by Jose Antonio, PhD T-Nation
Here's what you need to know...
• According to the investigators, betaine produces an "anabolic environment," resulting in a greater protein synthesis.
• Betaine studies indicate it increases sprint performance, as well as concentric and eccentric force production.
• Betaine can increase force production in as few as 7 days.
Despite the incorrect information and plain nonsense you find in the mainstream media, sports nutrition and supplement science marches on with the precision of a German auto plant. Novel supplements that work well are continually popping up, adding to the growing body of evidence that we in the supplement world pretty much know what we're talking about.
One such supplement is betaine, perhaps the most mispronounced supplement on the market. (It isn't pronounced BEE-tayne, but rather bee'-tuh-een.) Regardless, this supplement has seemed to slip under the proverbial radar. When the first supportive study came out, I raised a single eyebrow and wondered to myself, "Hmmm." When the second, third, and fourth studies came out, my reaction progressed to two raised eyebrows and a "That's pretty cool."
Interestingly, one of the early studies was done on horses. A study from the Journal of Animal Science way back in 1999 looked at the effects of supplemental betaine on eight mature thoroughbred horses before and after 8 weeks of conditioning using a cross-over design (i.e., each horse served as both the treatment and control).
The horses consumed about 80 mg. of betaine/kg of body weight for 14 days. That dose is equivalent to about 5.6 grams of betaine for a 70 kg human.) They discovered that at least in untrained horses, the amount of lactate the horses produced post-exercise was lower, thus indicating a positive benefit (1).
Tested on Weight-Lifting Humans, Too
What about its effects in humans? A few science nerds from the University of Memphis tested the effects of betaine supplementation in resistance-trained men. Again using a cross-over design, men consumed 2.5 grams of betaine mixed in 500 ml of Gatorade or a placebo (just Gatorade) for 14 days. Betaine supplementation led to an increase in total repetitions and total volume load in a 10-set bench press protocol. In English, that means they basically lifted more total weight over 10 sets. They also discovered that betaine may actually improve the ability to take in oxygen (2).
Three of the highest quality studies on betaine were published in, if you don't mind me saying, the best sports nutrition science journal on the planet, aka The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN). The first study found that 14 days of betaine supplementation increased bench throw power and isometric bench press force. Interestingly, this effect was more pronounced in the upper body than the lower body (3).
A similar study of two weeks in duration found that betaine supplementation improved the total squat reps performed by subjects as well as the quality of their reps (4). Now quality wasn't defined, but hey, it sounds promising.
Furthermore, betaine was found to help sprint performance. Betaine supplementation (2.5 g / day for one week) in active subjects increased average peak power, maximum peak power, and average mean power during a sprint cycling performance test, thus indicating it only takes 7 days to improve cycling power in active men and women (5).
Betainesupplementation can also increase both concentric (positive) and eccentric (negative) muscle force production (6). Outside of creatine and caffeine, there aren't that many supplements that can increase power in 7 days.
So How Exactly Does it Work?
Certainly the supportive evidence for betaine is accumulating faster than the rolls on the belly of a fat kid who's stowed away on an ice cream truck, but how does it work? One theory holds that it affects certain hormones or signaling molecules. European scientists tested the effect of this supplement on various hormones as well as Akt muscle signaling proteins after an acute bout of exercise.
Akt is a type of protein that has multiple roles including glucose metabolism, apoptosis (aka cell death),cell proliferation (e.g., growth), etc., and when men took betaine for 2 weeks and had their vastus lateralis muscle fibers analyzed, betaine supplementation significantly increased total muscle Akt. It also increased IGF-1 while significantly decreasing cortisol. According to the investigators, betaine produces an "anabolic environment," resulting in a greater protein synthesis (7).
Clearly, betaine is a well-researched supplement that does its magic in as few as 7 days.
Antonio's Addendum For Those With ADD
What is betaine?
Betaine is a nutrient found in many animals, plants, and microorganisms. It's in many foods such as whole grains (e.g., wheat, rye), spinach, shellfish, and beets. (5)
What dose should you consume?
2.5 grams daily.
How long does it take to get a positive effect?
What are the ergogenic effects of betaine?
Improved muscular strength, power, and endurance.
1. Warren LK, Lawrence LM, Thompson KN: The influence of betaine on untrained and trained horses exercising to fatigue. Journal of animal science 1999, 77(3):677-684.
2. Trepanowski JF, Farney TM, McCarthy CG, Schilling BK, Craig SA, Bloomer RJ: The effects of chronic betaine supplementation on exercise performance, skeletal muscle oxygen saturation and associated biochemical parameters in resistance trained men. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2011, 25(12):3461-3471.
3. Lee EC, Maresh CM, Kraemer WJ, Yamamoto LM, Hatfield DL, Bailey BL, Armstrong LE, Volek JS, McDermott BP, Craig SA: Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:27.
4. Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Rashti SL, Faigenbaum AD: Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2009, 6:7.
5. Pryor JL, Craig SA, Swensen T: Effect of betaine supplementation on cycling sprint performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012, 9(1):12.
6. Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Gonzalez AM, Beller NA, Craig SA: Effect of 15 days of betaine ingestion on concentric and eccentric force outputs during isokinetic exercise. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2011, 25(8):2235-2241.
7. Apicella JM, Lee EC, Bailey BL, Saenz C, Anderson JM, Craig SA, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Maresh CM: Betaine supplementation enhances anabolic endocrine and Akt signaling in response to acute bouts of exercise. European journal of applied physiology 2013, 113(3):793-802.