This is a major pet peeve of mine. I run into so many college kids and people who don’t know why they are taking the supplements they are. It’s natural for me to ask, “why?” and I guess I’m surprised when I interact with so many people who aren’t the same way or believe a label that was designed first to entice you to buy it or believe a friend (who likely doesn’t understand either). While I firmly believe more of the responsibility for this falls on you the consumer, a good deal of responsibility for this pattern comes from the companies that market these products in the manner they do.
The most recent situation with this scenario relates to beta-alanine and its perceived use by consumers. You see beta-alanine has become a cornerstone ingredient into many pre-workout formulations. While the data in support of beta-alanine is significant and certainly justifies its use as an ergogenic aid [1, 2], a number of studies have shown that a single dosing of beta-alanine does not increase muscle carnosine levels . What’s wrong with this picture? Well when someone who takes such a product is asked about what is in it, they’ll say beta-alanine (usually with excitement) and rattle off a few other ingredients to go along with it. Problem is that many of these people are only taking one dose per day and a number of studies have shown that multiple daily doses of beta-alanine are needed throughout the day to prevent the uncomfortable pins and needles feeling a person gets from taking too much while still being able to accomplish the end goal of increasing muscle carnosine levels. The entire point of supplementing with beta-alanine is to increase muscle carnosine, which then allows you to train with a higher volume of training and/or improve the onset of fatigue during exercise [1, 2]. Unless a person is complementing the beta-alanine they get in their pre-workout with regular (3 – 4 times daily in doses of 800 mg) administration of beta-alanine, research suggests that beta-alanine provided in a pre-workout in this manner will be of limited physiological relevance. Finally, studies show that for beta-alanine to really work, the exercise bouts in which its used need to be intense and be this way for what some would consider to be long periods of time (45 – 60 seconds) . So if you’re not busting your hump during your training and I mean really busting your hump, the benefit you get from beta-alanine will again be somewhat limited.
I’m not down on beta-alanine use, I really think it has tremendous potential. But how and when it should be used is somewhat specific and people need to be aware, unless of course you don’t mind spending your money knowing you’ll receive a limited amount in return. People wouldn’t do this with their money, so why do it with something you spend your money on? How many people do you know would rather invest their money in a bank account with a 0.5% return vs. a mutual fund with a 5% return on their money? What I don’t want to see happen is it be included in every pre-workout formulation available and used in a sub-standard manner and then it gets a negative or “useless” or “waste of your money” reputation.
While I’ve used beta-alanine as an example in this blog, similar misunderstandings of creatine, protein, caffeine and other dietary supplements have resulted in similar situations and it’s something, that although highly unlikely based on the “buy the hot new thing” attitudes of so many consumers these days, I challenge consumers to overcome.
1. Hoffman, J.R., et al., Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players. Nutr Res, 2008. 28(1): p. 31-5.
2. Stout, J.R., et al., Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women. Amino Acids, 2007. 32(3): p. 381-6.
3. Artioli, G.G., et al., Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2010. 42(6): p. 1162-73.
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