The new research was the work of researchers from Iran, Canada and the United States. It was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Handball (often called ‘team handball’ in North America to distinguish it from the game played in a court) is a sport that requires a balance of upper and lower body strength. The demands on muscular endurance and a speed/power balance is similar to basketball, and the rules on contact between players are similar, too.
Betaine is a molecule first extracted as a byproduct of sugar beet refining. This endogenous compound has several physiological functions, including facilitating cellular hydration and acting as a ‘chaperone’ to protect certain proteins within the cell from degradation.
It also functions to boost the supply of free choline, which when synthesized into acetylcholine can support signaling in motor neurons. This implies a sports performance benefit by diminishing the perceived rate of exertion, which is one of the limiting factors in training.
The researchers noted that the molecule has a long history of study in this area. The first mention of betaine being used to support nerve signaling and muscular function was from a 1952 study done with polio sufferers, some of whom experienced muscular weakness after recovering from the disease. More recently, betaine was shown to boost power output and fat free mass among young, untrained women. It was also shown to improve the performance of young pro soccer players.
Delving into resistance exercise aspect
The researchers said their study was an attempt to further elucidate the effect of betaine supplementation on resistance exercise. They noted that previous studies along these lines dating back to as far as 2007 had shown ambiguous results. They also wanted to see what effect betaine would have on endocrine function, which is an important data point relating to adolescent athletes.
To test how betaine might benefit the young handball players, the researchers recruited a small cohort of 10 players. As the lead author of the study is Iranian, it could be presumed the players were recruited in Iran, though this was not specified in the study. The players were all healthy and training at least three times a week. They maintained their normal training and diet routines during both placebo and active phases of the study, and refrained from taking any other supplements. They were asked to rest for 48 hours before each of the three testing sessions (baseline, placebo and betaine phases).
Endocrine markers captured, too
The subjects were asked to perform leg presses and bench presses with a weight set at 80% of their maximum single repetition level, which enabled them to perform multiple repetitions. The researchers found a significant benefit for the betaine supplementation. It enabled the players to perform about 35 leg press repetitions, compared to about 25 reps for the placebo. The bench press results were similar: about 36 reps versus 26 reps, respectively. Betaine also suppressed post exercise cortisol and lactate levels versus placebo, and boosted testosterone levels.
“Two weeks of betaine supplementation in adolescent males appeared to increase testosterone concentrations and decrease cortisol and lactate responses after a session of high-intensity RE [resistance exercise). In addition, betaine intake improved the capability to perform more repetitions (at 80% 1RM) in the bench and leg press exercises, representing upper- and lower-body muscle endurance, respectively,” the reseaerchrs concluded.
Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Effects of short-term betaine supplementation on muscle endurance and indices of endocrine function following acute high-intensity resistance exercise in young athletes
Authors: Arazi H, et al.