Betaine Does it work?

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You know creatinecaffeine and perhaps also citrulline malate and beta-alanine. But there is another strength sports supplement that has been around for several years and seems promising: betaine. Supplementation with this substance is said to promote strength performance and muscle growth. That’s why you often find it in pre-workout supplements. But to what extent are the claims correct?

BETAINE AND HEALTH

Betaine (also called Trimethylglycine Nitrate, TMG for short) is an amino acid from an extract of the sugar beet. It is mainly offered as a supplement to support digestion. In addition, betaine lowers homocysteine ​​levels, which could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, there is as yet no direct scientific evidence for these health claims i ] .

BETAINE FOR STRENGTH ATHLETES

Betaine supplementation may also offer strength athletes benefits. Taking 1.25 g betaine twice a day is said to improve training performance with regard to training volume and strength endurance, and to a lesser extent also maximal strength. And improved exercise performance can lead to more muscle growth, especially in bodybuilders.

A hot topic is the scientific evidence for the alleged ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation. Although there are five studies that support these effects, they are not completely independent. And three studies that are independent show no positive effects of betaine supplementation on strength performance and body composition ii ] .

A recent independent study also does not favor betaine. It examined the results of six weeks of betaine supplementation in 36 experienced CrossFit trainers. Although the supplementation seemed to have some positive effect on strength, this was not the case at all with regard to body composition iii ] .

Nevertheless, the researchers are wary of the fact that betaine may indeed have ergogenic effects in novice strength athletes.

HOW BETAINE WORKS

In addition to the shaky evidence, it’s unclear exactly what mechanism in betaine is responsible for that alleged boost in exercise performance. It may be the same mechanism as that in creatine. In that case betaine would be of no use at all if you were already taking creatine iv ] .

We do know that, according to one study, betaine supplementation leads to a higher concentration of the anabolic hormone IGF-1 after training (+7.8%). At the same time, a decrease in the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol (-6.1%) v ]  was noted . However, it is highly questionable whether this makes any difference when it comes to muscle building. The role of hormonal response during and after exercise should not be overestimated vi ] .

DOES BETAINE (STILL) STAND A CHANCE?

Has betaine been written off as a strength sports supplement? Still not quite. Because of course those responsible behind the partly sponsored studies swear by their bona fide design.

In addition, there is an epidemiological study that shows that older people (over 40s) who ingest a lot of betaine through their regular diet are less likely to suffer from muscle loss (atrophy) ix ] .

Other studies also show that consumption of betaine (whether or not through regular diet) can improve body composition: it not only has a beneficial effect on the maintenance of muscle mass, but also on fat loss viii ][ x ] .

Finally, an extensive article on betaine was recently published on Stronger by Science by bodybuilder and researcher Eric Trexler, who you may remember from a podcast on adaptive thermogenesis. Trexler acknowledges that much more research on betaine is needed, but also sees some dots on the horizon:

Based on the research available, betaine supplementation might be worth a shot if it fits your budget and you’re interested in testing the waters, especially if you’re primarily focused on body composition goals or prioritizing hypertrophy. vii ]

Trexler thinks that betaine supplementation may also make your muscles look a bit fuller for a while, as is often the case at the start of a creatine course. That is handy if you have something to show soon, for example at a photo shoot:

It might also be interesting to try out if you’ve got a photoshoot or physique competition coming up, as its osmolytic properties could potentially make your muscles look a bit more full. vii ]

For the time being, according to Trexler, betaine certainly does not fall into the main category of strength sports supplements xi ] . This category only includes creatine, the only legal strength sports supplement whose effect has been conclusively proven. In the second category are supplements like caffeine, citrulline malate and beta-alanine, which have been fairly well researched and seem to do ‘something’. Betaine is a contender for the second category, according to Trexler, but will have to prove itself.

Update 26-8-2021: in a new scientific review we read that betaine use is safe, but that there is still too little evidence from human studies for positive effects on strength training:

There are various mechanisms by which betaine may facilitate increases in muscle strength and power; however, the current literature does not seem to support a beneficial effect on these outcomes. xii ]

USE

If you decide to give betaine a try as a strength sports supplement, use it for at least 6-8 weeks in a row, Eric Trexler advises. The standard dose, which is also used in most studies, is 2.5 grams per day, possibly broken down into two daily intakes of 1.25 grams.

Betaine is a safe supplement, so in that sense the following applies: if it does not help, it does not harm. Except maybe in your wallet, because betaine is not cheap, especially if you stick to the recommended dose of 2.5 g/day.

Betaine is also to be found in some pre-workout supplements, including No-Xplode 3.0 and No Xplode XE EDGE from BSN, and in Elevate from BULK. The latter actually contains an adequate dose, namely 3 grams per serving.

CONCLUSION

Are you looking for a strength sports supplement that works, is safe and also not too expensive? Then buy creatine. In addition, caffeine, citrulline malate and beta-alanine may also have a positive effect on your training performance, albeit less convincingly.

Betaine is still a questionable case. There is too little solid evidence that betaine supplementation improves exercise performance. However, some studies show that betaine can contribute to muscle maintenance, especially in old age, and to fat loss. And researcher Eric Trexler finds sufficient leads in his betaine analysis to at least give betaine a chance, if your budget allows.

Betaine is also often found in pre-workout supplements, but only Elevate by BULK contains an adequate dose (3 g).

Finally, remember that strength sports supplements are not necessary for good training results. If those results are not forthcoming, it is due to the programming of your training, your diet and/or your recovery management. In that case, the use of a working strength sports supplement is just a drop in the ocean.

Last updated: 26-8-2021.

REFERENCES

  • i ] https://examine.com/supplements/trimethylglycine/
  • ii ] https://www.facebook.com/MennoHenselmans/posts/2013559948701830
  • iii ] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342043494_Betaine_Supplementation_Does_Not_Improve_Muscle_Hypertrophy_or_Strength_Following_6_Weeks_of_Cross-Fit_Training/link/5edf815d92851ebb/download
  • iv ] https://www.facebook.com/MennoHenselmans/posts/3096991837025297
  • v ] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22976217/
  • vi ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371329
  • vii ] https://www.strongerbyscience.com/betaine/
  • viii ] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0155403
  • ix ] https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114520002433
  • x ] https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/10/2480
  • xi ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a25jXN7fWxs&t=390s
  • xii ] https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Abstract/2021/08000/Betaine_Supplementation__A_Critical_Review_of_Its.6.aspx

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