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Everything you need to know about betaine

Alles was Du über Betain wissen musst

If you want to know what betaine is and how it can improve your health and performance, then this is the article you've been looking for

Betaine has been getting a lot of attention lately. Cardiologists have known about this compound for some time, but it's still a fairly new member of the training supplement family. You'll find betaine in numerous pre-workout and muscle building supplements, but what exactly is betaine and how does it work?

Furthermore, how much can it really improve your health, workout performance and body composition?

Well, we're going to provide simple, science-based answers to these questions - and more - in this article. By the end, you'll know what betaine is, why people supplement with it, how much you should use and what the potential side effects are.

Let's get started.

What is betaine?

Betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, is an amino acid that occurs naturally in various foods such as beets, spinach and quinoa.

Betaine fulfills two primary functions in the body:

  1. It acts as a donor for methyl groups
  2. It acts as an osmolyte

"It acts as what?" I can literally hear many readers thinking this, so I'd like to explain a little more.

Betaine is rich in a special type of group made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms known as methyl groups. These groups can be passed around the body using a process known as methylation and this is a crucial part of many physiological processes ranging from genetic activity to the functions of proteins and more.

Betaine has many methyl groups that can be passed on, which is why it is also known as a methyl donor.

Betaine is also an osmolyte - a substance that helps to balance fluid levels inside and outside the cells.

Again, this is crucial, as a fluid imbalance can lead to cell death caused by either excessive shrinkage or swelling of the cell to the point of bursting.

(Creatine is another osmolyte that is popular with athletes)

Why do people supplement betaine?

There are three main reasons that people supplement with betaine:

  1. To improve health
  2. To improve digestion
  3. To increase exercise performance and build muscle mass and strength faster

As you'll see in a moment, the cardiovascular and digestive benefits of betaine are well established and well understood, whereas its effects on physical performance and muscle growth are less well studied.

What are the benefits of betaine?

Unlike many other supplements you'll find on the market, studies conducted with betaine have shown that betaine can be a valuable addition to your supplement arsenal.

Scientific studies suggest that supplementing with betaine can do the following:

  • A reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improved liver function
  • Improved digestion
  • Increased performance
  • An improvement in body composition

Let's take a closer look at how betaine does these things:

Betaine reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease

Betaine reduces the levels of the amino acid homocysteine circulating in the blood (1). This is achieved by betaine donating a methyl group to homocysteine molecules, which converts homocysteine into harmless methionine.

Lowering homocysteine levels in this way can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, as too much homocysteine in the blood promotes plaque formation in the arteries, causing these arteries to become hard and clogged (2).

Betaine supports liver function and detoxification

Obesity, alcohol abuse and diabetes can cause a build-up of fatty acids in the liver. Some fat in the liver is normal, but when there is too much fat in the liver, it can damage your health in several ways. This excessive accumulation of fat in the liver is also known as fatty liver.

Scientific research shows that betaine helps to break down fatty acids in the liver (3), which means that it helps to prevent fatty acid build-up in the liver. Betaine may even help people suffering from fatty liver disease to recover from the condition (4).

Betaine can support digestion

Your stomach must have a sufficiently acidic environment in order to digest food properly. If the acid levels in your stomach are too low, your body will not be able to fully break down the food you eat and absorb all the nutrients it contains. This increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies and the risk of various diseases and dysfunctions.

The acid that does most of the work at this point is hydrochloric acid (HCl). If you don't have enough hydrochloric acid in your stomach, your digestion will suffer.

This is why the form of betaine that is bound to hydrochloric acid (betaine HCl) is often used to increase acid levels in the stomach and alleviate many digestive problems (5).

Betaine can improve physical performance and body composition

Scientific research shows that betaine can increase muscle strength (6), improve endurance (7) and accelerate both muscle gain and fat loss (8).

That's why you'll find betaine in more and more workout supplements.

It's worth noting that the body composition benefits were not observed in this study: (9). We don't yet know exactly why this is the case (scientists are still looking for answers), so all we can say at this stage is that although betaine appears to support your exercise performance, further research is needed to say with certainty exactly what the effects of betaine on muscle gain and fat loss will be.

What is the clinically effective dose of betaine?

The clinically effective dose of a substance is the amount that produces the desired response or effect. For betaine, the effective dose depends on the purpose for which you want to use betaine.

Here's what we know so far:

- To lower homocysteine levels, the lowest effective dose is 500 mg per day.
- To promote good liver function, the lowest effective dose is 500 mg per day.
- If taken to treat and reduce existing liver damage or diseases of the liver, a dose of 1000 to 2000 mg three times a day is necessary.
- The dose of betaine HCl used to improve digestion ranges from 650 to 2000 mg per day.
- To increase physical performance and support muscle building and fat loss, studies that have observed positive results have used doses ranging from 1000 to 6000 mg of betaine per day.

What kind of results can you expect from betaine supplementation?

As with all nutritional supplements, you should not have unrealistically high expectations when using betaine. Always remember that it's not supplements that build a great body, it's the right training and diet combined with the right dedication.

Here's what you can expect from betaine supplementation:

  • An increase in exercise performance during resistance training.
  • Possibly an increase in muscle gains and fat loss.
  • Lower homocysteine levels and a lower risk of heart disease
  • Better liver function
  • Better digestion

As with all natural supplements, the most effective way to achieve really good results with betaine is to work with a suitable combination of supplements rather than betaine alone. Although the individual effects of certain supplements may not be overwhelming, the cumulative effects of the right supplements combined together can make a huge difference.

For example, when you combine betaine with other synergistic ingredients with similar effects, you can probably increase your workout performance by 15 to 20% - and that's enough to matter if you're consistently training hard and consistently eating right at the same time.

Does betaine have any side effects?

In healthy people, side effects from betaine supplementation are rare. Some people may experience diarrhea or nausea, but this is quite rare.

If the dosage is several grams per day, your breath and sweat may take on a slight fishy odor. If this happens to you, you can supplement with about 200 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) per day and this odor should disappear.

I would also like to note that people taking medication for heart or liver conditions should consult their doctor before starting betaine supplementation.

The bottom line on betaine

Betaine is one of the few supplements that is both affordable and proven to increase your physical performance. If your budget allows, betaine is a good addition to your supplement arsenal and well worth the money.

However, you shouldn't believe the hype that betaine will take your workouts to a whole new level or that betaine will help you build mountains of muscle.

However, it may very well help you go further in your training than before and build muscle mass faster. And over time, this can help you make better progress and reach your goals faster.

If you want to supplement with betaine, I would recommend combining this active ingredient with other proven performance enhancing supplements such as creatine, citrulline and beta-alanine.




From: Michael Matthews

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