Medicine and sport science

Beta-alanine supplementation in high-intensity exercise.

PMID 23075550


Glycolysis involves the oxidation of two neutral hydroxyl groups on each glycosyl (or glucosyl) unit metabolised, yielding two carboxylic acid groups. During low-intensity exercise these, along with the remainder of the carbon skeleton, are further oxidised to CO(2) and water. But during high-intensity exercise a major portion (and where blood flow is impaired, then most) is accumulated as lactate anions and H(+). The accumulation of H(+) has deleterious effects on muscle function, ultimately impairing force production and contributing to fatigue. Regulation of intracellular pH is achieved over time by export of H(+) out of the muscle, although physicochemical buffers in the muscle provide the first line of defence against H(+) accumulation. In order to be effective during high-intensity exercise, buffers need to be present in high concentrations in muscle and have pK(a)s within the intracellular exercise pH transit range. Carnosine (β-alanyl-L-histidine) is ideal for this role given that it occurs in millimolar concentrations within the skeletal muscle and has a pK(a) of 6.83. Carnosine is a cytoplasmic dipeptide formed by bonding histidine and β-alanine in a reaction catalysed by carnosine synthase, although it is the availability of β-alanine, obtained in small amounts from hepatic synthesis and potentially in greater amounts from the diet that is limiting to synthesis. Increasing muscle carnosine through increased dietary intake of β-alanine will increase the intracellular buffering capacity, which in turn might be expected to increase high-intensity exercise capacity and performance where this is pH limited. In this study we review the role of muscle carnosine as an H(+) buffer, the regulation of muscle carnosine by β-alanine, and the available evidence relating to the effects of β-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine synthesis and the subsequent effects of this on high-intensity exercise capacity and performance.