Legal Ways to Dope: Beta-Alanine

Need to gain an edge? These five performance enhancers are safe and won't get you popped.

    Photo: Christopher Kolaczan via Shutter

If juicing isn’t your thing, consider beta-alanine, a naturally occurring beta amino acid that has pronounced effects on high-intensity performance.  When paired with sodium bicarbonate—aka baking soda—beta-alanine has been shown to raise the amount of time that cyclists can spend riding at their maximum power output by about 12 percent.

Just don’t count on a pronounced endurance boost. While some supplement makers peddle beta-alanine as a powerful aerobic engine aid, its strongest effects can be found in “events lasting one to five minutes,” says Michael Joyner, M.D., an exercise researcher at the Mayo Clinic.

Like beetroot juice, beta-alanine acts a vasodilator, upping the oxygen flow to your muscles. But its main effects relate to carnosine, a molecule that buffers against fatigue in high intensity efforts. Because your body’s carnosine stores are limited by the amount of beta-alanine available, upping the latter increases levels of the former.

Supplementing with beta-alanine is a daily process. Because of the supplement’s short half-life in the body, its effects disappear after three weeks of non-use, so missing a dose can affect your performance. For best results, take at least 800-1,000mg of the amino acid four times a day.

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