The Time-Crunched Cyclist Podcast by CTS

Could Beta-Alanine Supplementation Improve Time-Crunched Cyclists' Performance?

September 06, 2023 Season 3 Episode 160
The Time-Crunched Cyclist Podcast by CTS
Could Beta-Alanine Supplementation Improve Time-Crunched Cyclists' Performance?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Topics covered in this episode:

  • What is Beta-Alanine?
  • How beta-alanine improves athletic performance (with or without supplementation)
  • The types of performances that may be improved by increasing the amount of beta-alanine in your body.
  • How much beta-alanine adult athletes should consume, in what form, and over what period of time.

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Guest: Nicole Rubenstein
Nicole's bio from racersedgenutrition.com: "My interest in nutrition started long before I became a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist. Growing up I was a snowboard racer on the U.S. Junior National Team and traveled the world to compete. When I left racing in 2001 I shifted my focus to nutrition and helping others. My career began in 2006 after completing my B.S. in Nutrition from Cornell University and my dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian. My foundation was diverse, working in a variety of clinical nutrition settings, a top sports nutrition practice in Manhattan, and running a private practice on Long Island. I relocated to Colorado in 2010 to continue my career and advance my skills as a sports dietitian. I enjoy working with complex sport nutrition cases (athletes with medical conditions) as well as recreational and elite athletes looking to improve performance or change body composition. I love planning my own sport nutrition too, which has been essential for strength and conditioning to stay strong and healthy during mountain bike season."

Education and Credentials

Host
Adam Pulford has been a CTS Coach for more than 13 years and holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. He's participated in and coached hundreds of athletes for endurance events all around the world.

Links

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Speaker 1:

From the team at CTS. This is the Time Crunch Cyclist podcast, our show dedicated to answering your training questions and providing actionable advice to help you improve your performance even if you're strapped for time. I'm your host, coach Adam Pulford, and I'm one of the over 50 professional coaches who make up the team at CTS. In each episode, I draw on our team's collective knowledge, other coaches and experts in the field to provide you with the practical ways to get the most out of your training and ultimately become the best cyclist that you can be. Now onto our show. Welcome back. Time Crunch fans.

Speaker 1:

Quick message to explain the next two podcasts. We've got some great questions coming in from you, our audience, one of which was asking about supplements such as beta-alionine and creatine for endurance athletes. Now, I'll admit I have some experience with these supplements and I thought I pretty much knew all there was to know about them, but I quickly learned that there was much more to learn. So I brought in the big guns with an expert in the field of nutrition to fully answer the questions and explain the practical uses for each supplement. We split this conversation into two parts and thus two different shows Definitely start with part one, which we talk about beta-alionine, and we also lay the groundwork for all things that we discussed throughout. Finally, don't miss part two creatine and other supplements in which my guest covers some really fun stuff about creatine that I didn't know until this year and then shares with us how to connect with her and her company if anyone wants personalized follow-up with a professional nutritionist in the area of endurance performance. So I just want to frame all that up before you jump into each episode. Now sit back, listen and learn as we explore some popular supplements in the world of performance nutrition today on the Time Crunch Cyclist podcast.

Speaker 1:

Supplements are a big industry and a big topic for athletes, but there's a lot of pseudoscience out there and when it comes to what actually works in delivering performance to endurance athletes, it can be a bit confusing. We've recently received a handful of questions from you, our audience, on some particular supplement questions, so I thought it'd be best to bring in an expert in the world of all things nutrition to help answer some of those questions today. My guest has a master's degree in sport nutrition, is a registered dietitian of 17 plus years and is a board certified specialist in sport dietetics. She has worked with athletes and athletic groups in all sport types, such as the US speed skating team, professional snowboarders, triathletes, ironman athletes, cyclists, ultra runners and more. She's the owner and lead dietitian at Racers Edge Nutrition and is joining us today from the higher elevations of Colorado. Nicole Rubenstein, welcome to the show.

Speaker 2:

Thanks Adam.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, thank you for joining us and for all of our listeners. Watching on YouTube, you get to have the naughty pine interior with mounted fish in the background once again, so it's probably be the last podcast we do that. But, nicole, what's going on up in Colorado?

Speaker 2:

It's a beautiful day here Blue skies and going out for a little bike ride later. Love it, it's lovely. Yep, it's recording from 9,300 feet, which is where I live.

Speaker 1:

Up in the mountains.

Speaker 2:

No, it's great Up in Conifer, that's right.

Speaker 1:

Well, awesome, I mean. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day. I know you're working full steam ahead with what you do, but thanks for taking time to jump on the podcast and talk to us today. And yeah, I'd say, in the spirit of time crunchness, let's get into it. And a quick reminder for our listeners you can submit any question you want to the show in the world of physiology, strength training, nutrition, like we're going to talk about today, and we answer it on the show.

Speaker 1:

Head over to trainratecom backslash podcast. Click on ask a training question and you submit it there, and that's where this question is coming from. So that question from our audience member is can you discuss the effectiveness of two supplements that have good science behind them, specifically creatine and beta alanine? Have you used them, are they suitable for amateur cyclists, and any tips or suggestion on these or other supplements that can support performance gains? Appreciate the quality of your podcast. Cheers, paul. Paul, that's a great question. Thanks for the accolades there. And because this is beyond my scope, I am bringing in the big guns here with with Nicole. So let's just start randomly with beta alanine. Nicole, kick it over to you. What is it? Why do we care about it?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so great question. Beta alanine is amino acid. Our body produces it, so our liver can produce some beta alanine, and we also get beta alanine through the diet. We only get it from animal proteins, so poultry meat, fish contain beta alanine as well. And the reason that it's important is because when it's combined with another amino acid called histidine, it produces carnicine in the muscle, and carnicine has a lot of roles, but one of its most special roles is to help buffer the buildup of hydrogen ions that we get when we do really high intensity work. So that buildup of hydrogen ions in the muscle creates a more acidic pH environment and it's thought that that might contribute to muscular fatigue. So anything that we can do to help buffer or take up those hydrogen ions is going to help us potentially with athletic performance. So beta alanine is really special because it's what we call the rate limiting factor. So it's the most important element in that equation. If we don't have enough of it, we're not going to be able to produce adequate or higher levels of carnicine in the muscle.

Speaker 1:

Got you, got you Okay. So what you're saying is this thing actually works in the way of generating some performance for athletes, correct?

Speaker 2:

And it depends on the type of sport or activity that we're going to be doing. So where beta alanine really shines is activities that are somewhere between 30, 60 seconds up to about 10 minutes. So that's where the literature shows we're getting a performance benefit. So if you're going out and you're doing a zone two ride with some tempo work in there, no benefit. We're not going to really see anything coming out of the beta alanine. When you think about the different disciplines of cycling, there is quite a bit where you might have maximal outputs for somewhere between that 30 seconds to 10 minute period.

Speaker 1:

Gotcha. So we'll get to dosing and some of these other things here in a minute. But like if an athlete is currently taking beta alanine and they're taking it every single day, you would recommend maybe changing that and say high, high intensity days, go for zone 2, endurance days not so much.

Speaker 2:

Not really actually so it has to do with the buildup of carnaestine in our muscles. So this is where a lot of people, I think, take beta alanine incorrectly. When you look at what supplements are in the market, beta alanine is found in a lot of pre workouts and if you're taking a pre workout once a week, twice a week because you're thinking, oh, I want that extra energy, the beta alanine component of that pre workout is probably giving you zero benefit. So the goal is to build up the carnaestine level in our muscle to be able to get that buffering effect. So that buffering effect is going to potentially help reduce muscle fatigue at really high intensities. But it takes about two to four weeks to build up the carnaestine level. So if you're just taking it once a week, twice a week, you're never really going to be able to build up that carnaestine level to where we see performance benefits. So two to four weeks is the minimum of what we need in terms of supplementation on a daily basis to potentially see some performance improvements within that high intensity sphere.

Speaker 1:

Gotcha. Okay, so that two to four weeks. I mean, is there a let's talk about dosing and things like that. What do you recommend on a dose per day? And is there a loading phase for this and then a maintenance phase to walk us through some of that?

Speaker 2:

Yep so there's not really a loading phase, although if you wanted to consider that two to four weeks there are loading phase, I guess you could, but there's not really a loading phase. So total dose on beta alanine is going to be somewhere between 3.2 and 6.4 grams per day. We don't want to take it all at once because that can come with some side effects which we'll talk about. So if we take that higher end on the beta alanine, that shows we can increase our muscle carnaestine stores by around 60% or so, so a really significant amount, and then you could continue to take that beta alanine every day.

Speaker 2:

So the studies that are out there right now, they go up to about six months. So as a practitioner I always like to keep that in mind when I'm recommending a supplement for an athlete. How has it been studied? How long has it been studied? So right now we're seeing about six months is the longest and that study was the six month study I believe was from Brian Saunders. He's a awesome researcher around beta alanine and I got to hear him talk at our ACSM conference in Denver this past year and in the athletes that he was studying their carnaestine levels continued to increase.

Speaker 2:

So it's not like we just take it for two to four weeks and then we're at this plateau. We don't even know what the ceiling is really on carnaestine, so you could keep taking it and potentially continue to see increases in muscle carnaestine. I think he saw around like an 80 percent increase with those athletes that were taking it longer. But you don't necessarily have to keep taking that higher dose longer. There's also some research that says you could drop the dose down to a lower dose like 1.6, 1.8 grams per day and just maintain those levels. So you asked about loading. We could consider that two to four weeks like loading to get you up to a mount and then you could drop the dose, particularly if you are experiencing side effects, and just be able to keep your muscle carnaestine levels there.

Speaker 1:

Gotcha. Well, let's talk about some of the side effects. What are the side effects? What do you experience when you take the supplement and what should you be aware of?

Speaker 2:

So some people will experience what's called peristhesia, and peristhesia is a tingling sensation. Some people describe it as an itchy feeling, and it's usually in our extremities. So it might be our hands, our feet, neck, face, backside, and it's not a long lasting effect. It goes away, sometimes after 10 minutes, usually under an hour, and that's really the main side effect. There isn't any research that says that peristhesia is dangerous. It's just uncomfortable for some athletes and for some athletes they dislike it so much that they don't want to take beta alanine. So if I have someone that's taking a higher amount of beta alanine, I might have them play around with the dosing a little bit. Maybe we go down on the dosing, we split it up more. If they're not on an extended release supplement, we'll try an extended release supplement, see if we can mitigate that peristhesia.

Speaker 1:

Do we know what causes the peristhesia Like? What's the mechanism behind it? I have no idea.

Speaker 2:

I am not 100% sure. I think it might be the high level of beta alanine in the blood that is somehow causing that side effect. I'm not 100% sure.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And the other thing that I like to keep in mind is studies have been done up to six months, and there's one other consideration that I have on the back burner right now with beta alanine, and that's how it affects torene, which is another amino acid. Right now, there isn't any research to show that taking beta alanine is going to cause reductions in torene, but that's something I want to keep my eye on in the research, particularly for any athletes that are wanting to take it longer than six months.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so would you recommend say to our listeners, if they do pursue taking beta alanine, is it something to cycle off of every six months and just like go cold turkey for a few weeks or something, or what do you recommend in that way?

Speaker 2:

I do have them do that only because the research sort of stops at six months and, as a practitioner, our motto is we want to do good, not any harm. So I will have them cycle off of it and I'll look at what their season looks like and there's likely portions in their season where they have no use for beta alanine. They're not doing the types of exercise where they're going to get a benefit from beta alanine. So we can cycle off of it and then just keeping in mind that we need that two to four week period to get our levels back to, you know, closer to that saturation level to get that performance benefit. So you wouldn't want to cycle off of it. And then you're restarting it a week before your A-Race. That's probably not enough time if you were thinking that it was going to give you some benefit in the A-Race.

Speaker 2:

So we'll look at what types of trading someone's doing, the types of races that they're doing. Is there going to be a benefit there? Are they doing these repeated maximal efforts that are within that 30-second to 10-minute time frame? And then also with strength training too, you know, do they have goals of increasing lean body mass? What does their strength regimen look like in the off season? Is that a place where they might want to be using beta alanine?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, okay. So if an athlete's winding things down and October-ish and before that base kicks up, would you recommend cycling off for two weeks, for four weeks, how much is enough to be adequate in a way of cycling off?

Speaker 2:

So there isn't any research that tells us how long we need to cycle off of. So I think you'll get different answers from different people because there isn't any strong research. I would cycle off as long as you can, also from a cost perspective. You know all these things that we get for sport it just costs money. So if you're able to be off of beta alanine for three months because you really don't need it during that time period, well, that's more money in your wallet that you can spend on your bike parts. That's right.

Speaker 1:

That's right, because that is a black hole of expenditure for sure.

Speaker 2:

It is.

Speaker 1:

So I mean, we're brand neutral here on the podcast, but are there any, either brands, or do we take in pill format? Do we take in powder? How would you recommend taking beta alanine?

Speaker 2:

So I like pill format and I like a extended release or sustained release. The product or ingredient that's out there is Carnocin, believe, it's C, a, r, n, hyphen, s, y, n, and then the S? R stands for sustained release, and there's multiple brands on the market that are using that particular form of beta alanine. Thorn is one of them. Their product is also NSF certified for sport. That's another thing that I'm really adamant about. Any of my athletes that are competing where there's a potential for drug testing, if they are going to be taking a supplement, they absolutely have to be taking one that's been third party tested. Even though that's not 100% guaranteed that there's not going to be any contamination, it's at least setting you up better than just taking some random supplement that you found at the vitamin store.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, Okay and I guess, last question here in beta-aliening, just to close it off, I know, for example, some athletes and it's kind of popular like an optogen HP that has beta-aliening with other stuff in it. I mean, does beta-aliening work in synergy with some of these other air quotes here adaptogens or is it something that you can simply take on its own and your body will know what to do if it wants to send the system?

Speaker 2:

Your body can absolutely take it on its own. That's where most of the research is, and so that's what I would recommend, and then also, in a lot of products where it's a mixture of different supplements, more again, make sure that it is third-party tested. A lot of times it's not, and so that's just pretty much a no-go for any of my athletes In terms of things that we could take it with where there's actual research that says hey, combine these two supplements, you might see an even bigger benefit. That's going to be with sodium bicarbonate.

Speaker 2:

So, beta-aliening and sodium bicarbonate. They're in the same category, they do the same thing. They're both buffers. So you have the super high-intensity effort, repeated high-intensity efforts. We get that big buildup of hydrogen ions in the muscle and we need to buffer that. Beta-aliening works inside the cell. Sodium bicarbonate works outside the cell to help sequester those hydrogen ions. Sodium bicarbonate unfortunately has some more concerning side effects for athletes, concerning meaning uncomfortable. So a lot of people can't take sodium bicarb because of the GI effects. So that is a no-go for a lot of athletes because they can't tolerate the GI side effects from sodium bicarbonate.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's interesting. You say that I was first of all, we've done a podcast on sodium bicarbonate in particular and looking at the effects of that. And when you talked about the kind of the 30, 60 second up to 10 minute, I'm like well, that's a very similar timeframe of sodium bicarbonate. So I was already thinking I was like, oh man, what if you dose yourself up on that? So that's interesting. I'm glad you brought that up.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I think the last thing on beta-aliening and so many of these supplements and how they work is it can allow our body to do more. So it's not the supplement in itself that's causing this beneficial outcome, but if we can put out more watts because we're less fatigued, then that is going to give the performance benefit.

Speaker 1:

Exactly and that's also a concept we talk about on this podcast is if you can do more training, then adapt, you'll get better. And the big performance arrow here or the big arrow, directional arrow is performance, so you can increase your performance. It's usually coming from the training recovery and then more performance standpoint, so that's a good reminder, folks.

Speaker 2:

One other thought I believe the listener. Part of his question was around recreational athletes, I think.

Speaker 1:

Amateur cyclists yeah.

Speaker 2:

Amateur cyclists. Yeah, with beta-aliening and with a lot of supplements, we do tend to see a little bit more of a performance increase with a recreational athlete as opposed to an elite athlete. That's consistent with most supplements. The more elite you are, the smaller of a benefit you're going to get from a supplement.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, exactly, and actually could you just expand on that a little bit more, because I think that is very important to recognize. Elite athlete has less to gain or smaller gains are bigger, but in the way of the amateur cyclists mean, why do they see a big response, either from the supplement itself or the dose of training or whatever?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I don't think we necessarily know the answer to why their performance benefit might be better. It could just be that there's more of a ceiling, alright, more, more room to get to the ceiling, and so perhaps that is why there's a larger percentage gain compared to an elite athlete.

Speaker 1:

Exactly, and I think too and I've spoke on that in in the podcast when we're looking at research on different training modalities and when you're working with recreational or let's just say like off the couch versus recreational, versus elites, you get that a similar sort of insight on. Hey, this Group gained a lot the recreational or the off the couch versus the elite, and that's also something to consider when you're looking at when the performance gains are occurring.

Speaker 2:

So yeah, great point, yep, yep. Similar to how a vegetarian or vegan athlete might see more of a benefit with beta alanine compared to a meat eating athlete, the vegetarian, vegan athlete. They're starting with lower stores, so it makes sense that they might see more of a benefit.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, interesting. Okay, I think that closes us out from beta alanine. Just a reminder that you listen to part one and a two-part series on sport nutrition supplements with Nicole Rubenstein. Be sure to come back next week to listen to the second part, and if our Discussion with her generates any more questions, please send them over by going to trainrightcom Backslash podcast. Click on, ask a training question and submit your questions. We'll do our best to answer any and all questions on future episodes. Thanks for joining us on the time crunch cyclist podcast. We hope you enjoyed the show. If you want even more actual training advice, head over to trainrightcom Backslash newsletter and subscribe to our free weekly publication. Each week you'll get in-depth training content that goes beyond what we cover here on the podcast. That'll help you take your training to the next level. That's all for now. Until next time, train hard, train smart, train right.

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