Is beta-alanine useful for distance runners?

Beta-alanine is a competition-legal supplement that is not well known but is gaining popularity in the running community.

The supplement, which can be taken in pill or powder form, can help muscle endurance during high-intensity activity, meaning it can increase a runner’s lactate threshold.

Because beta-alanine functions as a lactic acid buffer, it’s primarily considered beneficial for long sprinters to middle distance runners, but could the supplement be useful for long-distance runners as well?

Both the IAAF sports nutrition guide and Canadian physiologist Trent Stellingwerff recommend the supplement for distances from the 400m through 1,500m.

In a summary on beta-alanine Stellingwerff says that especially from the long sprints to middle distances it can be beneficial for runners.

He explains, “Fatigue during long-sprints to middle-distance racing (400m to 1500m), or any maximum intensity exercise lasting from ~1 to 10 min, is a consequence of the limitations imposed by anaerobic metabolism.”

What beta-alanine does is help to delay this fatigue.

A study done by biomedical researchers in Leuven, Belgium suggests that beta-alanine could be useful in longer sit-and-kick-style race.

They found that following a nearly two-hour cycling session, those who had taken beta-alanine were more effective in a finishing sprint.

Authors said, “We observed here for the first time that such beta-alanine administration regimen enhances sprint power output at the end of a simulated endurance race and therefore could be an effective strategy to improve sprint performance in a real-life competition.”

In events over 1,500m, it’s unlikely that beta-alanine is the supplement you’re looking for.

While it could be of assistance for your finishing sprint in a 5K, if you’re looking to run a consistent pace in the marathon, it probably won’t help you.

Previous studies have shown that β-alanine increased the intramuscular buffering of hydrogen ions (H+), delaying the acidosis induced during high-intensity exercise (Saunders et al., 2017). Another physiological role of carnosine that may explain these ergogenic effects is to increase calcium sensitivity in muscle fibers and the amount of work performed (Dutka and Lamb, 2004; Dutka et al., 2012). Therefore, the increase in carnosine content could attenuate fatigue not only through its buffering capacities, but also its ability to improve myofibrillar Ca2+ sensitivity (Sale et al., 2010).

More science about beta-alanine

Meta analyses studies have demonstrated that the effects of β-alanine supplementation on performance are dependent on exercise duration and intensity.

Saunders et al. (2017) observed that exercise lasting from 0.5 to 10 min shows the best results, while brief exercise (<0.5 min) does not present any improvement in performance.

Hobson et al. (2012) also demonstrated that β-alanine is most effective during exercise of 60–240 s in duration, suggesting that this is due to the fact that maximum H+ accumulation occurs after approximately 4 min of high-intensity exercise (Osnes and Hermansen, 1972).

However, the authors related that few studies have examined long-duration continuous exercises, and the majority of studies used an incremental protocol.

In addition, the latest position stand on β-alanine reported that more research is necessary to determine the effects of β-alanine on endurance performance beyond 25 min in duration (Trexler et al., 2015).

Beta-alanine on the 10k