In this article, we look at the performance benefits of the popular muscle building supplement, Betaine Anhydrous.
By Dr. Adam M. Gonzalez
SHIFTED’s Chief Scientific Officer
What is Betaine?
Betaine (also known as betaine anhydrous or trimethylglycine) is naturally found in the diet in foods such as beets, wheat germ, spinach, cereals, grains, mushrooms, and shrimp. It is also produced naturally in the body from the breakdown of the water-soluble vitamin choline in the liver and kidneys.
The human diet typically includes small amounts of betaine (<0.4 grams per day) whereas supplement studies in the scientific literature use higher doses of ~2.5 grams per day. Betaine is an active metabolite of choline that serves as an osmolyte and methyl donor which could aid in cellular hydration, promote muscle protein synthesis, and support the synthesis of creatine.
Betaine supplementation has shown promise for boosting nitric oxide production, improving body composition, and enhancing muscle strength and power (13).
How does Betaine work?
When betaine is supplemented, it is rapidly absorbed and peaks in the bloodstream after 40-60 minutes (11). Due to its osmolytic properties, betaine can help maintain fluid balance and protect cells against dehydration.
Increasing cellular hydration during exercise benefits physical performance by aiding cellular function. Cellular hydration can also boost “the pump” and promote muscle building processes during recovery (10).
Betaine influences various aspects of fat metabolism that promote lipolysis and beta-oxidation (aka fat burning). Betaine supplementation can also elevate intramuscular concentrations of carnitine, a compound that facilitates the movement of fatty acids into the mitochondria for use as fuel (1). Therefore, betaine has great potential for improving hydration status and body composition.
There are also mechanisms by which betaine can boost muscle strength and power performance. Via its role as a methyl donor, betaine can add a methyl group to guanidinoacetate to synthesize creatine. Enhancing creatine stores is well-documented to improve the rate of ATP regeneration, enhance high-intensity exercise capacity, and delay fatigue during repeated bouts of high-intensity effort such as sprints and weightlifting.
Betaine supplementation has also been shown to elevate blood nitric oxide levels and improved vascular function (7). Improved nitric oxide bioavailability can induce many favorable physiological effects to enhance exercise performance, including improved blood flow.
Better blood flow (in combination with better cellular hydration) can improve delivery of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the working muscles and aid in the removal of metabolic byproducts from the muscle. Thus, betaine has great potential as a performance-enhancing and muscle building supplement.
A miracle supplement… for pigs and chickens
Betaine supplementation first gained the attention in the sports nutrition world because it has been a staple supplement in the livestock industry for several decades. It turns out, if you supplement the feed of pigs and chickens with betaine, they get jacked (4).
The longstanding use of betaine to increase meat yield and reduce fat storage in farm animals is actually pretty noteworthy. It is unlikely that the livestock industry would add expensive additives to their feed without notable effects on the animal’s muscle mass. But, what does the data show in humans?
Performance benefits of Betaine
Betaine is still somewhat of a newcomer in the world of sports nutrition, but research in humans has grown over the past several years. Despite some mixed findings, evidence suggests that betaine may enhance body composition and increase markers of muscle strength and power (12, 13).
Studies providing short-term betaine supplementation (7-15 days) have reported improvements in variables such as muscle endurance during resistance exercise (6), vertical jumping power (8), cycling sprint power (9), and training volume load (12).
Collectively, these studies show that betaine is effective at increasing strength, power, and exercise capacity during training. Plus, these studies were short in duration lasting only up to 2 weeks. Based on betaine’s possible mechanisms of action, strength and power enhancement would likely be more prominent over time as a result of improved training quality and volume load.
Only a few studies have investigated the chronic (6-9 weeks) effects of betaine supplementation. Collectively, the studies suggest that betaine may allow for an increased training volume, but this did not translate to significant improvements in strength following the program (13). However, one of the most common trends in the betaine research is that it significantly reduces total body fat mass and body fat percentage (5).
The two studies that have used an adequate supplementation period (6-9 weeks; 2.5 grams daily) in combination with a resistance training program reported significant improvements in body fat percentage and fat mass in the betaine group compared with a placebo group (2, 3). This was true for both healthy young men and women.
Betaine: The bottom line
Betaine supplementation can support fat burning, increase endogenous creatine production, improve blood flow, and increase muscle-building capacity, thereby improving body composition, strength, and power. Almost all the studies investigating the effect of betaine supplementation on muscle strength, power, and body composition have provided a daily dose of 2.5 grams in the form of Betaine Anhydrous. The 2.5 gram dose is likely the minimum effective dose.
While betaine is found naturally in some foods, it would be impractical to attain 2.5 grams daily from diet alone – this would require more than 16 cups of spinach per day. Since dosing studies have not yet been performed, it is also possible that a greater dose may be more effective. Thus, including betaine as a supplement makes sense.
It’s worth noting that betaine has shown to be well-tolerated, and no side effects have been reported in studies providing 2.5 grams per day. Like creatine and beta-alanine, regular usage of betaine would likely exert more favorable effects than a single acute dose. An easy way to incorporate regular use is to include betaine anhydrous in a pre workout formula. Shifted Pre Workouts contain a safe and effective 2.5 gram dose of betain anhydrous.
Click here to buy SHIFTED Maximum Pre Workout – our innovative, state of the art pre workout formula based on the latest in supplement science.
About the Author
Adam M. Gonzalez is an associate professor in the Department of Allied Health and Kinesiology at Hofstra University. He earned a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Central Florida in 2015 and holds certifications as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), along with a Certified Sports Nutritionist Certification (CISSN).
His primary research interests include exercise and nutritional strategies to optimize body composition, maximize health, and enhance adaptations to exercise. He was also awarded the 2022 Nutritional Research Achievement Award by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
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- Van Every, DW, Plotkin DL, Delcastillo K, Cholewa J, and Schoenfeld BJ. Betaine Supplementation: A critical review of its efficacy for improving muscle strength, power, and body composition. Strength & Conditioning Journal 43: 53-61, 2021. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Abstract/2021/08000/Betaine_Supplementation__A_Critical_Review_of_Its.6.aspx