Have you ever taken a pre-workout supplement and felt your skin start to tingle and itch? If so, you're not alone. This sensation is a common side effect of a popular ingredient found in many pre-workout supplements called beta-alanine. But what is beta-alanine, and why does it make you tingle? And more importantly, is it worth it? In this article, we'll dive into the science behind beta-alanine and explore its benefits to help you decide whether the itch is worth it.
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that your body can produce on its own. It is also found in foods like meat, poultry, and fish. However, most of the beta-alanine in your body is stored in a dipeptide called carnosine, which is found in high concentrations in skeletal muscle.
Carnosine plays an important role in buffering hydrogen ions (H+) in muscle tissue, which can build up during intense exercise and lead to muscle fatigue. By reducing the accumulation of H+ ions, carnosine can delay muscle fatigue and improve exercise performance.
However, your body's ability to produce carnosine is limited by the availability of beta-alanine. This is where beta-alanine supplementation comes in. By increasing the amount of beta-alanine in your body, you can increase the amount of carnosine stored in your muscles, leading to improved performance and delayed muscle fatigue.
Why does Beta-Alanine make me tingle/itch?
If you've ever taken a pre-workout supplement that contains beta-alanine, you've probably experienced the famous "beta-alanine itch." This sensation is often described as a tingling, prickling, or itching feeling on the skin, particularly on the face, neck, and hands.
The beta-alanine itch is caused by the activation of sensory nerve fibers in the skin called C-fibers. When beta-alanine is ingested, it is converted into another molecule called carnosine, which is then broken down into histidine and beta-alanine. Histidine activates the C-fibers in the skin, leading to the tingling and itching sensation.
While the beta-alanine itch can be uncomfortable, it is generally considered harmless and usually goes away within 30-60 minutes. Some people may be more sensitive to the itch than others, but it does not appear to be a sign of any serious health concern.
What are the benefits of Beta-Alanine?
So, now that we know what beta-alanine is and why it makes us tingle, let's talk about its benefits. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that beta-alanine supplementation can improve exercise performance and delay muscle fatigue.
One study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that beta-alanine supplementation increased the number of repetitions that athletes could perform during a high-intensity cycling test. Another study published on Amino Acids found that beta-alanine supplementation improved sprint performance in trained swimmers.
In addition to improving exercise performance, beta-alanine supplementation may also have other health benefits. One study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that beta-alanine supplementation improved cognitive function in elderly adults. Another study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that beta-alanine supplementation reduced symptoms of fatigue and improved mood in college athletes.
Beta-Alanine in Pre-Workout
Given its potential benefits, it's not surprising that beta-alanine is a popular ingredient in many pre-workout supplements. Most pre-workout supplements contain around 2-5 grams of beta-alanine per serving, which is considered an effective dose for improving performance.
However, it's important to note that beta-alanine is just one ingredient in a pre-workout supplement. Many pre-workout supplements also contain caffeine, creatine, and other ingredients that can improve performance in different ways. If you're considering adding a pre-workout supplement to your routine, be sure to read the label carefully.
It's also worth noting that beta-alanine supplementation may not be necessary for everyone. If you're already consuming a diet rich in beta-alanine-containing foods like meat, poultry, and fish, you may not need to supplement with beta-alanine. Additionally, if you're not engaging in high-intensity exercise, the benefits of beta-alanine supplementation may be less pronounced.
So, is the beta-alanine itch worth it? The answer, as with many things in life, it depends. If you're an athlete or fitness enthusiast looking to improve your exercise performance and delay muscle fatigue, beta-alanine supplementation may be worth the itch. However, if you're not engaging in high-intensity exercise or already consuming a diet rich in beta-alanine-containing foods, you may not need to supplement with beta-alanine.
Regardless of whether you decide to supplement with beta-alanine, it's important to remember that no supplement can replace a healthy diet and regular exercise. If you're looking to improve your fitness and overall health, be sure to focus on these foundational pillars first.