|Figure 1: Betaine content (in mg/100g) in some common food items (data based on Craig. 2004). Makes me wonder if Popeye ate wheat germ as well or whether he was celiac and stuck to spinach to get his daily dose of pro-anabolic betaine?|
Friends and followers of the SuppVersity will also be aware that betaine is also found naturally in a variety of food sources such as sugar beets, wheat bran, spinach, shrimp, and many others (see figure 1) and that it can be synthesized from choline in your body, when dietary intake exceeds your current metabolic demands (Ueland 2011).
What you probably don't know, however, is...
... that the latest study from the Human Performance Laboratory at the Department of Kinesiology,
of the University of Connecticut, shows that "betaine (vs. placebo) supplementation enhanced
both the anabolic endocrine profile and the corresponding anabolic signaling environment, suggesting increased protein synthesis" (Apicella. 2012).
trimethylglycine, of which the shop assistant will probably tell you that "This is a good choice Sir! The carps love the sweet taste!" But I am digressing, so let's get back to what's really sweet, namely ...
- stable growth hormone levels (vs. -17% in the placebo group)
- an 18% increase in IGF-1 (vs. a -10% decrease in the placebo group), and
- a -5% reduction in cortisol (vs. a 6% increase in the placebo group)
"Betaine (vs. placebo) supplementation enhanced both the anabolic endocrine profile and the corresponding anabolic signaling environment, suggesting increased protein synthesis." (Apicella. 2012; my emphases)Which one is it? A tip: It is none of the words I emphasized in bold. After all, that would make it way too easy for you... ha? Yeah! I see you've done your homework. Suggest(-ing) is in fact the most important word in this and the conclusions of many objectively written scientific papers.
So, the study "suggests increased protein synthesis"...
... and this means it does not even prove that the protein synthetic response in the immediate vicinity of the workout was increased in response to the to the two weeks of BID (=twice daily) supplementation with 1.25 g of betaine. In other words, all we know is that the funky gene essays for p-AKT and serum tests for growth hormone, IGF-1 and cortisol "suggest" that it could be the case, if we assume that marginally higher IGF-1 levels, stable growth hormone levels and lower cortisol levels (rememeber we are not talking about increasing any of them into the supraphysiological range, here) would
- result in increased protein synthesis and ultimately
- greater lean mass accrual,
What we want is to get bigger, stronger and all that faster, and whether the 12 recreationally trained men (age 19.7±1.2 years; lean body mass 65.2±8.8 kg; fat mass 15.6±8.5 kg; body fat percentage 18.7±7.0 %; BMI 28.2±4.0) would have gained even a single inch of muscle more on whatever body part, if they had performed a real workout instead of the funky "AES" (=acute exercise session) that consisted of
- 10x maximal vertical jumps without pause,
- 1x 10-s isometric squat,
- 1x 10-s isometric bench press on a smith machine, and
- 1x 10 min of repeated box lifting (RBL)
... but there are still way too many "ifs" in here!
The sheer number of "suggests", "is touted", "is likely", "also possible", "as we presume", etc. is honest and speaks in favor of the quality of the study, but against the reliability of the statement that followeed the initially cited "suggests" in the conclusion. Moreover, the researchers freely admit that...
"[...] the mechanisms by which betaine may have affected the hormones measured in this study are still unclear and require further research" (Apicella. 2012)so that even the fact that betaine is an organic osmolyte and could thus help stabilize skeletal muscle protein, promote / maintain optimal hydration and protect against
- hypertonic stress (Alfier. 2006),
- urea-induced inactivation of muscle myosin ATPases (Ortiz-Costa. 2002), and
- structural changes in myosin due to urea accumulation (Ortiz-Costa. 2002)
Betaine does not increase nitric oxide While I have no idea why everyone is so keen about those nitrate supplements, one thing is for sure: Betaine has no effects on serum nitrate or nitrite levels. The vasolidation effect of beet roots / beet root juice is simply a result of the nitrate that's in there along with the betaine (+ the sugar and the insulin spike, which will also trigger an increased NO-response).
At least this is what a study by Bloomer et al. which consisted of three independent experiments using 1.25 and 5.00g B, acutely, 2.5g per day for 14 days, chronically, and a combination of chronic (6g for 7 days) + acute (6g acutely before the test) betaine supplementation (Bloomer. 2011).
- Hoffman. 2009 - 2.5/day for 14 days; jump squat, squat, bench press; "Two-weeks of betaine supplementation in active, college males appeared to improve muscle endurance of the squat exercise, and increase the quality of repetitions performed."
- Lee. 2010 - 2x 1.25g/day for 14 days; bench squat and jump tests; "[Betaine] supplementation increased power, force and maintenance of these measures in selected performance measures, and these were more apparent in the smaller upper-body muscle groups."
- Hoffman. 2011 - 2.5g/day for 15 days; 5 training + testing sessions; "15 days of betaine supplementation did not increase peak CON or ECC force outputs during an isokinetic chest press but did appear to reduce subjective measures of fatigue to the exercise protocol"
- Trepanoswki. 2011 - 2.5g/day for 14 days; resistance training; "moderate increase in total repetitions and volume load in the bench press exercise, without favorably impacting other performance measures."
- del Favero. 2012 - 2g/day for 10 days; muscle strength and power, muscle PCr content, and body composition, three "familiarization sessions" preparing the participants only to perform the tests; "we showed that betaine supplementation combined or not with creatine supplementation does not affect strength and power performance in untrained subjects."
- Pryor. 2012 - 2.5g/day for 7 days; cycling performance; "betaine ingestion significantly increased average peak power (3.4%; p = 0.026), maximum peak power max (3.8%; p = 0.007), average mean power (3.3%; p = 0.034), and maximum mean power (3.5%; p = 0.011) in recreationally active males and females"
Reminder: If you want to try it, you got to get yourself "trimethylglycine" (TMG) not "betaine HCL" and you better don't buy it in capped form if you don't have lots of money to burn. I just checked with the next best bulk supplier - they got 1kg for $33.50. Even if you double dose, i.e. take 2x 2.5g per day (most studies mixed it with Gatorade) this will last you for 200days(!), which is probably the time it will take until you can actually see and not just measure any potential, possible, suggested, etc. anabolic effects ;-)
- Alfieri RR, Bonelli MA, Cavazzoni A et al (2006) Creatine as a compatible osmolyte in muscle cells exposed to hypertonic stress. J Physiol 576:391–401.
- Bloomer RJ, Farney TM, Trepanowski JF, McCarthy CG, Canale RE. Effect of betaine supplementation on plasma nitrate/nitrite in exercise-trained men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2011 Mar 18;8:5.
- Craig SA. Betaine in human nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 80: 539–549.
- del Favero S, Roschel H, Artioli G, Ugrinowitsch C, Tricoli V, Costa A, Barroso R, Negrelli AL, Otaduy MC, da Costa Leite C, Lancha-Junior AH, Gualano B. Creatine but not betaine supplementation increases muscle phosphorylcreatine content and strength performance. Amino Acids. 2012 Jun;42(6):2299-305.
- Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Rashti SL, Faigenbaum AD. Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 Feb 27;6:7.
- 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. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Aug;25(8):2235-41.
- 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. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Jul 19;7:27.
- Ortiz-Costa S, Sorenson MM, Sola-Penna M (2002) Counteracting effects of urea and methylamines in function and structure of skeletal muscle myosin. Arch Biochem Biophys 408:272–278
- Pryor JL, Craig SA, Swensen T. Effect of betaine supplementation on cycling sprint performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Apr 3;9(1):12.
- 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. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3461-71.
- Ueland PM. Choline and betaine in health and disease. J Inherit Metab Dis. 2011;34:3–15.