Beef up with beets?
Betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, plays a central role in detoxification, liver function, and cellular replication. It can be found in foods like fish, whole grains, beets, and spinach, as well as taken as a supplement.
Betaine is also used to help improve exercise performance. Some, but not all, studies suggest that it may increase the weight and repetitions athletes can lift and improve power and exercise endurance. But it seems that betaine won't do its part if you don't do yours: it has to be combined with exercise in order to yield results.
Scientists aimed to find out more about how betaine affects exercise performance and body composition by testing it in 23 strength-trained male athletes (ages of 18 to 35), assigned to take 2.5 grams of betaine per day or placebo for six weeks. Fat mass, percent body fat, and lean body mass were measured to assess the athletes' body composition before and after supplementation. The men underwent exercise training during the study period; the amount of work being done (volume), strength, and power were recorded before and after the program. Cross-sectional arm and thigh measurements were taken, and before/after values were compared to assess changes in muscle size.
Compared with the placebo group, men in the betaine group showed improvements in:
Arm muscle size
Bench press training volume
Body composition (significant)
Power, based on vertical jump height (slight)
Back squat training volume improved in both groups over the course of the study and strength, as measured by the maximum amount the men could lift one time, didn't differ between the groups at the end of the trial. Betaine didn't seem to affect thigh muscle size.
"The results from the present study lend support to the hypothesis that the action of betaine to improve body composition in humans may be most effective when accompanied by exercise," concluded lead study author, Jason M. Cholewa.
For results, form matters
When choosing a betaine supplement to support athletic performance, look for pure betaine (or trimethylglycine) instead of betaine hydrochloride, which is the acidic form of betaine used to treat low stomach acid.
Other ways to build muscle naturally
If bulking up is what you have in mind, give these strategies a try:
Give muscles what they hunger for. Make sure you have some protein within two hours after your workout. This is a critical time for muscle repair; without enough dietary protein to draw on, muscle protein will break down instead of building new tissue.
Don't skimp on rest. Just like depriving muscles of protein, weight training without enough rest can lead to muscle loss. Take at least one day of rest between your lifting days and don't train more than an hour, four times per week.
Go light on cardio. Longer cardiovascular exercise sessions tend to limit the amount of bulk that you can develop. Try to keep your cardio workouts to about 30 minutes, two to three times per week.
(J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2013;doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-39)