Betaine is relatively new to the world of preworkout supplements, but it has been studied as a medicine for heart disease patients for many years.
Generally, betaine assists in liver function, cellular reproduction, and metabolism.
Information is also being discovered that suggest this amino acid has some impressive effects on power and muscle gain as well as fat loss and carnosine and carnitine levels.
If you’d like to find out more about this newcomer to the sports nutrition table, check out the info below.
What is Betaine?
Betaine is a non-essential amino acid found in beetroot and is also known as betaine anhydrous and trimethylglycine (TMG).
Betaine supplements are manufactured using by-products of the sugar beet processing industry.
First used and studied as a treatment for heart disease, betaine is now becoming known in the exercise industry for its ability to promote protein synthesis.
Protein synthesis is the process where the genetic code puts proteins together in the cell.
Early research into the benefits of this supplement for athletes show promise – it can delay muscle fatigue, raise carnosine and carnitine levels, promote muscle gain, and help with fat loss.
Betaine is built from choline and another amino acid, glycine when it is made naturally in the body.
It plays an important part in the methionine cycle as a ‘methyl donor’ – a substance that can transfer a methyl group (a carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms) to any other substance.
This happens millions of times every second inside our cells. The process contributes to cell reproduction, fat metabolism, and liver function.
Betaine also works as an osmolyte.
This means that it helps to protect cells from extreme changes in their environment like heat or cold, high salt levels or dehydration.
This important substance is also approved as a treatment for genetic conditions which cause a buildup of homocysteine – high levels of which are linked to clogged arteries and heart disease.
What Does Betaine Do?
Betaine is proving to be very effective in promoting endurance during workouts.
Over time, it is becoming increasingly popular with bodybuilders and weightlifters due to its positive effects.
One of the first studies to look at the effects of betaine supplementation on exercise power and strength was by Lee, et al. in 2010.
The scientists studied 12 young men who had all done resistance training before.
These men completed two 14 day periods of either placebo treatment or betaine supplementation with a 14-day wash-out phase in between.
At the end of each period of supplementation or placebo, the men undertook two days of high-intensity strength and power resistance exercise challenges.
It was discovered that the twice daily 1.25g betaine supplement improved bench throw power, isometric bench press force, jump power and squat force.
There was no difference in the number of bench press or squat reps the men could perform.
Trepanowski, et al had similar results in 2011, they studied trained men in a similar way to Lee and her colleagues described above.
This time the men were given either a placebo or 2.5g of betaine supplement over a period of 14 days.
The washout period was 21 days.
After taking betaine the men were able to increase their total reps and total volume load in a test of bench press sets to exhaustion.
After exercising, the men who had taken betaine had slightly lower blood lactate levels, and lower NOx levels.
There was also a greater decrease in StO2 in the betaine group compared to the placebo group, suggesting that their muscles had enhanced oxygen consumption.
In the 2012 study, cyclists who had taken a daily dose of 2.5g betaine for 7 days showed increased power in three cycle sprint tests.
The following year, Apicella, et al. measured hormonal markers in the blood of men who had just performed an exercise test.
The men who had taken a betaine supplement (of 1.25g per day for two weeks previously) showed significantly higher levels of hormonal markers suggesting increased protein synthesis.
A very impressive study by Cholewa, et al. in 2013 re-inforced betaine’s new status as a promising supplement for bodybuilders.
This study looked at body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone (HCTL) levels in 23 trained men.
The men were given either a placebo or a daily dose of 2.5g of betaine.
They then underwent a 6 week training period, with measurements before, during, and after.
The placebo group showed no significant changes in muscle mass, body composition or arm circumference.
However, the betaine group showed significant improvements.
Those who had taken the supplement increased their arm cross-sectional area by ten percent.
Their bench press training volume significantly increased, and their body composition also changed for the better.
They had a seven percent decrease in body fat and increased muscle mass by four pounds.
If these results have inspired you to give this supplement a try, let’s take a look at dosage.
How Much Betaine Should You Consume?
There are no standard recommended doses for the use of betaine as a performance-enhancing supplement.
A dose of 500mg per day has been recognised as the minimal amount required to see changes in homocysteine levels.
However, for exercise performance, the accepted doses of betaine range from 2.5g to 6g per day, divided into two doses.
There doesn’t seem to be a need to take the supplement with a meal.
In studies on rats, some seemed unresponsive to 6g doses as measured by a reduction in homocysteine levels.
When doses were increased to 20g, they were moderately well tolerated, doses of this amount could cause diarrhoea, though.
If this happens, taking the supplement with food should help.
Betaine can raise cholesterol levels and interact with other nutrients.
It can also affect medications, especially those for heart disease, kidney and liver problems.
Discussing the supplement with your doctor before you take it is always advisable.
What Foods Contain Betaine?
It is estimated that an average diet contains between 1g and 2.5g of betaine per day.
The following foods contain the highest levels of this non-essential amino acid:
Wheat, spinach, beets, asparagus, potatoes, green peppers, avocados, shrimp, salmon, tuna, milk, and cheese.
When to Take Betaine
How often should I take betaine?
In most studies which showed enhanced performance and muscle gain in athletes, betaine was taken twice a day.
It is likely that taking a dose about an hour preworkout will increase absorption.
Taking the second dose after your workout is likely to be most advantageous.
Side Effects of Betaine
Not having enough betaine in the body is thought to contribute to raised blood homocysteine levels.
This has been linked to an increase in heart disease and stroke.
However, high homocysteine is most often seen in the over 50s and people with a genetic condition which limits their ability to metabolise it.
Most people get enough betaine from the wheat in the typical western diet.
But what can happen if we have too much betaine in our system?
There haven’t been any reports of serious side effects from taking betaine, although it can cause mild nausea, diarrhoea, and stomach upsets in some people.
Taking the supplement in split doses or at the same time as a meal may help these symptoms.
A few of those who decide to take very high doses (20g per day) of betaine may find themselves experiencing a fishy odour.
It is thought that between 1 in 20 and 1 in 100 people lack an enzyme which breaks down excess betaine, causing it to be excreted before it is fully broken down.
This can result in a mild fishy odour from bodily secretions. However, taking a 100mg dose of Vitamin B2 twice daily can reverse this effect to almost zero.
Betaine can raise cholesterol levels, even though it is helpful in lowering the chances of heart disease.
If you have heart problems, diabetes, or high cholesterol, talk to your doctor before taking this supplement.
Betaine has also been seen to interact with medications for liver disease, kidney stones, and heart disease.
Again, if you are on any medications, check with your doctor before supplementing betaine.
Do You Need to Cycle Betaine?
Should I cycle betaine?
There are no official guidance on whether betaine should be cycled.
Studies who used a washout period before investigating the effects of betaine waited between two and three weeks for the supplement to clear the system.
One-off doses of 50 mg betaine per kg of body weight (which works out at a dose of about 3.8g for a 12 stone man) took between 7 and 21 hours to leave the system.
Repeat doses built up in the body and took longer to clear.
Typically, repeat doses were eliminated from the system in approximately 28 to 56 hours.
So there you have it – betaine is a supplement that appears to have a lot to offer, with very few serious side effects.
If you are committed to your training, then adding this supplement to your nutrition regime can boost you to the next level.