Amino Acid Helps Seniors Maintain Muscle Strength

One of the many physical changes that marks the aging process includes diminishing muscle mass and strength—which staying active can help slow or prevent, keeping seniors feeling young and capable. And new research suggests that taking an amino acid supplement to support muscle health may also be helpful, as the study found that older people taking beta-alanine increased their physical working capacity in 90 days.

Muscle strength and stamina improve with beta-alanine

The study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, included 26 healthy men and women between 61 and 85 years old. They were randomly assigned to take beta-alanine, 800 mg three times per day, or placebo for 90 days. Physical work capacity, a measure of muscular endurance and aerobic power, was tested at the beginning and end of the trial.

Most (67%) of the people in the beta-alanine group experienced improvements in their physical working capacity between the beginning and end of the study. Muscle test measurements increased by an average of 28.6% in this group, but there was no change in the placebo group.

Amino acids = cellular building blocks

Beta-alanine is a precursor amino acid used to make carnosine, a protein found primarily in muscle and brain tissues. The amount of carnosine in muscles decreases with age, and many elders experience the classic symptoms of low muscle carnosine concentration: diminished muscle stamina, strength, and power. Supplementing with beta-alanine has been found to increase muscle carnosine concentration and decrease fatigue in athletes. The improvements in muscle function seen in the people taking beta-alanine in this study are likely to be due to its effect on muscle carnosine.

“These findings could be significant for this population, because a decrease in functional capacity to perform daily living tasks has been associated with an increased risk of death, primarily due to increased risk of falls,” said lead study author Dr. Jeffery Stout at the University of Oklahoma. “Our results suggest that beta-alanine supplementation could have an important role in the prevention of falls and the maintenance of health and independent living in elderly men and women.”

Stay strong as you age

Exercise has been shown to slow the decline of both physical and mental (cognitive) functioning, but many older people are hesitant to start an exercise program, fearing injury and pain. By strengthening muscles, however, seniors can improve joint and bone health and reduce their risk of injury and pain. The authors of the current study point out that supplementing with beta-alanine could play a role in building strength before starting an exercise program.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people over 65 participate in aerobic activity such as walking 3 to 5 days per week as well as strength training exercises 2 to 3 days per week. Seniors who have been sedentary and want to begin an exercise program should start slowly and build gradually as strength and ability increase. The College further recommends that people with chronic health conditions consult with a healthcare provider to develop an activity plan that takes limitations and therapeutic needs into account.

(J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008;5:21)

Maureen Williams, ND

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