The following is from Lyle McDonald’s Body Recomposition Newsletter
The first part is the research abstract, followed by Lyle’s comments and lastly, my own.
Hoffman J et. al. Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Aug;16(4):430-46.
The effects of creatine and creatine plus beta-alanine on strength, power, body composition, and endocrine changes were examined during a 10-wk resistance training program in collegiate football players. Thirty-three male subjects were randomly assigned to either a placebo (P), creatine (C), or creatine plus beta-alanine (CA) group. During each testing session subjects were assessed for strength (maximum bench press and squat), power (Wingate anaerobic power test, 20-jump test), and body composition. Resting blood samples were analyzed for total testosterone, cortisol, growth hormone, IGF-1, and sex hormone binding globulin. Changes in lean body mass and percent body fat were greater (P < 0.05) in CA compared to C or P. Significantly greater strength improvements were seen in CA and C compared to P. Resting testosterone concentrations were elevated in C, however, no other significant endocrine changes were noted. Results of this study demonstrate the efficacy of creatine and creatine plus beta-alanine on strength performance. Creatine plus beta-alanine supplementation appeared to have the greatest effect on lean tissue accruement and body fat composition.
My comments (Lyle): At this point in time, I would be surprised if anybody reading this newsletter wasn’t familiar with creatine. In that most supplements are worthless garbage that disappear 6 months after being touted as the next big thing, creatine is one of the few that has been around for going on a couple of decades. With over 600 studies having been done, and the majority of those showing some type of benefit on performance (especially for high intensity activity), there’s really no argument regarding creatine’s effectiveness. It’s cheap, it’s safe, it works for most (but not all) people as some are non-responders. At least one of the ways that creatine appears to work is by allowing lifters to perform more high intensity work. Lifters can often get an extra repetition or two at a given weight when they are creatine loaded and this generates faster progress over time.
Companies have tried to reinvent creatine a dozen times, micronized, chewable, effervescent, you name it. But bulk creatine monohydrate powder still works just as well as it ever did. Stuff today doesn’t even have the consistency of sand like it did back in the 90′s.
Relatively speaking, beta-alanine (an amino acid derivative) is fairly new on the block. As a matter of background, beta-alanine along with the amino acid histidine are used by the body to make a skeletal muscle buffer called carnosine (which is also sold for supplementation). Athletes involved in high intensity activities such as sprinting and bodybuilding have been found to have higher carnosine levels than endurance athletes and carnosine has been suggested to improve performance by helping to buffer acidosis. However, at least in animals, beta-alanine seems to work more effectively at raising tissue carnosine levels. At the very least, it’s cheaper and you need less of it.
Two studies came out last year examining the impact of beta-alanine supplementation on human carnosine levels and found an effect, high intensity bicycle performance was also increased. Recently, the idea that stacking creatine with beta-alanine has been suggested. In premise, by buffering acidosis, beta-alanine might allow a lifter to get more reps at a given load; like creatine this would be expected to improve the rate of gains.
33 strength and power athletes with at least 2 years of resistance training received either creatine by itself, beta-alanine and creatine or a placebo over 10 weeks of a 4 day/week split routine resistance training program. Subjects were tested for maximal strength in the bench press and squat as well as power via a Wingate test and 20 jump test. Body composition was also measured via DEXA and testosterone, cortisol, GH, IGF-1 and sex hormone binding globulin was measured.
The doses of supplementation were 10.5 g/day of creatine, 10.5 g/day creatine + 3.2 g/day of beta-alanine or 10.5 g/day of dextrose for the placebo group. Half of the supplement was taken twice per day (I want to note that the studies examining beta-alanine supplementation previously split the dose into 4 X 800 mg doses per day). Diet was uncontrolled and the study relied on self-reporting (notoriously inaccurate).
In terms of body composition changes, the creatine/beta-alanine group did better than placebo although there was quite a bit of variance. Slight increases in LBM with a loss of fat occurred in some but not all subjects. Again, the variance was pretty large so it’s hard to conclude much here. For example, in terms of fat loss, the majority of the creatine/beta-alanine group lost fat. But 2 of the subjects gained a bit. In terms of lean body mass, most of the creatine/beta-alanine group gained LBM but 3 of the subjects actually lost some and one broke even. In terms of averages, however, the creatine/beta-alanine group out-performed either the creatine or placebo groups.
In terms of maximal strength both the creatine and creatine/beta-alanine groups outimproved the placebo group, this appears to be due to the supplement groups maintaining a greater overall intensity (in terms of weight on the bar) and total volume (because they got more reps). Basically, the supplement groups were able to work harder and made better gains.
None of the groups showed major improvements in the power tests; given that they didn’t do any real training for those tests, this doesn’t surprise me. IN terms of hormones, no differences were seen between groups although the creatine group showed a slight increase in resting testosterone concentrations; this is tough to explain given that creatine wouldn’t be expected to affect hormone levels much. Even more difficult to explain is why the creatine alone group saw an increase but the creatine/beta-alanine group didn’t since both got the same amount of creatine.
Overall however it appears that a combination of creatine (10 g/day) and beta-alanine (3.2 g/day) has an additive effect in terms of allowing for a greater workout performance (higher average intensity, greater total volume) which leads to faster gains down the road. Bulk beta-alanine is available and bulk creatine is insanely cheap at this point.
I would note again that studies on beta-alanine have typically split the dose more than this study did, 800 mg taken 4X/day is a common dosing protocol; this is based on the half-life of beta-alanine in the body.
As a personal note, because of the nature of my sport, I decided to try beta-alanine after the initial studies came out. I used it for 4 weeks as indicated and noted exactly nothing in terms of improved performance. Nor have I noticed a drop in performance since stopping it. It may be that the nature of my training, which includes a tremendous amount of high intensity work has generated adaptations to muscle buffering such that beta-alanine won’t have much additional effect. One or two other people I’ve talked about about beta-alanine also got nothing out of it.
Still, based on this study, it may be a supplement worth considering if the rest of your diet and training is in order.
My comments: I have been taking creatine (6 g/day) for maybe two months and I have noticed some changes in my overall physique and strength. What makes this hard for me to evaluate is that those changes had already been underway from first doing the Warrior Diet and then doing Crossfit. Further, I am not an optimally trained elite athlete so it is not all that easy to notice whether a supplement is working or not, though most do not, IMO. Most of my improvement comes from the training itself and not the supplementation. Still, I have noticed a spike in my pr’s on the heavy lifting days. As to the beta-alanine, I am not yet sure. I take the recommended amounts before and after a session and it seems that on a high metabolic workout like Fran, I don’t have to rest as long as I had previously in a broken set of thrusters, for example. I do not seem to get as gassed during that type of workout, (but I always end up that way!) I would like to do some hill repeats on my inlines and compare, especially the last three climbs at max HR.
On a side note the Korean Olympic short track speedskating team supplements with b-a and they are the best in the world. The training in that sport is heavily anaerobic.
The jury is out on b-a for me at the moment and I have a bottle and a half left. What will be interesting is what happens when I stop taking it and that is when I will do a follow-up. As to price, or as Val likes to refer to, the cost to benefit ratio, creatine is inexpensive and well-documented. The beta-alanine, which, while not cheap, is not prohibitively expensive either, but would be the first to go if the gains are only marginal.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is what and when you eat at a macro level, combined with proper post-workout nutrition, a good multi vitamin, fish oil, water and plenty of rest which determines how well you can adapt and get stronger doing Crossfit workouts.