More formally known as trimethylglycine, betaine is one of those ingredients you might find in certain protein powders or pre-workout shakes, but never know why it is there in the first place. First let’s get a firm understanding of what this amino acid is and what it does.
Structurally, betaine is the amino acid glycine with three methyl groups attached to it, hence its formal name: tri(three)-methyl (as in methylation) – glycine (amino acid). First discovered in beetroot, the name betaine stuck and is used interchangeably with trimethylglycine. In this article we will go over all the various health benefits associated with this supplement, where to find it, and how much to take to achieve the desired benefits.
Health Benefits of Betaine
After its discovery as a dietary supplement, betaine was originally used to turn homocysteine into L-methionine (the extremely simplified way of explain this process). Homocysteine is a toxic amino acid that can lead to various health problems when elevated in the body including atherosclerosis, osteoporosis and multiple cardiovascular issues. Betaine supplementation is extremely important for individuals with homocystinuria, a rare genetic condition that elevates homocysteine chronically and makes these individuals very susceptible to the above issues.
While it has not been definitively proven, betaine might have the ability to prevent cardiovascular problems and incidents such as heart attacks and heart disease. Studies have shown that homocysteine is elevated in individuals who are at risk of cardiovascular issues, so logic will dictate that betaine will have a positive effect on these individuals. The problem with this theory is that it is still mostly unknown if elevated homocysteine levels are a direct reason why individuals are at risk of heart problems, or merely an indicator. For now it is confirmed that betaine can reduce homocysteine by 10% in normal individuals and 20-40% in those with elevated levels, but more research needs to be done determining the relationship between homocysteine levels and cardiovascular problems.
Why is Betaine Popular?
The main reason why betaine has become more popular in the past few years is its potential to have performance enhancing properties. Much like creatine, this supplement is able to hydrate muscle cells and enhance endurance slightly. By protecting the cell during a workout from damage, betaine can possibly help you push out an extra rep or run distances a few seconds faster. I say possibly as researchers are still trying to come to a final conclusion on the supplement. Some studies have shown a 6 week supplementation of betaine was able to increase total bench press work 6.5%, with no increase in lower body strength, while other studies show less probable outcomes such as a 4 lbs increase in lean body mass and a 7 lbs decrease in fat mass.
Other studies show an increased muscle protein synthesis rate post workout when the participants were supplementing with betaine due to an increase in the amino acid methionine. Which would lead to more muscle growth over time in individuals who are not eating a high protein diet on a daily basis.
Supplementing With Betaine
I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say betaine is a must buy supplement such as creatine or beta alanine that have been proven time and time again to benefit the masses, but I also wouldn’t say it is totally useless. Along with possible cardiovascular protection, betaine could have the potential to give users a slight benefit through the form of increased endurance. That being said, if you decide to go out and try this supplement for yourself, it is important to know how much to take and how much you’re already getting in your daily diet, as it is found in many types of foods. Dosing and Food Sources While it was first discovered in beet roots, betaine is found in small quantities in many foods including:
✓ Wheat bran: 800 mgs in one cup, uncooked
✓ Quinoa: 200 mgs in one cup, cooked
✓ Beets: 175 mgs in one cup, raw
✓ Spinach: 160 mgs in one cup, cooked.
✓ Nelma or “sheefish”: 124 mgs per cup, cooked.
✓ Sweet potatoes: 40 mgs per cup, cooked.
✓ Chicken, turkey, beef: around 30 mgs per one cup, cooked.
Even if your diet is rich in a lot of these foods there is a good chance you are still below the 500 mgs that is required to be effective, with some experts saying that number should be closer to 1,000 mgs. To possibly achieve a performance boost from betaine supplementation this amount might still need to be elevated to around 2-5 g a day, as most studies are done with these amounts. Besides diet, betaine can be consumed in powder form and is tasteless when mixed with liquid. In most studies the dose is split to two 1.25 g servings throughout the day, but more than likely there is no reason why it needs to be split up and can be taken all at once. Like creatine and beta alanine, betaine doesn’t need to be take around a workout, but if it fits best in your pre/post workout shake then that’s fine as well.
MYPRE, a potent pre workout formula, contains betaine, so making this your pre workout of choice would help you increase your betaine intake.
Take Home Message
Now hopefully you are a little bit smarter about your supplements! While betaine is still in its infancy when it comes to research on performance enhancements, there is promise that it will come out with a gold star of supplement approval. Luckily betaine is safe and can be used in moderation by most healthy individuals. So, if you have a little bit of extra money to spend and have already invested in a high quality creatine, fish oil and multivitamin, I would recommend giving betaine a try the next time you hit a plateau in your progress, as it might just help you push past it!