What is alanine?
Alanine is one of the non-essential amino acids, since the human body can produce alanine. Therefore, it does not need to be consumed from other sources. Alanine has multiple isomers – molecules with the same molecular formula, but a different chemical structure – the most common of which are L-alanine and D-alanine.1 Within the body, alanine can also be found in the form of alanine aminotransferase, which is a transaminase enzyme used to catalyze parts of the alanine-glucose cycle.2 The alanine-glucose cycle refers to the process through which amino acids and carbons are transported from muscles to the liver, where they are used to make glucose. Additionally, alanine helps metabolize sugars and acids.5 When in its beta form (a slightly modified version of alanine), beta alanine has been shown to be effective at increasing muscle endurance.4 Thus, beta alanine is often found as a supplement.
Role of alanine in the human body
In the body, alanine can be produced from the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and from the metabolism of glucose. Glucose is converted to pyruvate, and pyruvate is then used to create alanine. Additionally, within the body, alanine:
- May be able to treat diarrhea by reducing dehydration3
- Synthesizes proteins to build cells and tissues5
- When in the form of alanine aminotransferase, it plays an integral role in the glucose-alanine cycle, which produces energy, maintains blood sugar levels, and transfers amino acids between the muscles and the liver5
- As a result of alanine aminotransferase’s role in the liver, testing the amount of alanine aminotransferase in the blood can help check for liver damage, since the liver cannot fully absorb alanine if damaged. Thus, the liver releases alanine aminotransferase into the blood.8
- Helps metabolize sugars and acids5
Beta alanine is a naturally occurring form of alanine with a slightly different chemical structure. In beta alanine, the amino group is bonded to the beta carbon instead of the alpha carbon.4 Even though beta alanine has very similar properties to alanine, there are some differences between the two. In addition to the uses mentioned above, beta alanine also:
- Increases carnosine levels within the muscles; carnosine is a chemical that helps decrease fatigue and increase muscle endurance7
Foods Containing Alanine
- Dairy products7
- Whole grains7
- Beans and legumes7
Alanine can also be found in muscle-building supplements, usually in the form of beta alanine.4 Beta alanine is a common ingredient in protein powders, though some pills intended to boost workout performance also contain beta-alanine.
Potential side effects and toxicity
The most commonly reported side effect from consuming beta alanine is a tingling, prickling sensation in the skin that usually lasts for around an hour.9 For the other forms of alanine, there are no scientifically reported side effects.7 Some research suggests that alanine may have significant negative effects on health. High levels of the enzyme alanine aminotransferase have been correlated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and an increased body mass index.8 However, not enough research has been done at this time to conclusively prove whether or not alanine aminotransferase can cause these health effects.
Dosage: How much should you take?
There is no consensus on the recommended dosage of alanine and beta alanine when taken for supplementation.6 However, studies on beta alanine’s use as an athletic supplement have shown that taking between 400mg and 800mg of beta alanine for a 10-week period can boost carnosine levels and increase muscle endurance.9
These studies have also shown that the tingling side effects caused by beta alanine appear after consuming 10mg of beta alanine per kilogram of body weight, and become severe after consuming 20mg of beta alanine per kg.9 Consequently, it is best to consume no more than 20mg per kg of body weight per day. However, these numbers are subject to change, since beta alanine’s use as a supplement is still being researched.
This information is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. These statements have not been approved by Health Canada, FDA, or other governing body. Before beginning any supplementation program, you must meet with your health care professional to ensure your program is right for you.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Doolittle, R. F. (1989), “Redundancies in protein sequences”, in Fasman, G. D.,Prediction of Protein Structures and the Principles of Protein Conformation, New York: Plenum, pp. 599–623, ISBN 0-306-43131-9.
- Naik, Pankaja (1 November 2011).Essentials of Biochemistry. JP Medical Ltd. p. 168. ISBN 9789350254912.
- Patra FC, Sack DA, Islam A, Alam AN, Mazumder RN. “Oral rehydration formula containing alanine and glucose for treatment of diarrhea: a controlled trial”. Br Med J. 298: 1353-6 (1989).
- Appella DH, Christianson LA, Karle IL, Powell DR, Gellman SH (1996). “β-Peptide Foldamers: Robust Helix Formation in a New Family of -Amino Acid Oligomers”. Am. Chem. Soc. 118 (51): 13071–2.
- Nelson, David L.; Cox, Michael M. (2005),Principles of Biochemistry (4th ed.), New York: W. H. Freeman, pp. 684–85, ISBN 0-7167-4339-6.
- Derave W, Ozdemir MS, Harris R, Pottier A, Reyngoudt H, Koppo K, Wise JA, Achten E (August 9, 2007). “Beta-alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters”.J Appl Physiol 103 (5): 1736–43.
- Derave, W.Sports Medicine, March 1, 2010; vol 40: pp 247-263.Natural Standard: “Beta-alanine.”
- Naveed Sattar; Olga Scherbakova; Ian Ford; Denis St. J. O’Reilly; Adrian Stanley; Ewan Forrest; Peter W. MacFarlane; Chris J. Packard; Stuart M. Cobbe; James Shepherd. “Elevated Alanine Aminotransferase Predicts New-Onset Type 2 Diabetes Independently of Classical Risk Factors, Metabolic Syndrome, and C-Reactive Protein in the West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study”. Diabetes. 2004; 53(11).
- Harris, RC; Tallon, MJ; Dunnett, M; Boobis, L; Coakley, J; Kim, HJ; Fallowfield, JL; Hill, CA; et al. (2006). “The absorption of orally supplied β-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis”. Amino Acids30 (3): 279–289.