but with ~2% still pretty pathetic performance increases effects can only be expected with longer sprints in the 90-150s range, and previous studies by Sweeney et al. and Saunders et al. have already confirmed its useless in similar scenarios (Sweeny. 2010; Saunders. 2012). So while it may be debatable in how far the performance decrease may be reproducible in larger scale studies, there is no debating of the scientists conclusion that
"Supplementation with beta-alanine may not be ergogenic for these sports [football, soccer and hockey], which require repeated short (~2-4 s) sprints with brief (~15 – 30 s) recovery periods." (Ducker. 2013)
What remains to be seen, though is whether adding the BA on top of the bicarbonate does actually "result in a lower magnitude of performance improvements than sodium bicarbonate supplementation in isolation" (Ducker. 2013). And would thus be downright ergolytic. But hey, maybe the guys had just depleted their histidine sources (learn more about histidine) - in that case they would have become fat not slow, or maybe both? Just kiddin' ;-)

  • Bellinger PM, Howe ST, Shing CM, Fell JW. Effect of combined β-alanine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation on cycling performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Aug;44(8):1545-51.
  • Ducker KJ, Dawson B, Wallman KE. Effect of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation on repeated-sprint performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar 21.
  • Sale C, Saunders B, Hudson S, Wise JA, Harris RC, and Sunderland CD. Effect of beta alanine plus sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity cycling capacity.  Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2011; 43:1972-1978.
  • Saunders B, Sale C, Harris R, and Sunderland C.Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on repeated sprint performance during the Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test. Amino Acids. 2012; 43: 39-47.
  • Sweeney KM, Wright GA, Brice AG, and DobersteinST. The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on power performance during repeated sprint activity.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010; 24:79-87.