Betaine, also referred to as trimethylglycine (or TMG) for short, is a compound that is an active metabolite (end product) of choline. Originally, it was found in beetroot sugars before being discovered as a naturally occurring compound in the body.
In the body it performs two major roles which can benefit health and athletic performance.
An osmolyte is a molecule that can have a positive effect on cellular hydration. As you can imagine things like exercise, especially in hot and humid environments, can have a significant effect on cellular dehydration.
As you get more dehydrated your body is more “stressed” and performance can deteriorate rapidly.
As an osmolyte, betaine can influence hydration status by affecting something known as tonicity.
Simply put, betaine effects the osmotic pressure gradient and can “push” more water into the cells to help them stay better hydrated.
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced in the body from the breakdown of protein. High levels have been linked to heart disease, dementia, and other serious medical conditions.
Homocysteine levels play a big role in determining an individual’s longevity and health.
Betaine reduces homocysteine levels by converting it to another amino acid know as l-methionine which can be used to maintain other bodily functions.
Naturally occurring betaine is found in a lot of everyday foods we eat through a regular diet such as:
Unfortunately, there is not enough betaine in the foods listed above to produce any benefits. That is why supplementation is necessary.
Betaine supplements come in one of two form. Anhydrous or hydrochloride (hcl).
This form of betaine commonly is referred to as TMG (trimethylglycine). Broken down further the anhydrous refers to “without” water. Betaine anhydrous is the more common form used in research studies where positive benefits have been demonstrated.
It can be found as a standalone supplement both in capsule or powder form, or part of a comprehensive pre-workout.
Betaine HCL simply takes betaine and bonds it to the acid hydrochloride. The thought here is the HCL stimulates the production of stomach acid which in turn improves the absorption of the betaine.
The big problem here is no research had demonstrated this and it’s just really a gimmick.
Always choose betaine anhydrous. It’s the more studied form and won’t cause heartburn like betaine hcl commonly does.
Betaine has a wide array of performance benefits for strength and endurance athletes as well as overall health benefits. These include:
Let’s briefly discuss some of these.
A study conducted in 2000 by Brouwer et al. discovered that subjects who took 6 grams of betaine daily for three weeks were able to reduce homocysteine by 8% compared to baseline.
A 2001 study conducted by Abdelmalek et al. found that subjects who took 500mg of betaine daily over the course of a year were able to normalize liver enzymes in 30% of the subjects while the remaining 70% were able to reduce liver enzymes by 50%.
A 2013 double blinded, placebo-controlled study conducted by Apicella et. al found subjects who took 1.25 grams of betaine twice daily for one week were able to reduce serum cortisol concentrations by 6.1% compared to placebo.
Armstrong et al. discovered that healthy male runners who were given 5g of betaine in a liquid solution after exercising in a hot and humid environment were able to rehydrate (tested via urine specific gravity) more quickly and completely compared to a placebo group who consumed water.
A 2012 study conducted by Pryor et al. discovered cyclists who took 2.5 grams of betaine over the course of two weeks were able to increase average power by 3.4% and maximum power by 3.8% compared to placebo.
A 2011 study conducted by Hoffman et al. found recreationally active men who took 2.5 grams of betaine daily for two weeks were able to slightly decrease fatigue during weight training compared to the placebo group.
Trepanowski et al. (2011) discovered that resistance trained men who were given 2.5 grams of betaine for two weeks increased work volume by 6.5% and decreased lactate production by 210%.
Although not significant, the study conducted by Armstrong mentioned above, noted small improvements in vo2 max in the subjects who supplemented with betaine. More research is needed to confirm this purported benefit.
A 2010 study conducted by Lee et al. found healthy men with at least 3 months of strength training experience were able to significantly improve average and peak power output on the bench press and squat compared to placebo after taking 2.5 grams of betaine daily for 2 weeks.
On the low-end Betaine should be dosed at 500mg daily for minimal benefits. A more standard dose is 2500-6000mg divided into two daily doses. This amount, as demonstrated by the research improves athletic performance and decreases homocysteine.
When you take betaine doesn’t really matter. Most studies done on betaine have had subjects take it throughout the day in two equal doses. If it is part of your pre-workout that works fine as well.
Overall betaine is a very safe supplement where few people will ever experience negative side effects. However, two minor things may happen when you supplement with betaine.
Currently there are no known drug interactions with either betaine anhydrous or betaine HCL.
A lot of great stand-alone betaine supplements can be found on Amazon. One of the best and most trusted is NutraBio Betaine. It has 60 servings per container, uses vegetable capsules, and is affordable. Click here if you want to give it a try.
Matt Mosman (MS, CISSN, CSCS) is a research scientist, endurance athlete, and the founder and Chief Endurance Officer at EndurElite. Matt holds his B.S. in Exercise Science from Creighton University and his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of California. Matt and his family reside in Spearfish South Dakota where they enjoy running, mountain biking, camping, and all the outdoor adventures Spearfish has to offer.