Have you eaten any beets lately? I don’t like them myself, but research shows that a chemical contained in them, and named after them, betaine (pronounced beet’-uh-een), may be an effective way to gain muscle mass while simultaneously losing body fat.
If true, this makes it one of the few chemicals that offers both of these desired diet benefits.
Betaine is also known as trimethylglycine (TMG). While I’m not going to get too into the science of methyl donation, just know that as a “methyl donor”, betaine may have a variety of health benefits, including improving brain functioning, and offering liver health benefits.
A number of studies have concluded that betaine supplementation boosts strength and power (including this one published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, July 2010) .
However, the most exciting research was performed at the College of Springfield in Massachusetts (full study link).
Researchers had a group of males weight-train for six weeks. One group took 1.25 grams of betaine twice a day, and the control group (also weight training) supplemented with a placebo. The researchers reported in a 2013 issue of the same journal I referenced above that the subjects taking betaine increased muscle mass by four pounds and arm size by ten percent (!), while decreasing body fat by seven percent. The placebo group experienced no increase in muscle mass/arm size and no body fat loss.
Also, another study found increased production of human growth hormone following workouts with 2.5 grams a day of betaine supplementation.
So, while the research is preliminary, and conflicting, supplementing with betaine/TMG may help you see quicker muscle gains and faster weight loss. Either way, other studies show a variety of athletic benefits for TMG. For example, a brand new study shows that betaine helps runners sprint faster.
Betaine comes in two forms. Betaine Hydrochloride (HCL) is betaine bound to HCL. The hypothesis is that the HCL in the formula improves digestion in the stomach by making it more acidic. Betaine HCL is 76% betaine, so if you see an amount on a bottle (such as 600 mg betaine HCL), just multiply that amount by .76 to get the actual betaine content (600 mg of betaine HCL contains 456 mg betaine). Betaine anhydrous is often labeled as TMG or Trimethlyglycine. Both are cheap and readily available.
This article was originally published in 2014 (but updated somewhat regularly), and I wrote a follow-up article about my experience with betaine that you may also find helpful.
So giving this inexpensive supplement might be worth a try. If you don’t want to take supplements, quinoa, spinach, and of course beets, are particularly high in this nutrient.