Beta-Alanine supplementation makes soldiers more deadly in combat
Beta-Alanine supplements are not only useful for athletes. Scientists at the University of Central Florida discovered that soldiers function better too if they take beta-alanine. It helps them shoot sharper in combat situations.
Beta-Alanine is an eccentric amino acid, found in small quantities in food, and also made in small quantities in the body. It's also different from L-alanine, a non-essential amino acid that the body can make by converting other amino acids. Alanine also goes by the name of alpha-alanine and if you want to be completely correct it's L-alpha-alanine.
When enzymes attach beta-alanine to histidine – an amino acid that we consume in large quantities through our food – the dipeptide carnosine is created.
Carnosine has a wide range of functions, one of which is to neutralise acids and maintain the body's pH balance. The more carnosine there is in your muscles, the longer you can keep up intensive exercise during which lactic acid is released. It takes longer for the lactic acid build up to get to the point where you can no longer contract your muscles.
Beta-Alanine supplementation is effective for intensive forms of continuous exercise that last longer than one minute but not longer than four minutes. Military operations also involve this kind of exertion, so the researchers were curious to know how soldiers would react to beta-alanine supplementation.
To answer the question they did an experiment with 20 male soldiers from an elite unit in the Israel Defense Forces. The subjects were given 6 g beta-alanine daily for four weeks, or a placebo. Before and after the supplementation period the soldiers had to complete a trail that involved 4 km running, followed by five countermovement jumps, a 120-metre sprint, target shooting and finally mental arithmetic.
The supplement had no effect on the sprint times. The soldiers that had taken beta-alanine [BA] did develop more power per kg bodyweight during the countermovement jumps than the soldiers that had been given a placebo [PL].
When the soldiers had to shoot after the sprint, the beta-alanine group scored more hits than the placebo group did. They also shot faster.
The supplement had no effect on the subjects' ability to do sums, but that may have been because the sums were very easy. If the arithmetic had been more difficult, the beta-alanine may have increased the subjects' cognitive capacity.
"This study demonstrated that beta-alanine ingestion for 4 weeks in young, healthy soldiers in an elite combat unit can enhance jump power performance, marksmanship and target engagement speed", the researchers write. "In consideration of the highly intense and fatiguing nature of sustained combat and prolonged military training, ingestion of beta-alanine does appear to provide specific benefits for military personnel."
J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Apr 10;11(1):15.
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