A vitamin like compound found mainly in meats (a non-vegetarian diet contains 100-300 mg per day), but also synthesized in the kidney and liver from lysine and methionine. Although purported to enhance aerobic endurance by increasing the oxidation of glucose, decreasing the accumulation of lactic acid, and enhancing fatty acid metabolism by the cellular mitochondria, present research provides little or no support for enhanced performance in short term events dependent on the lactic acid energy system (with doses up to 2 grams per day) or completion times for a 5k run (after 4 grams per day for 2 weeks). Toxic risks appear to be minimal although large doses have been reported to cause diarrhea. Individuals should NOT use D,L-Carnitine as the D isomer impairs synthesis of L-Carnitine in the body, leading to symptoms of L-Carnitine deficiency including myopathy and muscular weakness.

For those interested in further articles:

Brass EP, Hiatt WR in J Am Coll Nutr 1998 Jun;17(3):207-15 "The role of carnitine and carnitine supplementation during exercise in man and in individuals with special needs."

Carnitine is critical for normal skeletal muscle bioenergetics. Carnitine has a dual role as it is required for long-chain fatty acid oxidation, and also shuttles accumulated acyl groups out of the mitochondria. Muscle requires optimization of both of these metabolic processes during peak exercise performance. Theoretically, carnitine availability may become limiting for either fatty acid oxidation or the removal of acyl-CoAs during exercise. Despite the theoretical basis for carnitine supplementation in otherwise healthy persons to improve exercise performance, clinical data have not demonstrated consistent benefits of carnitine administration. Additionally, most of the anticipated metabolic effects of carnitine supplementation have not been observed in healthy persons. The failure to demonstrate clinical efficacy of carnitine may reflect the complex pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of carnitine supplementation, the challenges of clinical trial design for performance endpoints, or the adequacy of endogenous carnitine content to meet even extreme metabolic demands in the healthy state.

Heinonen OJ in Sports Med 1996 Aug;22(2):109-32 "Carnitine and physical exercise."

Carnitine plays a central role in fatty acid (FA) metabolism. It transports long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria for beta-oxidation. Carnitine also modulates the metabolism of coenzyme-A (CoA). It is not surprising that the use of supplementary carnitine to improve physical performance has become widespread in recent years, although there is no unequivocal support to this practice. However, critical reflections and current scientific-based knowledge are important because the implications of reduced or increased carnitine concentrations in vivo are not thoroughly understood. Several rationales have been forwarded in support of the potential ergogenic effects of oral carnitine supplementation. However, the following arguments derived from established scientific observations may be forwarded: (i) carnitine supplementation neither enhances FA oxidation in vivo or spares glycogen or postpones fatigue during exercise. Carnitine supplementation does not unequivocally improve performance of athletes; (ii) carnitine supplementation does not reduce body fat or help to lose weight; (iii) in vivo pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC) is fully active already after a few seconds of intense exercise. Carnitine supplementation induces no further activation of PDC in vivo; (iv) despite an increased acetyl-CoA/free CoA ratio, PDC is not depressed during exercise in vivo and therefore supplementary carnitine has no effect on lactate accumulation; (v) carnitine supplementation per se does not affect the maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max); (vi) during exercise there is a redistribution of free carnitine and acylcarnitines in the muscle but there is no loss of total carnitine. Athletes are not at risk for carnitine deficiency and do not have an increased need for carnitine. Although there are some theoretical points favoring potential ergogenic effects of carnitine supplementation, there is currently no scientific basis for healthy individuals or athletes to use carnitine supplementation to improve exercise performance.

The following provide scientific support for these conclusions.

Simi B et al in Comp Biochem Physiol A 1990;97(4):543-9 "Large variations in skeletal muscle carnitine level fail to modify energy metabolism in exercising rats."

1. The importance of carnitine status in energy metabolism during exercise was studied in experimentally carnitine-depleted or supplemented rats. 2. Muscle carnitine concentration can be decreased by 40% with D-carnitine and increased by 40% with L-carnitine supplementation. 3. In spite of large variation of carnitine content, neither the exercising capacity nor the rate of muscle or liver glycogenolysis were modified during submaximal exercise. 4. The increased lipid metabolism induced by exercise can be adequately supported by endogenous levels of tissue carnitine. 5. Before any impairment in energy metabolism during exercise can be demonstrated, carnitine concentration has to be reduced to a level close to that measured with primary carnitine deficiency, i.e. less than 20 mumol/l of plasma.

Soop M et al in J Appl Physiol 1988 Jun;64(6):2394-9 "Influence of carnitine supplementation on muscle substrate and carnitine metabolism during exercise."

We examined 1) the effect of L-carnitine supplementation on free fatty acid (FFA) utilization during exercise and 2) exercise-induced alterations in plasma levels and skeletal muscle exchange of carnitine. Seven moderately trained human male subjects serving as their own controls participated in two bicycle exercise sessions (120 min., 50% of VO2max). The second exercise was preceded by 5 days of oral carnitine supplementation (CS; 5 g daily). Despite a doubling of plasma carnitine levels, with CS, there were no effects on exercise-induced changes in arterial levels and turnover of FFA, the relation between leg FFA inflow and FFA uptake, or the leg exchange of other substrates. Heart rate during exercise after CS decreased 7-8%, but O2 uptake was unchanged. Exercise before CS induced a fall from 33.4 +/- 1.6 to 30.8 +/- 1.0 (SE) mumol/l in free plasma carnitine despite a release (2.5 +/- 0.9 mumol/min) from the leg. Simultaneously, acylated plasma carnitine rose from 5.0 +/- 1.0 to 14.2 +/- 1.4 mumol/l, with no evidence of leg release. Consequently, total plasma carnitine increased. We concluded that in healthy subjects CS does not influence muscle substrate utilization either at rest or during prolonged exercise and that free carnitine released from muscle during exercise is presumably acylated in the liver and released to plasma.

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