Carnosine is available as a dietary supplement, beta-alanine (available in our supplement store) and is an antioxidant that many people take for its anti-ageing effects.
Beta-alanine (BA) has been shown to slow glycation, a process where the body’s proteins are attacked by sugar molecules, which, when combined with oxidation, creates free radicals that break down the body’s tissues. Glycation leads to damage to the eyes, skin, circulatory and nervous systems and other symptoms associated with ageing. It also is useful to athletes in that it is a primary intramuscular buffer, helping to lower elevated levels of acid in muscles caused by intense exercise.
Researchers from the University of Ghent studied 18 high-level Belgian rowers over a period of seven weeks. The rowers were given a daily supplement of either 5 grams of BA or a placebo, and the carnosine levels in their calf muscles was measured both before and after supplementation. The athletes’ performance was evaluated in a 2000-meter rowing ergometer test.
Even before supplementation with BA, there was a strong positive correlation between speed and muscle carnitine levels, with the rowers showing the highest carnitine levels posting the highest speeds. After BA supplementation, the average carnosine levels in the muscle increased by 45.3 percent in the slow-twitch soleus muscle, and 28.2 percent in the fast-twitch gastrocnemius muscle. No elevated levels were shown in the placebo group. Additionally, the BA group increased their speed by 4.3 seconds over the placebo group in the 2000-meter test, whereas before supplementation they were .3 seconds slower.
During short-term, high-intensity exercise, lactate accumulates in the muscles as a result of lactic acid production (the cause of the “burning” sensation you sometimes get while training). The increased lactate levels interfere with the activity of enzymes involved in energy production. BA reduces these levels, allowing the athlete to add an extra burst of energy at the end of their performance that may make all the difference.
Pervious studies have also pointed to the usefulness of carnosine to high-power athletes, such as sprinters. According to Yasuhiro Suzuki, a Japanese carnosine researcher,
"It has been shown that people whose muscle carnosine was high could exhibit high power during the latter half of the 30 second maximal cycle ergometer sprinting. These results suggested that the muscle carnosine concentration could be one of the important factors determining high-intensity exercise performance."