The anabolic effect of betaine

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Athletes who take 2.5 g betaine daily and do intensive training increase their body’s anabolic response to the workout. Sports scientists from the University of Connecticut write about the phenomenon in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.

We consume about 100 to 300 mg betaine daily through our diet [J Inherit Metab Dis. 2011 Feb;34(1):3-15.], but we can probably easily consume 9-15 g a day without incurring problems. [Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Sep; 80(3):539-49.]

Sugar beet contains fairly high levels of betaine, and the substance is a by-product of the sugar production process. Large companies like DuPont are financing research on potentially interesting ergogenic effects of betaine, in the hope that they find a way of making money from this dirt-cheap substance. DuPont funded a study we recently wrote about. Bodybuilders who took 2.5 g betaine daily for six weeks lost fat mass and gained several kgs of lean body mass. DuPont also financed the study we are writing about here.

The researchers used students, average age 19, as their subjects. They had already been training for an average of 4 years with weights.

For two weeks the students were given two doses of 1.25 g betaine daily. After the supplementation period the researchers got the students to train their legs. Just before [Pre] and 15 minutes after the workout [Post] the researchers analysed the subjects’ blood. Just before the workout and 10 minutes afterwards they also took a sample of muscle cells out of the subjects’ leg muscle.

Athletes who take 2.5 g betaine daily and do intensive training increase their body’s anabolic response to the workout. Sports scientists from the University of Connecticut write about the phenomenon in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.
Then the researchers repeated the procedure, but gave the subjects a placebo.


A quarter of an hour after the workout, the concentration of cortisol in the subjects’ blood was a little lower when they had taken betaine than when they took the placebo, the researchers discovered.


Betaine supplementation resulted in a significantly higher post-workout concentration of growth hormone and IGF-1.



The hormonal effects of betaine suggest that anabolic processes are at work – and this is exactly what the researchers saw when they looked at the activity of anabolic signalling proteins in the muscle cell samples. Post workout the researchers observed increased activity of the anabolic signalling molecules Akt and p70-S6k.

“Our findings suggest that betaine supplementation improves endocrine control of anabolic versus catabolic pathways to enhance anabolic signaling and protein synthesis, in the context of response to an acute bout of resistance and aerobic exercise performed at maximal intensity”, the researchers conclude. “Future studies will interrogate whether betaine supplementation effects on anabolic and catabolic signaling components are consistent in a variety of exercise prescriptions and among more subject sample populations, and what the mechanisms of betaine action might be in providing an ergogenic benefit.”

Betaine supplementation enhances anabolic endocrine and Akt signaling in response to acute bouts of exercise.

Apicella JM, Lee EC, Bailey BL, Saenz C, Anderson JM, Craig SA, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Maresh CM.


Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut, 2095 Hillside Road, Unit 1110, Storrs, CT 06269, USA.


Our aim was to examine the effect of betaine supplementation on selected circulating hormonal measures and Akt muscle signaling proteins after an acute exercise session. Twelve trained men (age 19.7 ± 1.23 years) underwent 2 weeks of supplementation with either betaine (B) (1.25 g BID) or placebo (P). Following a 2-week washout period, subjects underwent supplementation with the other treatment (B or P). Before and after each 2-week period, subjects performed an acute exercise session (AES). Circulating GH, IGF-1, cortisol, and insulin were measured. Vastus lateralis samples were analyzed for signaling proteins (Akt, p70 S6k, AMPK). B (vs. P) supplementation approached a significant increase in GH (mean ± SD (Area under the curve, AUC), B: 40.72 ± 6.14, P: 38.28 ± 5.54, p = 0.060) and significantly increased IGF-1 (mean ± SD (AUC), B: 106.19 ± 13.45, P: 95.10 ± 14.23, p = 0.010), but significantly decreased cortisol (mean ± SD (AUC), B: 1,079.18 ± 110.02, P: 1,228.53 ± 130.32, p = 0.007). There was no difference in insulin (AUC). B increased resting Total muscle Akt (p = 0.003). B potentiated phosphorylation (relative to P) of Akt (Ser(473)) and p70 S6 k (Thr(389)) (p = 0.016 and p = 0.005, respectively). Phosphorylation of AMPK (Thr(172)) decreased during both treatments (both p = 0.001). Betaine (vs. placebo) supplementation enhanced both the anabolic endocrine profile and the corresponding anabolic signaling environment, suggesting increased protein synthesis.

PMID: 22976217 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]