Carnitine is an important sports nutrition compound due to its role in energy production, but its consequential benefits to cardiovascular health and function may also help improve exercise performance and recovery.
Early research of carnitine for sports nutrition looked at its metabolic mechanism in skeletal muscle, as fatty acids are a primary energy source in endurance exercise, but studies were conflicting on whether carnitine levels increased in the muscles and enhanced performance, including VO2max. Newer hypotheses focus on carnitine’s effects on oxidative stress and vascular function.
Exercise can increase free radicals and lipid peroxidation in the blood, and increase oxidative stress and risk of tissue damage in skeletal muscle. This oxidative condition can persist for days following muscle-damaging exercise.
Researchers from University of Connecticut Human Performance Research Laboratory have studied L-carnitine on muscle stress and damage, finding reduced oxidative stress and subsequent damage in muscles. Searching for a mechanism behind carnitine’s impact on post-exercise metabolic and hypoxic stress, the researchers homed in on enhanced oxygen consumption, which reduced muscle oxygenation in their study.
Other researchers have found hypoxia-mediating mechanisms in carnitine’s effect on vascular function, including vasodilation leading to improved blood flow. It appears vascular muscle cells prefer fatty acid oxidation for energy, and decreased carnitine can curtail blood flow.
Recognizing all the potential benefits of increased general energy production on training and performance, a deeper look at carnintine in muscle and vascular cells reveals a deeper roster of benefits that could help athletes get the most out of their workouts and improve recovery from rigorous exercise. This offers an expanding potential market for carnitine supplementation.