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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
September 30, 2023
There are many mechanisms, compounds, and processes within the body that while underrated, play an essential role in our overall health, doing everything from fighting diseases to improving gym performance.
A perfect example of this is betaine anhydrous, a naturally occurring compound formed from the amino acid glycine and three methyl groups. For this reason, it's also referred to as trimethylbetaine.
Unfortunately, many people aren't even aware of what betaine anhydrous is or what it does, and as there are many great benefits, it's important we discuss it.
This post will cover:
Let’s get take a deeper dive into this obscure compound.
As mentioned above, betaine is a naturally occurring compound that plays several important physiological roles in the body. There are several forms of betaine, with betaine anhydrous being the most beneficial and the one you're more likely to find in the best pump pre-workout supplements.
Betaine anhydrous is also known as TMC, trimethylglycine, as its structure is composed of the amino acid glycine and three methyl groups. It’s also sometimes referred to as the "methyl donor betaine," as its health benefits are derived from its ability to donate its methyl groups. This is primarily done during the methylation cycle, in which it donates its methyl groups to a chemical called homocysteine. This reaction then produces the amino acid methionine.
It's only been over the past few years that the health benefits of betaine have been thoroughly researched, along with the effects of betaine supplementation. The main area of research has been centered around its relationship with homocysteine levels and the resulting effect.
While more research needs to be done, betaine anhydrous seems to offer numerous benefits that just about every population would be interested in. This includes everything from improving liver health to decreasing lung cancer risk to body recomposition.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has even approved betaine therapy in the form of Cystadane to treat certain conditions caused by high levels of homocysteine.
Before we go any further, we want to talk about two compounds that sound similar to betaine anhydrous and can sometimes be confused.
The first one is beta-alanine, an amino acid and effective sports supplement. In fact, it's one of the most popular and beneficial ones you can buy and is often responsible for pre-workout making you tingle and itch.
However, beta-alanine has nothing to do with betaine anhydrous. The names kind of look similar, and when you consider that many compounds have numerous names, it's not unheard of for people to just assume they're the same.
The second one is betaine hydrochloride (HCl) and has much more in common with betaine anhydrous. Betaine HCl is simply another form of betaine that helps control healthy stomach acid levels.
However, betaine anhydrous is generally thought to be the more effective compound.
Like many other compounds, such as the best creatine, betaine can be synthesized internally as well as through dietary intake. However, our dietary betaine intake is responsible for the majority of our levels. The most common betaine-containing foods include:
It's also very easy to find quality betaine supplements on the market.
Making betaine supplementation a part of your regular diet can produce numerous health benefits. We're going to go over those in a moment, but first, we want to discuss the mechanisms by which betaine supplementation produces these enhancements.
From health perks to improved performance for building muscle, it's still not exactly clear how betaine anhydrous produces all of its beneficial effects, but here are the most likely mechanisms that account for many of them.
Homocysteine is an amino-acids derivative and metabolite, which occurs between methionine and cysteine. When too much accumulates, the levels of homocysteine rise drastically, resulting in numerous health complications.
High levels of homocysteine have been linked to cardiovascular disease (there is some question as to whether this association is causation or correlation) and an increased chance of kidney failure and other associated complications1,2,3. In addition, elevated homocysteine concentrations can lead to an increased risk of liver disease, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and deep vein thrombosis4,5.
Now, obviously, none of those are good, so your body uses a process known as the methylation cycle to keep your homocysteine levels low. In this process, the methyl groups of betaine are donated to homocysteine, causing it to transform into the amino acid methionine.
In addition to being a methyl donor, betaine also possesses osmotic properties, encouraging water absorption. It acts more as a regulator in that it encourages osmosis, which is the process of water through cells.
When osmosis is functioning properly, cells are properly hydrated in combination with the removal of toxins, a cell washing of sorts. This leads to cell stability, improved cell function, optimal electrolyte levels, and the encouraging and protection of enzymes and protein⁶.
In addition to improved health benefits, betaine treatment has been found to also improve performance, which we'll discuss more below. While it's still not clear why this occurs, one of the leading theories is that betaine increases creatine levels⁷.
Creatine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid that is primarily used to produce ATP during high-intensity training, such as strength training and HIIT. It's the most well-researched and beneficial sports supplement we know of. Whether you opt for creatine pills vs. powder, increased creatine levels will, without a doubt, improve performance.
One thing to note: It's not clear if taking betaine supplements on top of creatine supplementation provides even more of an increase in benefits.
As seen above, betaine has quite a few mechanisms that can provide great benefits. While betaine provides some amazing health benefits, there is also research that has been done that shows the direct impact betaine supplementation has on sports performance and your ability to crush your 6-day workout split.
Here are some of the most important health and performance benefits.
One of the many risk factors lowered by betaine is health complications from heart disease. This can include conditions such as arteriosclerosis found in rheumatic disease or congestive heart failure.
As a result, many improvements are seen with betaine supplements, including increased libido, reduced blood pressure, less fatigue and greater work output, and an overall improved heart function⁶.
Improvements in coronary artery disease are also known to be improved by betaine supplementation. Again, this is due to a rise in plasma homocysteine concentrations also found in patients with coronary artery disease.
Perhaps the most common reason that betaine therapy is prescribed is for the treatment of cardiovascular and vascular disease. As mentioned above, betaine's benefits are primarily related to its ability to donate methyl groups and decrease homocysteine levels.
By maintaining healthy levels, betaine’s intake is able to mitigate the negative side effects of high homocysteine levels and maintain healthy cardiovascular function⁶. A healthy heart is incremental in your ability to perform intense exercise, like these assault bike workouts.
Liver disease is a serious condition that's caused by the build-up of fatty acids in the liver tissue. One of betaine's numerous mechanisms is acting as a lipotrope, a compound that prevents the build-up of fatty acids. As a result, studies have found that betaine ingestion can improve several variables, including improved liver function and decreased blood lipids and plasma cholesterol⁶.
In fact, there's also research that shows betaine intake can improve alcoholic liver disease. One of the effects of chronic alcohol consumption is an increase in homocysteine levels due to it mitigating the ability to produce a compound known as methionine synthase.
This sets up a series of reactions, which ultimately mitigates the methylation process, increases free fatty acids, and alters lipogenesis.
Therefore, betaine administration can prevent this from occurring as well as treat liver disease by improving the body's methylation processes and decreasing homocysteine levels⁶.
A study from 2012 examined the cycling sprint performance of 16 active individuals, both male and female⁷. In this study, participants performed four 12-second max effort sprints either with the consumption of a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage or a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage with approximately 2.5 grams of betaine.
At the end of this study, participants consuming betaine improved both average and max power output⁷.
Separate research examined the effect of betaine supplements on experienced lifters, with an average body fat percentage of around 16%. Multiple variables were examined, including muscular power and endurance while performing the bench press and back squat.
After 6 weeks of betaine supplementation, the participants were able to perform more volume on the bench press while also improving muscular strength⁸. This shows betaine can seriously step up your athletic performance game.
In addition to improving anaerobic power, betaine supplementation is also believed to have an effect on muscle strength and endurance, making it great for improving exercise performance.
A study from 2009 examined 24 healthy male subjects and the effect that betaine supplementation had on their muscular strength and muscular endurance. After 15 days of supplementation, the subjects were able to perform significantly more squat reps when using 75% of their 1RM⁵.
Due to the improvements you can see in strength and muscular endurance, betaine is a great ingredient to look for in a pre-workout supplement.
The same study above that demonstrated higher work output also looked at body composition and arm size. All variables improved, including muscle hypertrophy, decreased fat, and improved body fat percentage⁸.
This study theorized that this is due to betaine intake improving protein synthesis. However, the researchers noted that for betaine supplementation to affect body weight, it should be paired with resistance exercise. This is due to comparing their results with other studies that looked at dietary betaine intake and body composition with no resistance exercise. The studies that didn't include resistance training saw no significant improvements.
With all of these great benefits, it's likely you now want to take betaine anhydrous, if for no other reason than to see more gains in your back and shoulders workout. However, this is where it gets a bit tricky, as there's no existing set guidance on proper betaine dosage.
Further, there are several variables you need to consider that could affect how much betaine you need. Factors to consider include:
If you are diagnosed with a condition, your health care provider will likely provide a proper dietary supplements dosing scheme and may even suggest a prescription for betaine anhydrous.
On the other hand, if you think you might just need some (perhaps you know you're not eating enough beets), you can purchase quality options online. Check out the Best Beet Supplements on the market. Generally speaking, the average dose is 1-2 grams orally administered betaine in addition to however much you eat in your diet.
If instead of going the supplement route, you wanted to try a natural way, you could also easily try altering your diet. Sugar beets, a common ingredient in natural or homemade pre-workout, are without a doubt the best natural source of betaine.
Also, begin to include more wheat bran, quinoa, spinach, and spaghetti.
Betaine and choline are often spoken about and paired together. This is because betaine is actually a metabolite of choline, so the theory is that an increase in choline will increase betaine levels. As a result, homocysteine levels will decrease. However, upon doing research, it seems that, in general, betaine supplementation is superior.
Further, as a whole, it again seems as though studies that look at choline and betaine supplementation together report no improvement. This could be due to altering the ratio of choline and betaine⁹.
Therefore, we would advise sticking to betaine anhydrous for your dietary supplementation protocol.
Betaine and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are another pair of compounds often grouped together. Unlike choline, however, this pairing does seem to have a synergistic effect.
While studies have seemingly only been done on pigs, betaine anhydrous and CLA consistently provide positive results. Some of the benefits include a higher growth rate, higher insulin sensitivity, greater fat and protein metabolism (great for when you're consuming high protein low fat foods), and increased body composition.
Why this has only been tested on pigs (to our knowledge) is unknown. Regardless, while it requires more research, it does look promising.
The last question you probably have is if increasing your dietary betaine intake is safe. We haven't seen any studies suggesting there are side effects. Therefore, assuming you're taking a reasonable dose, you shouldn't expect to have any issues.
Betaine anhydrous is one of the most effective homocysteine-lowering nutrients. As discussed, it plays a very important role in numerous physiological processes and has shown to be a promising compound to help treat everything from chronic renal failure to improved bench press performance.
That's great news for the muscle you're trying to build following your workout split! If you're interested in reaping betaine's many benefits, particularly when it comes to your performance in the gym, the best way to supplement is by finding a great pre-workout, like Gorilla Mode, that includes it as an ingredient.
This way you'll head to the gym with laser focus and an awesome pump, ready to improve your strength, while also enjoying the other health perks betaine offers.
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