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All you need to know about Carnitine

There are so many different supplements available on the market these days that it can be hard to know where to start.

I mean, with new options appearing almost daily, the industry has become saturated with compounds that don't actually have a whole lot of research to support their use -- which is why we pride ourselves on providing high-quality information on evidence backed supplements that actually work.

Supplements like carnitine, for example.

What is Carnitine?

Carnitine is a specific type of nutrient that plays a very important role in the human body. In this manner, it helps in the production of energy by transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria of your cells.

You can think of your mitochondria as the engines within your cells. They burn fatty acids to create usable energy for muscle contractions and cellular processes.

It is important to note that your body actually has the capacity to produce carnitine using the amino acids “lysine” and “methionine”. However, for your body to successfully make carnitine in sufficient amounts, you also need to have adequate Vitamin C available.

Moreover, you can also obtain small amounts of carnitine by eating animal products like meat or fish. Although you should be aware that most people don't actually consume enough carnitine or Vitamin C on a daily basis to maximise its availability -- which can lead to naturally lower levels of carnitine in the body.

It is for this reason that supplementing with carnitine can be so effective.

This is especially important for Vegans or people who follow a meat free diet, as it can further impact upon their natural carnitine levels.

Types of Carnitine

When we talk about carnitine, we are most often talking about the specific compound “L-carnitine”, which is the standard biologically active form of carnitine found in your body and in the food you eat.

Here are three other types of carnitine that you should be aware of:

  • D-carnitine: is an inactive form of carnitine that may actually lead to the onset of a carnitine deficiency in your body by blunting the absorption of other forms of carnitine
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine: is a form of carnitine that appears to be particularly effective in the cells of your brain
  • Propionyl-L-carnitine: is a form that appears to be well-suited for circulatory issues, such as peripheral vascular disease and high blood pressure
  • L-carnitine L-tartrate: is the form of carnitine most commonly added to sports supplements due to its rapid absorption rate.

When it comes to supplementation, both Acetyl-L-carnitine and L-carnitine appear to be the most well-absorbed, and by extension, the most effective.

What are the Benefits of Carnitine?

Given that carnitine plays a number of very important roles in the human body, it should stand to reason that its supplementation can offer a number of unique benefits -- which is very much the case when you take a look at the research.

1.   Carnitine improves fat loss

As we have already discussed in detail, carnitine plays an integral role helping transport fatty acids into the cells of your mitochondria, which ultimately allows them to be broken down for usable energy.

This means that supplementing with Carnitine can actually increase the rate at which you break down fatty tissue for energy, while simultaneously increasing the amount of fat you use to create energy [1].

This can lead to a greater proportion of the energy you burn every day coming from fat, which over time, can increase fat loss.

Now, the caveat here is that for you to actually lose weight, you still need to be in a sustained energy deficit over weeks or months, which can only be created through diet and exercise.

However, carnitine can make getting into a deficit easier.

2.   Carnitine boosts brain function

Interestingly, carnitine may also offer some potent benefits to brain function [2].

A large body of research in animals has shown that the supplementation of L-carnitine can help prevent age-related declines in mental function, while simultaneously enhancing various markers of learning.

More importantly, human studies indicate that taking acetyl-L-carnitine can actually reverse the decline in brain function associated with numerous brain diseases, while simultaneously improving many of the cognitive functions related to attention and memory.

While this may not seem like a huge deal for those of you whose main goal is to get as swole as possible, I firmly believe that it does offer some benefit by increasing your focus in the gym.

This could conceivably improve performance, leading to better gains.

3.   Carnitine helps your heart

Carnitine has also been shown to elicit a vasodilation effect in the human body, which means it makes your veins and arteries relax and widen. This facilitates blood flow throughout your body, essentially reducing how hard your heart is required to work.

With this in mind, supplementing with carnitine has been shown to cause reductions in blood pressure, and even prevent many of the inflammatory markers that are thought to contribute to heart disease [3].

Again, while this may not get you jacked in the short term, it is going to go a very long way to keep you training all the way into your nineties -- which can only be a good thing.

4.   Carnitine enhances exercise performance and recovery

Lastly, the long term supplementation of carnitine appears to impact exercise performance and recovery.

By improving fat metabolism, carnitine appears to have an impact on your body's energy production efficiency. This alone can have a net positive effect on your exercise performance by improving the amount of energy you have available to produce muscle contractions.

Moreover, by increasing blood flow to the working muscle tissue, carnitine can enhance the movement of oxygen to your muscle cells. This also leads to improvements in exercise performance, which over time, can translate to better training progress [4].

And importantly, this increase in blood flow also has an impact on recovery [5].

By increasing blood flow to your muscles after you finish training, carnitine can facilitate the transportation of essential nutrients into your muscle cells. This can speed up the recovery process, reducing muscle soreness, and getting you ready to train at your best again faster.

Talk about a win-win.

Is Carnitine Safe?

As carnitine is simply an amino acid found within the human body, its supplementation appears to be very safe.

In fact, in a recent study, people who took 3 grams every day for 21 days experienced no negative effects at all [6] -- suggesting that it is extremely well tolerated in moderate to higher dosages.

It is important to note that in a very small subset of the population carnitine has been reported to cause a couple of side effects, including:

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A fishy body odor
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Feelings of nausea

Some people also suggest that the supplementation of high doses of carnitine without breaks over years may increase your risk of developing plaque buildup on your arteries, which would contribute to heart disease -- however, more research is needed to prove that is the case.

As always, if you are interested in supplementing with carnitine, we would recommend you seek advice from a medical professional first -- just in case.

Summary

Carnitine is a potent supplement that can aid in fat loss, boost mental performance, improve the health of your heart, increase exercise performance, and even enhance recovery after exercise -- all of which can lead to better gains.

This makes it a great choice, and one of the most well researched options on the market.

 

References

  1. Pekala, Jolanta, et al. "L-carnitine-metabolic functions and meaning in humans life." Current drug metabolism 12.7 (2011): 667-678.
  2. Badrasawi, Manal, et al. "Efficacy of L-carnitine supplementation on frailty status and its biomarkers, nutritional status, and physical and cognitive function among prefrail older adults: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial." Clinical interventions in aging 11 (2016): 1675.
  3. Adeva?Andany, María M., et al. "Significance of l?carnitine for human health." IUBMB life 69.8 (2017): 578-594.
  4. Brass, Eric P. "Supplemental carnitine and exercise." The American journal of clinical nutrition 72.2 (2000): 618S-623S.
  5. Huang, Amy, and Kevin Owen. "Role of supplementary L-carnitine in exercise and exercise recovery." Acute Topics in Sport Nutrition. Vol. 59. Karger Publishers, 2012. 135-142.
  6. Rubin, Martyn R., et al. "Safety measures of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation in healthy men." Journal of strength and conditioning research 15.4 (2001): 486-490.
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