Cycling, particularly road racing, crits, and time trials are endurance sports where the training focus is long distance training. Despite the endurance requirements many races come down to a final sprint that is dependant on very short term peak power. Strength training and cycling specific sprint training can improve this ability but the fastest way to bump up your short term power may be a nutritional supplement called Beta Alanine.
Beta alanine is an amino acid the is converted to carnosine in the body. Carnosine is an intramuscular buffer which accounts for about 10% of a muscle’s buffering capacity. During intense exercise there is a build up of H+ from lactic acid and other sources which can negatively affect muscle contraction and contribute to fatigue. Increasing carnosine concentration in the muscle can delay fatigue caused by H+.
A recent study published in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal (Med Sci Sports. Vol 41 pp 898-903) examined the effects of beta alanine supplementation on sprint ability at the end of a 110 min cycling performance. The subjects were 21 male recreationally competitive cyclists divided into a placebo and Beta Alanine group in a double blind fashion so that neither the researchers or the participants knew who was in which group. The Beta Alanine group used 2g per day for the first 2 weeks, 3g per day for the next two weeks and 4g per day from week 5 to the end of the eight- week study. Both groups kept to their normal training routines throughout the study.
Before and after the supplementation was started all subjects completed a simulated 110min time trial immediately followed by a 30s all out sprint. Following the treatment the Beta Alanine group improved their average power over the 30s by 5%; there was no change for the placebo group. Peak power, during the sprint, improved by 11.4% for the beta Alanine group with no change for the placebo group. Interestingly, all of the subjects in the Beta Alanine group saw improvement in both Peak and mean power while many of the placebo group decreased both peak and mean power during the sprint.
Beta alanine has been around for a few years and the research clearly supports it’s use for improving short- term sprint performance in both endurance and speed and power sports. There have been no reported side effects of Beat alanine supplementation.