How beta alanine provides all of bicarbs benefits, better, with none of bicarbs issues.

By Luke R. Bucci, PhD CCN CNS


Recently, sodium bi-carbonate (or, simply, bicarb) has been getting a lot of attention as the latest and greatest ergogenic aid in endurance sports, prompting many questions as to why First Endurance hasn’t hopped on the bandwagon. Truth is, bicarb has been used by athletes in a variety of disciplines for decades, but we’ve never had use for it. And we won’t. Because we have OptygenHP with beta alanine.

Everything bicarb does as an acid-control solution, beta alanine does better. It also eliminates any dosing guesswork, it doesn’t have a limited window of effect, it doesn’t blow up your sodium levels, and it won’t ruin your race by making you ruin your bib shorts – all of which are issues with bicarb.

Dr. Bucci put together an explainer about why beta alanine is superior to bicarb for acid neutralization, but if you’ve only got enough time for the summary, you can run through the comparative benefits at the end of this intro block. Conversely, if you want the Full Bucci – and we know FE athletes well enough to think you probably do – then buckle-up and read on.

Advantages of Beta Alanine over Sodium Bicarbonate (Bicarb) for Endurance Athletes

  1. Acid neutralization at the source, inside muscle cells, rather than in the bloodstream and gut.
  2. No GI side effects, no bloating, and no weight gain from retaining water.
  3. No sodium overload imbalancing the body’s electrolyte system.
  4. No chance of a botched dose timing – everpresent acid prevention.
  5. No chance of a botched dose size – 1,500 mg a day is universal.
  6. Quality over quantity – 1/10 the size of a bicarb dose.
  7. Cumulative gains – it boosts performance all day, every day.
  8. Natural and safe, the only side effect is a tingle for a short time.


Before getting into beta alanine, let’s first nail down how bicarb works and why it’s an incomplete solution with way too much downside. To do that, we’ll start where all endurance performance does: ATP.

Exhaustive exercise of any kind produces acid in the form of H+ ions, which are generated by your muscle mitochondria when they make ATP energy. A certain amount is beneficial for your cells, but the longer and more strenuous the exercise, the more acid is produced, and it eventually leaks out of mitochondria into the muscle cells, and then into your bloodstream and other organs. That’s “the burn,” and it directly downgrades just about everything connected to physical and mental performance.

Since acid is so debilitating, alkalinizers like bicarb are a well-studied topic for improving exercise performance. That research shows that neutralizing acid during strenuous exercise is probably the best way to improve performance after water and electrolytes, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda or bicarb) does exactly that, and does it well. (Other alkalinizers/pH buffers like calcium carbonate, citrate salts, and phosphates are just not as capable.)

The entire strategy of bicarb is to soak up acid in the gut and in the bloodstream after intense exercise causes the acid to overflow the cells. When bicarb works, it works well. Getting it to work all the time every time is the bugaboo, and the severity of the side effects mean the stakes are high. So next, let’s unpack some of bicarb’s unwanted baggage.


The first issue with bicarb is the high dose needed to get base equivalents into your bloodstream to sop up the extra acids. Because of the belly-busting effects of high doses of bicarb (literal handfuls) and normal GI distress from extreme endurance events, bicarb is just as likely to give you a DNF as a PR. It’s a very efficient and anti-ergogenic way to ruin race outcomes.

The second issue is what kind of exercise benefits from bicarb. Even though it’s been regaining traction for endurance and ultra-endurance efforts, bicarb is still more about short, intense efforts like weightlifting or sprints. What works for short-term exercise is not practical for long-duration events unless you’re constantly focused on managing your dose timing, so bicarb for endurance exercise is more of a temporary hack than a real, dependable solution. Got a support car and a gaggle of soigneurs to babysit your supplements? Then bicarb might be for you. Otherwise, it’s a pain in the ass.

Finally, the gut bomb, because bicarb is also a pain in the belly. If it’s not used correctly, metabolic chaos ensues. The GI side effects are legion and legendary. We’ll dispense with the bicarb side effect horror stories. [Don’t worry, Dr. B – I’ve already gone way too far in the intro! -Ed.] We’ve all heard of them, seen them, or suffered from them, because they’re common when using baking soda. Enough said.

An Incomplete List of the Issues with Bicarb

  1. Inherent GI side effects that require significant and complicated workarounds.
  2. Large doses of upwards of 25g that require specific preparation with complicated timing and dose protocols.
  3. Excessive amounts of sodium that imbalance the body’s electrolyte system.
  4. Bloat and significant water retention resulting in weight gain.
  5. Acute benefits limited to a very narrow time window (hours at best), and then – poof – they’re gone.


So bicarb has baggage, but it can produce big benefits. Is there a better and less complicated way to get these types of benefits without all the hassle? There is! It’s beta alanine, and First Endurance has been offering it in OptygenHP since 2007.

Beta alanine cuts to the chase by powering your muscles’ first line of acid defense. Bicarb only neutralizes acid in the bloodstream, and only after that acid has already thrashed your muscle cells’ mitochondria and escaped to wreak havoc across the rest of your body. Beta alanine works inside your cells, right next to mitochondria, neutralizing acid efficiently and repeatably right at the point of acid origin.


Unlike bicarb, beta alanine doesn’t do the work directly. Instead, it’s the unique precursor to your inside-the-cell, natural acid sopper – carnosine. Carnosine (Beta-Alanyl-histidine) is a dipeptide present in high levels inside cells. It’s Nature’s Acid Buffer in the right place at the right time, not some interloper skulking about in the bloodstream and gut who only pitches in after the damage is already done.

So why not just take carnosine and skip beta alanine? Many human studies have clearly shown that supplemental carnosine is ineffective at raising intracellular levels and increasing acid buffering. Your cells don’t take it in, because unregulated carnosine would overcorrect cellular acid levels, creating a host of other problems (remember, some acid is good and necessary for cell health and function). To prevent this overcorrection, human bodies have a tightly controlled carnosine metabolism. Your cells operate a Passport Control against it, because they normally make carnosine from alanine (converted to beta-alanine) and histidine amino acids.

Beta alanine is the most effective way to boost intracellular carnosine levels, because it stocks your cells with what they need to create exactly as much carnosine as they need, exactly when they need it. BA rides the infrastructure of amino acids into cells, right past Passport Control, where it’s then stocked and available to create carnosine when exercise increases cell acid levels. Acid levels stay healthy, and your cells can still deal with excess created by exercise.

Supplying beta alanine means more carnosine, less acid, and better performance – this is a situation where, if you give your body what it needs, it will build more efficient solutions than gulping down handfuls of belly-busting powder.


Though it’s nowhere near as onerous as dosing bicarb, beta alanine does have one dosing requirement: it must be taken steadily over a period of time to produce these benefits. BA is like the Tortoise in that famous race, and bicarb is the Hare. It can take up to four weeks of daily BA intake to boost intracellular carnosine levels before your acid buffering improves enough to make a difference.

Thus, unlike bicarb, you cannot simply take a big whack of BA and expect it to work the next few hours. You need to let it build up, and your extreme training will provide the impetus to make more carnosine from the readily available beta alanine. Also unlike bicarb, beta alanine’s benefits don’t evaporate a few hours after dosing. Once you max out your muscle carnosine levels, those levels persist instead of evaporating in a few hours. Even if you stop taking BA, carnosine levels only slowly go down to previous levels after 3-4 months. Missing a day or two here and there will not set you back.

The benefits of beta alanine continue to accrue for up to 12 weeks, and then they stabilize at a steady maintenance level. Clinically studies have shown the target daily dose is about 1,500mg, which happens to be the amount in OptygenHP. What a weird coincidence!


Beta Alanine is almost bereft of side effects. In fact, it has only one – though calling it a side effect is an overstatement. In some users, BA can produce a tingling feeling called paresthesia soon after ingestion. This has been carefully studied, is not harmful, and disappears quickly. In fact, it tells you it’s working!


Beta alanine (BA) is the endurance athlete’s bicarb. Both counteract exercise detriments from anaerobic exercise, and anaerobic exercise is exactly what separates winners from losers throughout a long-duration event – breakaways, hills, and the all-important max effort kick at the end.

BA needs to be taken regularly for results, and it works as well as bicarb after 4 weeks. BA does not have GI issues or upset, and the tingling feeling – its only real “side effect” – is not problematic. If you take 1,500mg or more BA daily, you literally cannot go wrong, and you know you are maximizing your benefits from acid regulation by maximizing the way your body normally regulates acid. It’s natural, it’s simple, it’s safe, and it’s so much easier than playing bicarb roulette.

March 05, 2024 — Luke Bucci

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