Craig Leonard

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Beta-Alanine: Does Your Pre-Workout Supplement Have It?

Craig Leonard May 13, 2016
Beta Alanine - Pre Workout Ingredient

You probably didn’t even realize it, but if you’re using a pre-workout supplement it’s highly likely that you’re giving your body a dose of beta-alanine every time you drink it down.

A couple months back a good friend of mine gave me a sample from his pre-workout supplement stash. I explained that I’m not a big fan of the pre-workout supplements I’ve experimented with in the past as I hesitantly agreed to give it another try.

I know how some people are when it comes to their undying support of pre-workout supplements. The dogma they espouse regarding their pre-workout supplements being indispensable to their training routine and results is surpassed only by CrossFitters who ignorantly believe people weren’t getting lean, strong, muscular and athletic decades before their cult way of training was popularized a few years ago.

While I believe the basic CrossFit training principles employed are sound in many respects, the common application of them is misappropriated and dangerous. Beyond that, though, as a group, the people who do CrossFit training are just plain annoying with their condescending attitudes toward anyone who believes it possible to achieve their fitness goals any other way.

I anticipate that those who fit this description are, fittingly, now labeling me a fitness heretic and have tagged me for excommunication.

Hopefully those of you who hold fast to your pre-workout supplements are being a little more patient with me. Before you also accuse me of spouting heresies for my less than favorable views of pre-workout supplements, I hope you’ll let me do some ‘splainin’.

If you’ve read just about any other article on this site, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I make every attempt to avoid dangerous artificial sweeteners. And, unfortunately, artificial sweetening agents are used in almost every pre-workout supplement on the market today.

It is for this reason that I have made it a point to avoid using pre-workout supplements and instead opt for the effective and natural option of drinking a cup or two of black coffee to boost my performance and enhance my testosterone levels.

My previous disdain of pre-workout supplements also has ties to the tingling sensation I’ve experienced on my skin shortly after ingesting the few pre-workout supplements I’ve experimented with.

As I was obliging my friend’s pre-workout sampling offer, I remembered the tingling affect pre-workout supplements have on my skin. Anything that made my skin feel that way couldn’t be good for me, right?

My curiosity was piqued by this recollection and there was no sense in trying to suppress it. I had to know what it was that  caused my epidermal tingling and whether it was a cause for concern.

It turns out that there’s a rather simple explanation. The reason the different pre-workout supplements I’ve sampled have all caused my skin to tingle could actually be traced back to a single common pre-workout supplement ingredient: beta-alanine.

Beta-alanine, a derivative of alanine (an amino acid), is known to cause skin-tingling when taken in high enough doses. The technical term for this sensation is paresthesia. Fortunately, it isn’t linked to any known health dangers.

Every person’s threshold is a little different, but the amount of beta-alanine in the pre-workout supplements I’ve used was apparently enough to induce paresthesia.

Learning that beta-alanine was responsible for causing my reprehensible skin sensations prompted me to do some additional research to find out if it might actually be useful for something more desirable.

I was surprised to learn that beta-alanine has been shown to be extremely effective at impacting the body in ways that are much more beneficial than simulating the experience of having centipedes traversing my skin.

Beta-Alanine Improves Muscular Endurance

There are numerous studies showing an impressive correlation between beta-alanine supplementation and improved training endurance. Here are just a few:

  • This study found that men supplementing with beta-alanine were able to engage in high intensity cycling for longer durations before becoming exhausted than those in the placebo group not receiving beta-alanine.
  • This study recorded similar results with subjects engaging in resistance training. Specifically, the results indicated that four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation can significantly improve muscular endurance during resistance training in experienced resistance-trained athletes. By the way, it’s worth taking note any time significant improvement is achieved in just four weeks by experienced athletes.
  • This study found that subjects taking beta-alanine were able to engage in significantly greater training volume without becoming exhausted. In addition, the subjects using beta-alanine reported significantly lower feelings of fatigue after training than those in the placebo group.

I’ve heard a number of people claim that their pre-workout supplement allows them to train with greater intensity deeper into their training sessions. If the above studies are any indication, beta-alanine is likely a key contributing factor.

But let’s not give beta-alanine all the glory here. Pre-workout supplements also contain caffeine, which has also been shown to improve physical performance and muscular endurance.

That’s not all beta-alanine has on its resumé. There’s also evidence vouching for its effectiveness toward enhancing muscle growth.

Beta-Alanine Promotes Lean Muscle Gain

This study examined the effect beta-alanine supplementation had on groups of wrestlers and football players. The researchers found that the groups supplementing with beta-alanine experienced markedly better gains in lean muscle mass than the placebo groups.

The wrestlers were following a weight loss program and all of them lost weight. While the placebo group lost an average of approximately one pound of lean muscle mass, the group receiving beta-alanine actually gained an average of 1.1 pounds of muscle mass as they lost weight. This indicates that beta-alanine may actually encourage muscle gain and fat loss to take place simultaneously – the best scenario for improving the composition of the body.

The football players showed equally promising results. The placebo group not receiving beta-alanine gained an average of 1.1 pounds of muscle mass over the course of the study, while the group receiving beta-alanine gained an average of 2.1 pounds of muscle. In other words, the group using beta-alanine experienced almost twice the muscle growth of the placebo group.

It’s also worth noting that these football players were collegiate level athletes. So these weren’t newcomers to training and those supplementing with beta-alanine were still able to experience significantly greater muscle gains over the 8-week duration of the study.

Should You Use A Pre-Workout Supplement or Supplement With Beta-Alanine?

I’ve been gradually opening up to the possible benefits of using a pre-workout supplement as I’ve continued to spend more time researching them. As I alluded to earlier, what’s mainly turned me off from using a pre-workout supplement is the artificial ingredients most of them contain.

I also tend to get a similar boost in energy and focus by simply drinking a much more affordable (and 100% natural) cup or two of coffee.

Still, I understand many of you reading this love using pre-workout supplements. So, if you’d like to use a pre-workout supplement, and are rightfully concerned about the artificial sweeteners they usually contain, it’s best to opt for a safe, all-natural option.

Here’s one that has my approval: PurePump Pre-Workout Formula.

Whatever pre-workout supplement you go with I recommend picking one that has at least 4 grams (i.e. 4000 mg) of beta-alanine per serving since the studies cited above showed that amount to be sufficient to increase muscle production and muscular endurance.

Another option is to purchase a pure beta-alanine powder supplement. I recently purchased this one after learning of the potential beta-alanine has for improving performance and results specific to my current goal of building strength and lean muscle mass. So, along with the essential supplements I always use to optimize my health, I’m also stacking the beta-alanine with creatine.

Tingling skin be damned.

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