I recently visited my local GNC in Portage, Indiana, to find out what supplements they recommended for a triathlete trying to increase speed. I explained that I’d been competing in multi-sport for five years and had achieved considerable success, typically placing in the top three of my age group. I told the sales representative that my training regimen was consistent, but that I wanted to take something that would help me get faster, without having any negative side-effects.
“I would recommend trying beta-alanine and creatine,” he said matter-of-factly. I repeated his words, just to clarify. “Uh, yeah. Beta-alanine is gonna give you that anti-fatigue factor, and creatine creates ATP.”
I thanked him for his help, and he walked away to assist other customers. I was satisfied with his answer because he’d already gained my trust from prior visits, but I wanted to do my own research before making a purchase. Ultimately, his advice wasn’t bad. But it also turned out to be a very generic recommendation that could benefit athletes in many different sports.
Here’s what I learned about the two supplements:
Creatine is commonly used by both professional and recreational athletes. Furthermore, creatine enhances ATP levels — just as the GNC sales rep said — which can enhance recovery from intense training sessions and facilitate the production of power during tough bouts of exercise. Creatine also contributes to strength gains. However, research shows that the expectations for this supplement outweigh the actual ergogenic benefits. In addition, there is minimal risk involved in using creatine. When used according to label and with adequate hydration, there don’t appear to be many major concerns. A negative side effect is that it can cause weight gain (mostly in the form of water retention), which would not be desirable for an endurance athlete such as myself. Lastly, after learning that creatine mainly aids in sports “involving brief periods of high-intensity exercise,” I thought that it was a questionable recommendation for an endurance athlete. However, I thought maybe it could help with my transitions (from swim to bike to run), and to help me finish strong at my sprint (the shortest distance) triathlon events.
There are many benefits of beta-alanine. It has been shown to increase muscular strength and power output, muscle mass, anaerobic and aerobic endurance, and delayed muscle fatigue. There have also been studies to suggest that there are enhanced benefits when used with creatine (brownie points for the GNC guy). I also consulted a scholarly article published in theACSM, which reiterated that “the popularity of β-alanine stems from its unique ability to enhance intramuscular buffering capacity and thereby attenuating fatigue.” Beta-alanine might also delay muscle fatigue in older adults, over the age of 55. The benefits of this supplement also seemed to be emphasized in strength-training. These latter points made me question the efficacy in relationship to my needs as a 35-year-old endurance athlete.
As a triathlete, I would definitely feel comfortable taking both of these supplements, and they certainly have the potential to produce gains in speed and strength. I’ve never tried beta-alanine, but I’ve taken creatine in the past. They both have an excellent safety profile and have scientific research to support the possible benefits. Particularly compared to some of the more dangerous thermogenics and weight-loss pills that I’ve taken, neither of these supplements pose a threat to my health, and there is likelihood that they can enhance my performance.