What Causes Beta-Alanine “Tingle” or “Itch”?

beta alanine tingle

Side effects are common in supplement ingestion. Certain side effects are commonly associated with specific supplements. In terms of beta-alanine supplementation, users might experience what’s referred to as “beta-alanine tingle” or “beta-alanine itch.”

Beta-alanine tingle is a common side effect associated with beta-alanine supplementation. Studies have suggested that this phenomenon is caused by the inadvertent activation of certain receptors in the skin; Receptors that are naturally activated by beta-alanine.

What is Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid. This means that the body naturally produces this type of amino acid, unlike the nine essential amino acids (i.e., histidine, isoleucine, leucine. lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) that have to be acquired through diet. The other non-essential amino acids include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

It is a popular ingredient in health supplements due to the benefits it confers. Unlike most amino acids, beta-alanine is not used as a precursor for proteins. Instead, beta-alanine mixes with another amino acid, histidine. The combination of these two amino acids forms carnosine, a dipeptide molecule that has numerous benefits to normal bodily function.

While it is found in many parts throughout the body, carnosine has been found to be primarily concentrated in the muscles. Additionally, the production of carnosine relies on beta-alanine as the limiting substrate due to the heavy abundance of histidine in the body. Studies have shown that daily supplementation of beta-alanine of two to six grams a day can increase muscle carnosine concentrations by 20-80%.

One of the ways carnosine can benefit individuals is through its role as a physiological buffer. Fatigue and post-exercise related pain are related to the decrease of pH in the skeletal muscles. This is primarily due to the transition of the muscles from aerobic energy production to anaerobic energy production which consequently produces lactic acid as a byproduct. Fatigue has been associated with this decrease in pH and a physiological buffer such as carnosine helps reduce the decrease in pH, thus subsequently delaying training-related fatigue.

Numerous studies have shown the ergogenic effects of beta-alanine supplementation. Particularly, how beta-alanine supplementation can enhance physical performance.

In a 2009 paper published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the effects of beta-alanine supplementation were investigated in endurance cyclists. The study used moderately trained sprint cyclists and divided the participants into the treatment group and the placebo group. While the results showed little difference in the two groups in the pre- and post-test assessment, it was found that the beta-alanine group was able to produce a higher peak power output by 11.4% when compared to the placebo group.

A 2018 paper published in Frontiers in Physiology investigated the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the running capability and blood lactate concentration of physically active adults. The study showed that the group treated with beta-alanine supplementation not only exhibited better results in the running test but also showed lower blood lactate values when compared to the untreated group.

Beta-alanine has also been studied to be more effective when taken in combination with other supplements such as sodium bicarbonate, another substance that can act as a physiological buffer.

A 2013 paper published in Amino Acids found that the combined intake of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate has a clear ergogenic effect. While supplementation of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate can individually improve total work done by seven and eight percent respectively, the combined intake of both was able to improve total work done by 14%.

Aside from the usage of beta-alanine to enhance physical performance in sports and exercise, beta-alanine has also been found to be effective in reducing muscular fatigue in elderly individuals.

A 2008 paper published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked into beta-alanine supplementation in the elderly (ages 55-92 years old). The study used physical working capacity at the fatigue threshold (PWCFT) as a marker and it found that elderly participants treated with beta-alanine supplementation had significant increases in their PWCFT.

Is Beta-Alanine Safe?

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring molecule in the body and supplementation has been deemed to be safe when ingested.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has published its official standing with regards to beta-alanine. They concluded seven main points from the plethora of studies reviewed:

First, daily ingestion of four to six grams for four weeks has been studied and confirmed to significantly increase muscle carnosine concentrations.

Second, beta-alanine has been sufficiently studied to be safely ingested at the recommended doses. Healthy populations of individuals have been reported to ingest beta-alanine for long periods of time without any adverse health risks.

Third, the only known side effect of beta-alanine supplementation is the beta-alanine tingle itself. The ISSN recommends lowering the dose to attempt to attenuate the severity of this symptom.

Fourth, enough studies have shown that daily recommended dose of four to six grams a day for two to four weeks can significantly enhance physical performance. Especially intense physical activity that may require the skeletal muscles to transition to anaerobic energy production.

Fifth, beta-alanine supplementation can reduce muscular fatigue, especially in older individuals. This and other benefits of beta-alanine can be connected to the ISSN’s sixth point which states that beta-alanine can be further enhanced when synergistically taken with other supplements.

Lastly, the ISSN states that more studies should be conducted to determine whether beta-alanine supplementation can also improve strength and endurance beyond the 25-minute duration.

Beta-Alanine Tingle

Beta-alanine tingle, or beta-alanine twitch, is the predominant side effect reported by individuals who consume beta-alanine regularly. It is characterized as a prickling or flushing sensation felt on the surface of the skin after ingestion of the supplement. Considered a histamine response, it can essentially be thought of as a form of mild allergic reaction to beta-alanine.

The severity and duration of the tingle can highly vary from one person to the next. Anecdotally, it has been reported that the side effect typically occurs around 15 minutes after supplement ingestion and can last about half an hour.

A 2012 paper published in The Journal of Neuroscience explains the mechanisms involved behind this phenomenon. An important component in the beta-alanine tingle is a receptor called MrgprD. This receptor is associated with mechanosensation – the body’s way to feel touch. Consequently, this receptor is activated by beta-alanine. Hence, it is suggested that beta-alanine supplementation inadvertently activates the MrgprD receptors in the skin, causing it to “tingle.”

Can the Beta-Alanine Tingle be Avoided?

In order to reduce the severity of the side effect, there are a few ways that have been reported to be able to reduce the tingling effects. For some individuals, regular beta-alanine supplementation has been found to lessen the side effect over time. These people eventually become desensitized to the sensation. However, there are those who do not get used to it even after a long period of supplementation.

The first recommendation is to simply reduce the dosage by which the individual has been taking the supplement. While the recommended daily dosage of beta-alanine is four to six grams, it can be taken in divided doses throughout the day. However, lower doses can still confer the tingle as a dose as low as 800 milligrams can still initiate the side effect.

Another way to reduce the beta-alanine tingle is by ingesting supplements that are formulated to as a sustained release. These sustained release formulas are developed to be highly stable forms of beta-alanine that are relatively unavailable to the body right away. Instead, these forms of beta-alanine are slowly released, thereby providing the body with minute amounts of beta-alanine over time.

Final Thoughts

The beta-alanine tingle is a very mild side effect that can be controlled with individual experimentation. Factors that individuals can play with include dosage and dividing the ingestion dose. For serious fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and other people, beta-alanine supplementation has been studied to have an ergogenic effect on physical performance.