From creatine, to protein powder, BCAAs to pre-workouts, athletes that train at a CrossFit gym are no strangers to regular supplementation in their diet. But there is one supplement that may be better for your WOD performance than any other... Beta Alanine.
In 2021 CrossFit Games champion Mat Fraser quoted beta alanine as being like a "third lung" on an interview with joe Rogan... here's why that may not be too far off the truth:
Beta-Alanine is an amino acid derivative that is found naturally in the diet. Once in the body, it is turned into carnosine, which sits in the muscle and maintains the muscle’s acidity level.
The theory behind using beta-alanine as a supplement is that more carnosine in the muscle means you can handle more lactic acid build-up, extending the amount of time you can perform at high intensity, and slowing the onset of fatigue.
[If you want to get into the nitty gritty of how Beta Alanine works in your body you can head here]
For those who train at a CrossFit box this probably makes it one of your most valuable new dietary tweaks. Here’s why:
1. Taking beta alanine will allow you to squeeze out a few extra reps, meters or calories.
One of the main findings in the research on beta-alanine is its ability to increase time to exhaustion… i.e. how long you can go before you have to stop.
This makes it ideal for WOD performance.
Taking beta-alanine daily for over 3 weeks has shown to increase time to exhaustion in men and women who were cycling and running (sprint intervals).
2. It will also enable you to train at a higher intensity (and not feel so gassed)
The difference between being able to keep going at a certain pace for a long time (aerobic exercise) and for a short period of time (anaerobic exercise) is the rate at which lactic acid builds up, causing muscular fatigue.This is also known as your lactate threshold.
Completing a CrossFit WOD often requires an athlete to flirt with this line, trying to stay below it with pacing.
Using beta-alanine has been shown to increase your lactate threshold meaning your pace can be that little bit faster in a WOD. Going acidic is also a trigger for us breathing harder when we exercise too, so for a given intensity you simply won’t be breathing as hard.
Exactly how beneficial is this to you?
Several studies (listed below) have found that 4+ weeks of daily Beta-Alanine supplementation increased time to exhaustion by between 13-19% in rowing, cycling and HIIT, lasting between 1-4 mins at a high intensity.
3. Beta-Alanine will increase the efficiency of your creatine supplementation
Like wine and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, Creatine and Beta-Alanine are the perfect pair. Studies have shown that taken together, these supplements benefit both the strength and the endurance of your anaerobic performance.
The combination of creatine and Beta-Alanine supplementation is also known as stacking, and is a practice many athletes are catching on to. This practice will likely influence the timing of your Beta-Alanine consumption, as you should match it to the times of your Creatine ingestion.
4. It may help you get leaner
Several studies have shown that Beta-Alanine supplementation can increase lean muscle mass and reduce body fat. While how it does this is debated, it’s likely simply due to getting more from your training (thanks to 1-3 above).
5. Beta-alanine has other benefits that extend outside of the CrossFit gym
Several studies have suggested that Beta-Alanine's derivative, Carnosine, has immune-enhancing and anti-aging properties. Carnosine neutralizes free radicals, reducing oxidative stress, as well as elevates nitric oxide production which helps fight the aging process and improve heart health.
It may also help you manage stress, as shown in this military focused study. Lastly beta alanine was found to improve 10K run time. Running 10K is probably a CrossFit gym member's worst nightmare, but if you’re taking beta alanine, at least you’ll be a bit better at it.