Betaine For Strength, Size & Endurance Gains: 2.5g/Day For 6 Weeks Does the Trick - Even in Advanced Trainees

If you feel like a shadow of yourself, betaine may help - specifically with  metabolically demanding workouts.
"Six-weeks of betaine supplementation improved body composition, arm size, bench press work capacity, attenuated the rise in urinary HCTL, and tended to improve power (p = .07) but not strength." (Cholewa. 2013) That's not just the conclusion to the latest paper Jason Cholewa et al. have just published in every supplement junkie's favorite scientific journal (do I have to mention it's the one of the International Society of Sports Supplementation, ISSN?), it's also exciting news on trimethylglycine and further evidence that it has the potential to queue up in the short line of effective dietary supplements you may spend money on without having a guilty conscience.

6 Weeks + 2.5g/day = Increased mass, volume and strength gains

The routine the researchers had their 23 experienced recreationally strength trained males (weight: 86.8 ± 9.1 kg; training experience: 4.8 ± 2.3 months; BF%: 16.9 ± 8%) between the ages of 18 and 35 follow was clustered into three microcycles (figure 1)
Figure 1: Overview of the training schedule sets, reps and rest times (Cholewa. 2013)
Obviously a pretty solid training program that was (no surprise) able to increase muscle size, strength and strength endurance irrespective of whether the subjects received
  • When do you take betaine? After checking back with the author, I can now tell you that the betaine can be taken at any time point and that you may want to have it with a meal to avoid stressing your gastrointestinal system.
    2 x 1.25g placebo capsules, or
  • 2 x 1.25g betaine capsules
The dosage was chosen because it's safe (9-12g/day = safe; ), effectively elevated plasma betaine levels (2.5-5g; ) and did already produce strength and performance gains in previous studies (Hoffman. 2009; Lee. 2010; Trepanowski. 2011).
Figure 2: Pre / Post bench press volume (left) and muscle cross section (right; Cholewa. 2013)
What is somewhat surprising, at least in my humble opinion, though, is the greater increase in bench press volume (figure 2, left) in the first microcycle and the "comeback" of the placebo group afterwards. Considering the fact that this parameter did not improve in previous studies at all, and comparing the workload on the chest day during the different microcycles, the researchers managed a reasonable explanation for this observation:
"Advanced Trainees Benefit from Increased Training Volume! Greater & Steadier Strength Gains with 8 Sets of Squats. Plus: Over 6 Weeks, 1 Set and 4 Sets Equally (In-)Effective." | read more
"Given improved work capacity with higher volume resistance training prescriptions, and the lack of improvement during micro-cycle 2 which imposed less of a metabolic demand (4 sets of 4–6 repetitions with 3 min rest), it is likely that betaine poses the most ergogenic potential in resistance training exercise protocolsthat impose higher metabolic demands.

Betaine is actively taken up by skeletal muscle during periods of stress, and may be ergogenic as an osmolyte by protecting sensitive metabolic pathways against cellular hypertonicity such as protein turnover, amino acid and ammonia metabolism, pH regulation, and gene expression. Specifically, betaine maintains cellular hydration to protect myosin ATPase and myosin heavy chain proteins against denaturation by urea. Moreover, the affinity of troponin for Ca 2+ , and thus force production, is negatively affected by reductions in protein hydration." (Cholewa. 2013)
Or put simply: The more metabolically challenging (~high volume) the workout the greater the chances you will benefit from taking betaine aka trimethylglycine (not be confused with betaine HCL, the digestive aid).

"Body recomposition" in trained athletes is what could betaine make a huge success

Against that background it seems only logical that the back squat work capacity improved nearly twofold compared to placebo during microcycle 3 (4 sets of 4–6 repetitions with 3 min rest; data not shown). You could even argue that the increases in muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) with betaine may occur only in the arms, because biceps and triceps are hammered directly and indirectly and thus at a relatively higher volume than the legs.
Figure 3: Changes in body composition in betaine & placebo group (Cholewa. 2013)
Eventually, the volume increase, or rather the improved handling of the metabolically demanding workouts, could also explain the highly desirable body recomposition effects we see in the betaine group. Less metabolic waste cluttering around = improved effects on body composition...? Well, the HCTL levels and changes in homocysteine the scientists measured would not support this notion. However,
Betaine content (in mg/100g) in some common food items (read more)
"[...] betaine supplementation may have impacted body composition via other mechanisms. Betaine has been shown to elevate plasma GH and IGF-1, and increase Akt phosphorylation in human skeletal muscle (Apicella. 2012). In mice betaine improves insulin sensitivity by restoring activation of IRS1 and the subsequent phosphorylation of PI3K/Akt by 50-100% in a concentration-dependent manner (Jakubowski. 2009). Thus, it is possible that by elevating anabolic hormones and enhancing downstream cellular signaling, betaine may have improved muscle protein synthesis, thus leading to an increase in lean mass." (Cholewa. 2013)
An alternative explanation Cholewa et al. present pertains to the osmo-regulatory effects of betaine, which may have lead to a "cellular swelling without an appreciable increase in myofibril protein accretion" (Cholewa. 2013). Obviously, these are not the gains you are looking for, but in view of the fact that Keller et al, were able to show that this correlates with decreases in proteolysis it would at least minimize the amount of protein that's getting lost from the musculature right after you "pumped" it into it (Keller. 2003).

What do eggs and homocysteine have in common? None of them causes heart disease. Eating eggs nay even prevent it by modulating the lipoprotein profile and cholesterol efflux (read more)
Bottom line: The study at hand adds more and, above all, highly relevant (human study, advanced trainees) evidence that betaine (2.5g/day in two servings) could make a valuable addition to the supplementation regimen of fitness models, physique competitors and bodybuilders, alike.

With its long-proven ability to reduce homocysteine levels () it has also been implicated as an agent that may prevent heart disease... unfortunately,  this assumption is based on the hypothesis that homocysteine plays a causative role in the development of heart disease and neither this nor the beneficial effects of choline & betaine on CVD are proven facts (Folsom. 1998; HCS. 2002; Olthof. 2005).

  • Apicella JM, Lee EC, Bailey BL, Saenz C, Anderson JM, Craig SA, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Maresh CM. Betaine supplementation enhances anabolic endocrine and Akt signaling in response to acute bouts of exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Mar;113(3):793-802.  
  • Cholewa JM, Wyszczelska-Rokiel M, Glowacki R, Jakubowski H, Matthews T, Wood R, Craig SA, Paolone V. Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 22;10(1):39. [Epub ahead of print].
  • Folsom AR, Nieto FJ, McGovern PG, Tsai MY, Malinow MR, Eckfeldt JH, Hess DL, Davis CE. Prospective study of coronary heart disease incidence in relation to fasting total homocysteine, related genetic polymorphisms, and B vitamins: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Circulation. 1998 Jul 21;98(3):204-10.
  • Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Rashti SL, Faigenbaum AD: Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009, 6:7.
  • Homocysteine Studies Collaboration (HCS). Homocysteine Studies Collaboration. Homocysteine and risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2002 Oct 23-30;288(16):2015-22.
  • Jakubowski H. The pathophysiological hypothesis of homocysteine thiolactone-mediated vascular disease. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2008 Dec;59 Suppl 9:155-67. Review.
  • Lee EC, Maresh CM, Kraemer WJ, Yamamoto LM, Hatfield DL, Bailey BL, Armstrong LE, Volek JS, McDermott BP, Craig SA: Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010, 7:27.
  • Keller U, Szinnai G, Bilz S, Berneis K. Effects of changes in hydration on protein, glucose and lipid metabolism in man: impact on health. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;57 Suppl 2:S69-74.
  • Olthof MR, Verhoef P. Effects of betaine intake on plasma homocysteine concentrations and consequences for health. Curr Drug Metab. 2005 Feb;6(1):15-22.
  • Trepanowski JF, Farney TM, McCarthy CG, Schilling BK, Craig SA, Bloomer RJ: The effects of chronic betaine supplementation on exercise performance, skeletal muscle oxygen saturation and associated biochemical parameters in resistance trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2011, 25:3461–3471.
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