By Wietse In het Panhuis
We probably all know the struggle of cutting. Sometimes it is difficult to lose fat, even though you are in a caloric deficit. Cardio is a helpful tool to cut down on body fat. Some speculation exists about the cardio intensity that would be optimal to burn fat. Is it better to do cardio with a low intensity for a long time, or a high intensity for a short time?
Energy systems in the body
Before explaining what the ideal form of cardio is for burning fat, you should have a basic understanding of metabolism in the human body.
The body needs energy for a lot of different processes: basic functions to stay alive, repair and growth of tissue, and physical activity. In this situation we are mainly interested in the latter one. The body gets its energy from the conversion of ATP to ADP (I am sure you know what that is by now). To create ATP, several forms of fuel are used, such as carbohydrates (sugars), fats (fatty acids), and ketone bodies (which are only formed and used when being in a fasted state). These fuels are present in blood and stored in the body. After a meal, food is digested and taken up in the blood via the intestines. However, only small amounts of nutrients are present in the blood, because the blood has a strict range of concentrations of nutrients and other compounds. If these concentrations would be much lower or higher, the body cannot function properly. For example, in total only a few grams of sugar are present in the blood, providing the body with about 20-30 kilo calories (kcal). When you cycle for 2 minutes, all of this sugar will be used up. Therefore, the body needs strict regulations of the nutrients: an excess of nutrients will be quickly stored, and a nutrient shortage will be compensated for by releasing nutrients from the body stores into the blood.
Carbohydrates and sugars are stored in glycogen in the muscle and liver. Fat is mostly stored in adipose (fat) tissue, and some of it in the muscles and around the organs. Proteins can also be used as energy fuel, for which they first have to be converted to sugars (and urea). Protein is present in lots of different tissue, but its main storage location is in the muscles.
When the body needs energy (for example during exercise), it does not exclusively use one type of fuel, instead it will use different forms of fuel at the same time. The situation determines how much of a fuel is used. For instance, when you have not eaten for more than 24 hours, your glycogen stores will be low. Your body will then switch to more fat oxidation (the burning of fat to get energy), and the breakdown of protein (and thus muscle) will be increased in order to supply the body with enough glucose. The latter is important, because the brain can only use glucose as energy fuel, and not fat. If there would be no glucose, the brain would stop functioning. When you have just eaten a big meal, your body will switch to predominantly carbohydrates, and will thus burn less fat or breakdown less muscle for protein.
During exercise, the intensity determines how much carbohydrates and fats will be burned. In general, when exercise intensity increases, carbohydrate oxidation increases[1,2]. Also, fat oxidation will increase when exercise intensity increases, but at some point it will decrease again. Therefore, there is an optimal intensity to burn fat. Implementing this knowledge in your (cardio) workout, could help with optimizing fat loss.
Studies tried to investigate which exercise intensity is ideal for fat loss. This optimal fat burning point, or the exercise intensity at which the maximal fat oxidation rate occurs, has been named Fatmax. Exercise intensity in cardio can be expressed in Wmax: The maximal amount of Watt produced before hitting failure. Wmax is closely related to VO2max, which is the maximal volume of oxygen the body is able to use. Wmax and VO2max therefore reflect pulmonary (lung) and cardiac (heart) functioning. Wmax and VO2max are therefore higher in trained athletes. A Wmax of 100% means maximal intensity of (cardio) exercise. At that point, the body simply cannot work harder because it cannot use more oxygen than it already does.
One study tried to investigate the amount of fat oxidation during different exercise intensities. The exercise intensities in cardio were expressed in Wmax. This study compared the amount of carbohydrates and fats that are burned during rest and at a Wmax of 40%, 55% and 75%. As can be seen in Figure 1, at Wmax 40%, the body will have a fat oxidation of about 50% (muscle and plasma TG + plasma FFA is about 25 KJ/min which is half of the total energy that is burned(50 KJ/min)). At a Wmax of 55%, fat oxidation is about 46% (30 KJ/min fat oxidation, 35 KJ/min glucose oxidation, total 65 kJ/min), so at this point in absolute numbers more fat is burned, but since glucose oxidation increases more, relatively less fat is burned. At a Wmax of 75%, fat oxidation is about 20% (20 KJ/min of total 80 KJ/min), which is both lower in absolute and relative numbers. Thus, exercising at 40% of max Watt has the highest relative fat oxidation.
Figure 1. Quantification of glucose and fat oxidation during different exercise intensities. Muscle glycogen and plasma glucose are part of glucose oxidation, muscle and plasma TG and plasma FFA are part of fat oxidation. %Wmax= percentage of the maximal exercise intensity displayed in Watt. Copied from van Loon et al (2001).
This does not mean that exercising at a Wmax of 40% is best for fat loss. Once again, it depends on the situation:
- When you have a lot of muscle mass and you are trying to lose some body fat to get to a low body fat percentage, it is important to minimize muscle loss. When the body is low on carbohydrates (during a cut), it will break down proteins and thus muscle mass to produce sugars. Loss of muscle muss is therefore minimized when fat oxidation is relatively high, and glucose oxidation relatively low. This is the case for a Wmax of 40%: less fat is burned than at a Wmax of 55%, but also much less glucose is burned. In this situation a Wmax of 40% might be ideal.
- When you don’t have a lot of muscle mass, and/or when you just want to lose a lot of fat, minimizing muscle mass loss is less important than losing fat. In this case, a Wmax of 55% might be more ideal. In this situation, energy balance is much more important: you just have to burn more than you eat. Therefore, you might also exercise at an intensity of 75% Wmax. You burn less fat and much more glucose in this case, but this will indirectly result in greater fat loss because fat stores will be burned to supply the body with enough energy. However, when having little carbohydrates/glycogen in the system, exercising at a high intensity is very heavy, and it might therefore be a better option to exercise at an intensity of 55% Wmax.
According to literature, the optimal fat burning point could be different for persons, as gender, age, training status, diet and body composition might play a role. An explanation for this could be that the bodies of trained athletes and people who consume low carb diets (either by fasting or high fat diets in the absence of carbs) are more efficient by being better able to switch to fat oxidation. Furthermore, there is some variation in Wmax, as these might differ per day. This variation is estimated to be around 3 to 7%. It is therefore difficult to implement the Fatmax concept with 100% accuracy in your training strategy. It might be that you need a slightly higher or lower intensity than what is recommended to have optimal fat oxidation. However, it might still be a good approach for cutting.
How to implement Fatmax in your training
To start exercising at a certain intensity, you should know what your Wmax is. To determine Wmax, the following (simplified) protocol on a cycle ergometer could be used:
- Warm up for 5 minutes at 100W for males or 75W for females. Maintain at least 60 rotations per minute during the whole test.
- Increase the intensity with 35W every 2 minutes, until exhaustion.
Exhaustion = the point at which you cannot maintain 60 rotations per minute for more than 20 seconds
- Write down the maximal work load at exhaustion.
Now you know your Wmax, you can implement the concept of Fatmax into your cardio workout schedule to optimize fat loss.
The concept of Fatmax might be useful with regard to weight loss programs. The concept is however based on assumptions of physiology. I could not find any randomized controlled trials that investigated the validity of Fatmax for weight loss in comparison to another exercise regime. Therefore, it is not sure if optimal fat oxidation results in significantly greater weight loss compared to other fat burning strategies. I would therefore recommend to primarily stick to the key concept in weight loss, which is a negative energy balance. If you are able to implement Fatmax in your weight loss schedule, you might give it a try.
In short, Fatmax can be implemented in your training by:
- Finding your Wmax with a cycling test.
- Exercise at 40% of Wmax if you want to minimize muscle loss during a cut.
- Exercise at 55% of Wmax if you want to maximize fat loss during a cut.
- Look at your total exercise energy expenditure. A lower %Wmax also means that the exercise duration should be longer in order to burn the same amount of calories.
 Jeukendrup, A., & Gleeson, M. (2010). Sport nutrition: an introduction to energy production and performance (No. Ed. 2). Human Kinetics.
 van Loon, L. J., Greenhaff, P. L., Constantin‐Teodosiu, D., Saris, W. H., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2001). The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. The Journal of physiology, 536(1), 295-304.
 Ghanbari-Niaki, A., & Zare-Kookandeh, N. (2016). Maximal Lipid Oxidation (Fatmax) in Physical Exercise and Training: A review and Update. Annals of Applied Sport Science, 4(3), 0-0.
 Kuipers, H., Verstappen, F. T. J., Keizer, H. A., Geurten, P., & Van Kranenburg, G. (1985). Variability of aerobic performance in the laboratory and its physiologic correlates. International journal of sports medicine, 6(04), 197-201.
This is a very tasty dish. This pilaf recipe is from my grandmother, we usually eat it at our family gatherings. It’s a very easy recipe but it will get you a very divine meal!
2 Chicken breasts
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
2 big onions
a box of champignons
1 can of peaches (1 L)
clove of garlic
Bell pepper powder
½ of a bottle of ketchup
Cut the chicken breasts into cubes and chop the onion and the other vegetables.
Fry the chicken breasts and the onion together in a little olive oil. Add all the other ingredients except for the peaches. When everything is cooked and glazed with a nice saucy texture, add all of the canned peaches and a part of the juice. And you are all done! Ready to eat, serve it with a bit of delicious rice!
|Whole dish (without rice)||Per person|
By Wietse In het Panhuis
Probably everyone recognizes this situation: You have had a busy work week, waking up early at 7 am every morning, and going to bed at 11 pm. On Friday, you feel tired and you have the feeling that you should catch up on sleep, but you also want to go to bed later, since it’s weekend. Therefore, you decide not to set your alarm clock on Saturday and Sunday. You stay up late on Friday and Saturday, and you wake up at 11 am on Saturday and Sunday morning. Is this a good idea? Does sleeping in really help to catch up on sleep, rest and recover?
As mentioned before in my other article on sleep and rest, there is not an optimal sleep duration that works for all people (if you missed the previous article, you can read it here: https://wageningenbeasts.com/2016/12/04/optimizing-your-sleep-and-biological-rhythm/). Some people need much sleep, others need less. The reason for this is differences in habit, but also differences in genetics (and of course differences in age, but this can be neglected since the readers of this article are probably all students). Therefore, no solid recommendations can be done on how long you should sleep.
If you get less sleep than you need, sleep deprivation (the need for sleep) will accumulate. Often when you have one bad night of sleep, you will still feel fine the next day, but when this happens for a few nights in a row you will start to notice the effects of sleep deprivation. Of course I don’t have to explain to you that (chronic) sleep deprivation is bad for you and can have serious health consequences. That is probably also the reason you want to sleep late during the weekends, to get some more rest. In theory, it is true that the body needs to catch up on sleep when it is sleep deprived, so in that respect you are right. There are however other factors that play a role.
The biological clock
Like mentioned before in my previous article, the biological clock is a mechanism that (a.o.) informs the body about time: the sensation of day and night. The biological clock is a complex system, because it can be influenced by many factors (think of light, psychological factors, activity, food intake). The complexity is also the reason why the biological clock does not adapt easily to changes in the daily routine. A jet-lag is a perfect example for this. After traveling it takes some time to adjust the sleep rhythm to the new time zone. However, it takes even longer before you are fully adapted to the new time (e.g. when you don’t need an alarm clock to wake up at a certain time). A rule of thumb is: don’t mess with your biological clock! It is best for the biological clock to have a regular pattern in sleep (most important), but also in things like food intake. Big changes in these patterns disturb the clock, which could result in sleeping problems, fatigue, changes in mood, concentration, study performance and metabolism, and in more severe cases (like chronic shift-work) in diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and even mortality[1-6]. A stable clock is therefore a healthy clock.
When you wake up early during the week and late in the weekend, this is confusing for the biological clock, especially when there is a great difference between the times of waking up. For each day you go to bed and wake up at a different time, the biological clock has to adapt. When sleeping in during the weekend and waking up early on Monday again, the biological clock keeps adapting back and forth. In this way, the body does not fully get used to waking up early during the week. This could possibly be the explanation why you are feeling tired during the week.
What I personally notice, is when I am not used to waking up early, and I wake up early even though I get my hours of sleep, I am still tired. This is because the biological clock is not used to waking up at a different hour, and not because the body did not get enough sleep. When sleeping in during the weekend, the body is not well-adapted to waking up early during the week, and this can cause the sensation of fatigue.
Thus, when you are tired after waking up early for a week, the likely cause of this is that your rhythm during the weekend is different, and not because you don’t get enough sleep. The latter is of course still a possibility, and in that case you could try to go to bed earlier to see if that helps. The answer to the question: ‘Is sleeping in during the weekend beneficial?’ is therefore: No, the benefits of some extra sleep do not outweigh the disadvantage of a disturbed biological clock. If you still want some extra sleep during the weekend, the best thing to do is to go to bed earlier.
Of course this is not a very attractive message. When it is Friday, we want to enjoy our weekend by staying up late and do fun things. This message discourages that. You might accept and implement this message by enjoying your weekend in the morning instead of late in the evening, but I can imagine that you don’t want to give up your nights out. Alternatively, when you go out partying, it might be better to still wake up early (maybe one hour later than on a weekday). In this way, you will have some sleep deprivation, but you can solve this by taking a power nap during the day or by going to sleep earlier in the evening. The upside of this, is that your biological rhythm will be more stable, which will be more beneficial in the long run.
 Åkerstedt, T., Kecklund, G., & Johansson, S. E. (2004). Shift work and mortality. Chronobiology international, 21(6), 1055-1061.
 Ramin, C., Devore, E. E., Wang, W., Pierre-Paul, J., Wegrzyn, L. R., & Schernhammer, E. S. (2015). Night shift work at specific age ranges and chronic disease risk factors. Occup Environ Med, 72(2), 100-107.
 Antunes, L. C., Levandovski, R., Dantas, G., Caumo, W., & Hidalgo, M. P. (2010). Obesity and shift work: chronobiological aspects. Nutrition research reviews, 23(01), 155-168.
 Li, Y., Sato, Y., & Yamaguchi, N. (2011). Shift work and the risk of metabolic syndrome: a nested case-control study. International journal of occupational and environmental health, 17(2), 154-160.
 Trockel, M. T., Barnes, M. D., & Egget, D. L. (2000). Health-related variables and academic performance among first-year college students: implications for sleep and other behaviors. Journal of American college health, 49(3), 125-131.
 Wolfson, A. R., & Carskadon, M. A. (1998). Sleep schedules and daytime functioning in adolescents. Child development, 69(4), 875-887.
Red Curry with Gambas (+/- 2 persons)
1 sweet potato
100 g gambas (peeled!, raw or cooked)
250 g spinach
125 g cherry tomatoes
Red curry package
300 ml Coconut milk
1 clove of garlic
pepper and salt
This one is for the people that love spicy food.
This curry is so delicious!
Cut the sweet potato in 4 pieces and boil until soft. Cut the clove of garlic into small pieces and fry the gambas in the garlic with pepper. Add the spinach and the sweet potato into the pan with the gambas. Make sure the spinach shrinks and than add the curry paste with the coconut milk. Let this simmer for a bit and add the cherry tomatoes at the end!
This curry is very tasty, easy and keeps you wanting more!
Serve this curry with rice!
|Whole dish (without rice)||Per person|
RESTAURANT REVIEW – MY ASIA
Our small but cosy town Wageningen is the decor of many cafés and restaurants. This is why the FoodCie decided to come up with something new! As friendly as real beasts are, we like to help each other by giving advice about where to eat and where NOT to eat.
Lets start this trip with some foodporn. A loooooong time ago, Ricky and I came up with the idea to go My Asia. I had never been to a Thai restaurant before and with an partial Asian boyfriend that is of course a no go. For some reason, probably too much time spended in the gym (oh no can’t be that, injurylife), it took us quite a long time to finally make the reservation. While some of you were probably hugging the toilet or waking up in a strangers bed, Kingsday was for us THE day!
Brave as we are, we decided to choose the four-course surprise menu. The appetizer consisted of several different small dishes, for example fried tempura shrimps, fishcakes and spring rolls. This time it was not save the best for last, but save the best for first! It was really delicious with a lot of different flavors.
As an in-between course they served us a turmeric soup with chicken, fried rice noodles and little sprinkles of swag (Ricky’s words). Again a great dish, although I have to say a bit heavy in flavor.
Then it was time for the main-course, which means in our case: MEAT. And with that I mean a lot of it… They depleted there pantry for us by serving crispy duck, red curry with beef slices and string beans, and a fried whole bream. All of it was cooked really well and tasted good. Ricky really enjoyed the food, which brought up some memories. Small side note: for me the coriander and mint were a bit overpowering.
We already have had the best part, right? Yes, but dessert is a good runner up. Here our ways parted and we ordered different dishes. I eat pancakes every day, so no surprise that the Thai pancake filled with icecream and whipped cream was going into my belly. A good and refreshing end of the evening. Oh, and the pancake was green, how cool is that?! Ricky was more adventures and chose the fried icecream. The ice inside was already melted, that was a small letdown, but the taste was there.
We really enjoyed the food, this restaurant is highly recommended and we are definitely going back!
We would rate the food with the number 8, service gets a 9 and the total ambiance gets a 7,5.
Ricky & Jasmijn
By Fleur van Griensven
You might have heard the saying: ‘Carbs are bad for you’ or ‘eating after 8 pm makes you fat’. A lot of people claim that this will result in fat gain. Are carbs really the enemy or are these two examples just one of the thousand misconceptions in the fitness industry? Can we actually benefit from cycling our carb intake whilst cutting? Is carb cycling the secret to get shredded?
What is Carb cycling?
Carb cycling is just what the name implies: Cycling the carbohydrate intake during the week, which translates into higher carb days and days with fewer/no carbohydrates. This is also called a non-linear dieting approach. A linear dieting approach means that the amount of calories and ratio of carbs/protein/fats remains the same every day. Thus, the non-linear dieting approach includes differences in the amount of calories, carbs, protein and fats between different days. I will try to make this clearer with an example.
If you would eat 200 g carbs, 150 g protein and 60 g fat 7 days a week you’d be following a linear dieting approach
If you would eat 250 g carbs, 150 g protein and 60 g fat on your 5 training days and 150 g carbs, 150 g protein and 60 g fat on your 2 rest days, you would be following a non-linear/carb-cycling diet.
With a carb-cycling diet, you basically manipulate your carbohydrate intake on different days of the week. Figuring out how much carbs to eat on these days is not that simple, but we will get back to that later on. In addition, I will give some tips on how to incorporate carb cycling in a diet yourself.
When can it be used and what are the benefits?
Carb cycling can be used both during a cutting (caloric deficit) and bulking period (caloric surplus). In this article, we will not cover carb cycling during a bulk. Carb cycling can be used from the start of a cut or when you go deeper into a caloric deficit. Most people will choose the second option. They do this because as calories are decreased a lot, it’s harder to stay motivated. Having different amounts of calories on different days might give you something to look forward to.
Carb cycling may have some potential benefits. Firstly, for some it gives a psychological boost and motivation to keep going. Implementing higher carb days gives you something to look forward to when dieting gets tough. The prospect of a day filled with pasta, bread or whatever carb source you’re craving can just be enough to keep on track with dieting.
Menno Henselmans, the founder of Bayesian Bodybuilding, has been talking about carb cycling in one of his interviews. Bayesian Bodybuilding uses an evidence and scientific-based approach to bodybuilding, so everything is based on scientific data. In this interview, Menno Henselmans says that there are almost no studies done on the carb cycling approach and the physiological benefits. The science about carb cycling is lacking, which I also encountered when digging deeper into this topic. Menno Henselmans believes that the few days during which the carb intake is increased, or higher carb days in general, do not have any practical physiological effect. A few days of increased carb consumption after several days lower in carbs is not enough to bring hormones related to hunger and appetite back to normal. 
There are however some studies that looked at the effect of an increased carbs intake for one or more days on a hormone that are related to hunger and appetite.
One of these hormones is leptin. Leptin is a hormone secreted (produced) by fat cells and controls both long-term energy balance and appetite. When body fat is going down during a cut, leptin production is decreased over time. This results in more and more hunger when you are deeper into a cut. Here the fun part of shoving your face with carbs comes in. Higher carb days, also called refeed days, are thought to bring the lowered leptin concentration back to a normal level. This will reduce the increased sensation of hunger (for a while), which might help you to stick to your diet.
However, recent studies did not show that a refeed or just one-high carb day can bring leptin levels back up. Yes, refeeding does give a rise in serum leptin levels, but leptin levels return to baseline (the starting point) after 24h. This means that leptin levels are not restored long-term. Switching between higher and lower carbs days is not going to do much for an improvement in leptin and thus those hunger feelings will still be there. 
Carbs are the main energy source during physical activity, because they provide the glucose that is required for energy. What most people experience is that eating more carbs will result in more energy during their training session. This results in them being able to train harder and lift more. That’s why it is recommended to have higher carbs on the heaviest training days.
How to set up your carb cycling plan? 
The most crucial thing in setting up macros for a carb cycling diet is to still have the same weekly total carb intake as you would have in a linear dieting approach. We leave aside protein and fat for the moment as they remain the same and we are only going to manipulate our carb intake on different days. Let’s go back to the example used earlier to show how you can set it up yourself.
On a linear diet, we would have 200 g carbs x 7 days = 1400 g of carbs per week.
For example, on a carb cycling diet it could look like this:
- 190 g 6 days per week and 260 g 1 day per week.
- 184 g 5 days per week and 240 g 2 days per week.
- 185 g 4 days per week and 220 g 3 days per week.
How you choose to set up your carb cycling plan is all personal preference. A few factors you can take into account are:
- How often do you train? If you only train two or three days a week, bigger carb load days might be more beneficial for you. If you instead train five or even six days a week, a more moderate spreading of carbs might be better.
- What are your heaviest training days? If adding more calories on these days gives performance a huge boost, go ahead and train the house down.
- What suits my lifestyle? Can you be a bit strict during the week and have more carbs to spend for burgers with friends during the weekend? Or would you rather have a more moderate carb intake?
Conclusion, Carb cycling: The secret to get shredded?
NO carb cycling is not the secret to get shredded. The secret to get lean is maintaining a caloric deficit for as long as needed to achieve the physique or shape you’re after. If cycling your carb intake (in whatever way you choose to do so) makes it easier to stick to your diet, carb cycling might be a good strategy. Alternatively, if you enjoy doing it and get results from it, then do it. However, keep in mind that it won’t give you better results than a linear-dieting approach with a daily constant caloric deficit. Whether you use a linear or non-linear dieting approach like for example carb cycling does not matter as long as your weekly caloric averages come out the same.
Take home message: Don’t overcomplicate the whole fat loss thing, it’s not rocket science. Stick to a caloric deficit, choose a strategy you can do consistent and rock the beach this summer!
 Henselmans, M. (Bayesian Bodybuilding). (2015, 24 February). Refeeds, Body Recomposition &
Non-Linear Diets. [Radio Podcast]. In Danny Lennon. Sigma Nutrition& Performance.
 Kolaczynski J, (1996). Responses of leptin to short-term fasting and refeeding in humans: a link with ketogenesis but not ketones themselves. Diabetes. 45(11):1511-5.
 Cheadle, N (2015, 13 November). Carb cycling for fat loss. Retrieved from https://www.nickcheadlefitness.com/carb-cycling-for-fat-loss/ on April 26th 2017
These scones are not only healthy but also very delicious!
1 tbsp oil (olive, sunflower, coconut, etc)
250 g spelt flour
3 el honey (not necessary, I used only 1 el)
75 mL almond milk
welled raisins (handful)
2,5 tsp Baking powder
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celcius.
Well the raisins in semi-hot water.
If you want to use a banana in this recipe I would advice to cut it in real small pieces and toss it in together with the raisins.
Mix the almond milk together with the egg. In another bowl mix the spelt flour together with the baking powder and the salt. Add the raisins (banana/cinnamon) to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Then add the honey and the oil to the dry ingredients. At last mix the egg and almond milk mixture with the dry ingredients and make sure it becomes a smooth dough. Divide this dough in 6-8 pieces and put them on your baking tray. Give them a little eggwash and put them in the oven for 10-15 minutes!
These scones are really good with clotted cream and jam or lemon curd, but if you want to make them really healthy try them with skinny ‘ kwark’ and strawberries/banana on top!
|Whole dish (6 scones)||Per scone|
By Wietse In het Panhuis
If you have been training for some time, you have probably heard about it before. If you ever used pre-workout, you probably felt its effects before. I am talking about beta-alanine. Beta-alanine has been shown to be effective for some sports. The question is: Can beta-alanine supplementation be beneficial for strength training?
What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, which means that it is naturally present in the body. Even though it is already present in the body, supplementation with the intention to increase its levels could be beneficial (just like creatine). Beta-alanine is often used in sports that involve high intensity exercises, such as rowing and short-distance ice-skating. It is believed to combat muscle fatigue, and thereby has a positive effect on muscle endurance. Science has shown that beta-alanine is especially interesting for endurance during high intensity sports, and not for endurance (e.g. long distance running) and explosive (e.g. shot-put) sports.
How does beta-alanine improve endurance?
Endurance is improved when fatigue is inhibited. There are many processes during exercise that could lead to fatigue. One of those processes is acidification of the muscles due to buildup of H+-ions (hydrogen ions) and lactate. Of course, the body has many mechanisms to prevent and counteract acidification, to make the pH (a measure of acidity) neutral again. Such mechanisms are called buffer mechanisms. In one of those mechanisms, a protein called carnosine plays a role. During the production of ATP (energy production from food), H+-ions are formed. During exercise, a lot of energy is produced, and therefore also a lot of H+-ions. This will lead to a drop in pH (and will thus be more acidified). Carnosine works as a buffer by reacting with H+-ions. In that way, acidification and thereby fatigue of the muscles will be inhibited, which results in increased endurance.
Now beta-alanine comes in the picture. Beta-alanine supplementation results in increased carnosine levels. Greater carnosine levels have been shown to increase endurance during high intensity exercise with a short duration, such as rowing and sprinting, like mentioned before. This raises the question: why not just supplement carnosine? This will not be effective, since muscle cells cannot take up carnosine from the blood stream. The only way to increase carnosine inside the muscle cells, is if carnosine is produced (synthesized) in the cells themselves. Carnosine can be synthesized from beta-alanine and L-histidine (an amino acid), which in turn cannot be produced by muscle cells, but they can be taken up from the blood by muscle cells. There is more L-histidine than beta-alanine in the blood, and the enzyme that combines these two to form carnosine, binds more easily to L-histidine than to beta-alanine[5-7]. For these two reasons, enough L-histidine is present while beta-alanine is often in shortage when carnosine is being produced (in other words: beta-alanine is the limiting factor). This means, that only beta-alanine is necessary to increase carnosine levels.
Thus, beta-alanine supplementation increases carnosine levels in the muscles. In turn, carnosine works as a buffer to stabilize the pH and thereby endurance is increased. This is illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Beta-alanine’s mode of action. Retrieved from bodybuilding.com
How much beta-alanine do you need to use to see results?
Increasing carnosine levels in the muscle cannot by achieved by taking beta-alanine once. According to scientific studies, supplementing 6,4 grams for 4 weeks is the most effective strategy to increase the carnosine levels in the muscle (by 65%). When supplementing for longer than 4 weeks, this will be equally effective and thus gives the same results. It just implies that supplementing beta-alanine for a short time period (less than 4 weeks) is not very effective.
The supplement is safe, but you may get a tingling, itching feeling on your skin (paresthesia) when you take more than 10 mg/kg body weight at once (around 800 mg). To prevent this, you can take eight daily dosages of 800 mg. Alternatively, four doses of 1600 mg of slow-release capsules also works to get the same effect without experiencing paresthesia. Beta-alanine is commercially available in powder or slow release capsules. Powder costs about €16,- per 500 grams or ~€5,-/month. Slow-release capsules are about €15,- for 90 capsules or ~€20,-/month, making slow-release capsules four times as expensive as powder.
Fun fact: Beta-alanine is often present in pre-workout, but since intramuscular carnosine levels cannot be increased by taking beta-alanine once (like you do with pre-workout), this beta alanine has no added benefit to the pre-workout. Since beta-alanine dosages are often above 800 mg in pre-workout, this often results in paresthesia. Concluding: beta-alanine in pre-workout is useless and only gives you itches.
Can beta-alanine improve workouts for strength training?
Unfortunately, in order to draw clear conclusions on this topic, more scientific research should be done. There are however a few studies that investigated this. One study looked at the effect of beta-alanine during a 10 week training program. This study showed that total working volume increases due to beta-alanine. This effect only occurs during high-repetition sessions (8-12 repetitions) with little rest (30-90 seconds) and not in low-repetition sessions (±5 repetitions) with long rest (2-5 minutes)[9,11]. This makes sense, as during bodybuilding, muscles will get acidified which quickly can result in fatigue. Since beta-alanine improves the buffer capacity of the muscle by increasing carnosine levels, more repetitions can be done before reaching failure. In general, a greater training volume results in increased muscle mass. However, so far it has not yet been proven that the usage of beta-alanine supplements improves the gaining of muscle mass[10-12]. This might be due to the fact that in the performed studies training schedules varied and also included sets with fewer repetitions.
Thus, beta-alanine mainly seems to work for high intensity exercise during which glycolysis plays a major role (exercise durations of 1-6 minutes), since beta-alanine supplementation increases the muscle’s acid buffer capacity. Beta-alanine does not increase strength (like creatine does). Therefore, beta-alanine might be useful for bodybuilders (or for sports like bootcamp), but not for powerlifters or any sport that requires short bursts of energy (such as shot-put). More studies that test long term beta-alanine supplementation during a bodybuilding training schedule should be conducted to get clear answers on how much bodybuilders could benefit from beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine: yay or nay? Yay AND nay!
It is both yay and nay, because there is not a clear answer.
- Beta-alanine might improve endurance in bodybuilders, bootcampers and other high-intensity sports.
- Beta-alanine supplementation does not increase strength.
- Evidence for increases in muscle mass is lacking (even though it is likely).
- In addition, supplementation can be either expensive or really inconvenient. Since beta-alanine can have paresthesia as a side effect at high dosages, supplementing about 6.4 grams per day without experiencing paresthesia can be done in three ways:
- The cheapest option is to supplement 8 servings of 800 milligrams distributed over the day.
- If you do not like regular supplementation, you might consider two daily servings of slow-release capsules (which is however four times as expensive).
- Finally, you might just take 5 grams of powder in one or two servings per day, with the disadvantage of itches which may last up to one hour.
In summary, beta-alanine probably has some beneficial effects for bodybuilders by increasing volume and thereby possibly muscle mass. However, more scientific studies should be done to be sure. Please take into account that effects of single supplements are generally relatively small: The greatest improvements come from a good training schedule and good nutrition. Thus, as long as you are on amateur level of training, supplements in general will not make great differences. For professional athletes it can be more useful, since small differences could make the difference between winning or losing a competition. If you are not a pro, but if you want to improve in sports as much as you can, of course that’s fine. If you think it is worthwhile to either regularly supplement, pay a lot of money or experience itches, beta-alanine might be a good contribution to your workout.
 Artioli, G. G., Gualano, B., Smith, A., Stout, J., & Lancha Jr, A. H. (2010). Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 42(6), 1162-1173.
 Suzuki, Y., Ito, O., Mukai, N., Takahashi, H., & Takamatsu, K. (2002). High level of skeletal muscle carnosine contributes to the latter half of exercise performance during 30-s maximal cycle ergometer sprinting. The Japanese journal of physiology, 52(2), 199-205.
 BAUER, K., & SCHULZ, M. (1994). Biosynthesis of carnosine and related peptides by skeletal muscle cells in primary culture. European journal of biochemistry, 219(1‐2), 43-47.
 Matthews, M. M., & Traut, T. W. (1987). Regulation of N-carbamoyl-beta-alanine amidohydrolase, the terminal enzyme in pyrimidine catabolism, by ligand-induced change in polymerization. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 262(15), 7232-7237.
 Harris, R. C., Tallon, M. J., Dunnett, M., Boobis, L., Coakley, J., Kim, H. J., … & Wise, J. A. (2006). The absorption of orally supplied β-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino acids, 30(3), 279-289.
 Horinishi, H., Grillo, M., & Margolis, F. L. (1978). Purification and characterization of carnosine synthetase from mouse olfactory bulbs. Journal of neurochemistry, 31(4), 909-919.
 Ng, R. H., & Marshall, F. D. (1978). REGIONAL AND SUBCELLULAR DISTRIBUTION OF HOMOCARNOSINE–CARNOSINE SYNTHETASE IN THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM OF RATS. Journal of neurochemistry, 30(1), 187-190.
 Harris, R. C., Tallon, M. J., Dunnett, M., Boobis, L., Coakley, J., Kim, H. J., … & Wise, J. A. (2006). The absorption of orally supplied β-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino acids, 30(3), 279-289.
 Hoffman, J., Ratamess, N., Kang, J., Mangine, G., Faigenbaum, A., & Stout, J. (2006). Effect of creatine and ß-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16(4), 430-446.
 Hoffman J, Ratamess NA, Ross R, Kang J, Magrelli J, Neese K, Faigenbaum AD, and Wise JA. Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med 29: 952–958, 2008.
 Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Faigenbaum AD, Ross R, Kang J, Stout JR, and Wise JA. Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players. Nutr Res 28: 31–35, 2008.
 Kendrick, I. P., Harris, R. C., Kim, H. J., Kim, C. K., Dang, V. H., Lam, T. Q., … & Wise, J. A. (2008). The effects of 10 weeks of resistance training combined with β-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino acids, 34(4), 547-554.
Pasta with Pesto-cream sauce and chicken romana (4 persons)
This sauce is based on a fresh made pesto. You can also just take 2 tbsp of store-bought pesto.
Just boil the pasta (+/- 400g) for this recipe as mentioned on the package.
1 whole Basilplant (just the leaves)
Olive oil extra vergine (quantity depends on the structure of the mixture, we want a nice and creamy texture)
Pine nuts (half a package (40g))
Parmesan cheese (half a package (45g))
2 cloves of garlic
pinch of salt
To make this delicious pesto just put all the ingredients except the parmesan cheese together and blend it. When it has a nice texture, drop in the cheese and mix it a bit more. And your pesto is all done!
50 g butter
2 tbsp fresh pesto
40 g flour
splash of lemon juice
1 bouillon cube with 500 ml water
splash of cooking cream
Melt the butter and add the flour at once. Keep stirring until it has a doughy texture. Fry this for 3 minutes and then add the chicken bouillon. Let this boil and add the cream, lemon juice, pepper and salt. When you have a nice texture, add the pesto and take the pan of the heat. Ready to serve!
2 chicken breasts
100 g parmesan cheese
olive oil to fry
pinch of pepper and salt
splash of cooking cream
To make a batter for the chicken we have to mix the eggs, parsley, parmesan, pepper and salt, and a bit of cooking cream.
Cut the chicken breasts into 4 thin chicken breasts. Put some flour on them and put them in the egg mixture. Put the pan on high heat and fry up the chicken with the batter until golden-brown.
This dish goes nice with some grilled eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper and mushrooms.
|Whole dish (without vegetables)||Per person|
Antillian Chicken Stew (4 persons)
I’m a big fans of stews in general. I usually make my stews using the exact scientific method of throwing random ingredients and spices together in the biggest pot I have and try not to be too surprised when it comes out good. But for the sake of thoroughness I decided to share the recipe for chicken stew given to me by the ghost of my great-grandmother.
4 whole chicken legs (kippenbouten in Dutch)
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 onion (diced)
1 tomato (diced)
1 bell pepper/paprika (diced)
2 cloves of garlic (diced)
1 block of chicken broth powder (bouillon in Dutch)
1.5 teaspoon of yellow mustard
1 teaspoon of yellow curry powder
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use ketjap manis)
1 cup of water
- Strip the skin off the chicken.
- Put the chicken in a large pot and add all the ingredient except for the tomato paste over a medium heat. Keep stirring for the first 5-10 minutes as you want all the ingredients to mix well. Let it cook for another 10 minutes before adding the tomato paste.
- Add the tomato paste and let the sauce reduce to a desired consistency. I prefer it thick.
I personally like it with rice but you can also eat it with potatoes or bread. If you like having some starch in your stew feel free to add potatoes.
|Whole dish (without potatoes/bread)||Per person|