What is Carnosine?
Carnosine, L-Carnosine, or beta-alanyl-L-histidine is a non-essential amino acid, discovered in 1900, composed of the amino acids histidine and beta-alanine. It is know that the amount of beta-alanine in our bodies is a controlling step to how much carnosine we have. In 1995 papers were released indicating its effect related to exercise performance. Carnosine was found to be in relatively high concentrations in skeletal muscle. When a food containing carnosine is consumed, it gets broken down to its constituent amino acids by the enzyme carnosinase, highly active in blood. These amino acids are then taken into the muscle where they are resynthesised to carnosine by carnosine synthetase.
Where Does Carnosine Come From?
Carnosine is abundant in all protein foods, with the best sources being beef, chicken and pork. Carnosine was found to be predominantly located in high intensity training athletes such as sprinters in the fast twitch / type II muscle fibres, especially the type II fibres needed by athletes, such as bodybuilders, who engage in high intensity resistance training.
Carnosine is high in the muscle of those exposed to prolonged and low muscle pH. This decrease in pH is due to the production of hydrogen ions, as part of the process of energy release. Carnosine can pick up hydrogen ions and delay the decrease in pH increasing our ability to work harder for longer.
Carosine Benefits for Bodybuilding and Strength Training
Carnosine is important for athletes such as bodybuilders wanting to increase the training intensity as it elevates the training threshold in prolonged periods of anaerobic work, while possibly delaying fatigue. Carnosine’s physical chemistry dictates that it contributes significantly to muscle pH control, by 20-30% in type II fibres. Supplementation with beta-alanine, histidine or carnosine may be effective methods for increasing muscle carnosine concentrations. Any increases would be of benefit to athletes where high intensity training was undertaken, such as by bodybuilders.
Muscle biopsy samples showed that Carnosine was significantly elevated in the power athletes (sprinters & rowers) over endurance athletes such as marathon runners. Runners showed skeletal muscle carnosine levels similar to untrained subjects. By comparison, carnosine was highly elevated in the bodybuilder versus the untrained subjects.
Carnosine Benefits for Recovery
Whilst research is currently being undertaken on carnosine, there is a strong indication that it, like other amino acids, has a strong physiological effect on athletes. It can also function as a site specific antioxidant within the muscle, thus enhancing recovery.
Carnosine Safety and Side Effects
Carnosine intake is generally considered to be safe and there are no significant side effects associated with carnosine. However, one school of thought to consider is that carnosine is generally broken down by carnosinase in the body when it is ingested. It is unknown what happens if the intake of carnosine exceeds the workload threshold of carnosinase (NYU, 2012).
Carnosine is very rarely found in bodybuilding supplements in its entity. This is because carnosine is an extremely expensive raw ingredient. Instead, if you are looking to boost your levels of carnosine, look for supplements that contain beta alanine and/or histidine. These will combine in your body to form carnosine. These ingredients can be found in weight gainers, creatine supplements, pre workout supplements, and stand-alone beta alanine and histidine supplements.
Carnosine Recommended Doses, Ingredient Timing, and Stacking
Because carnosine is rarely found in a bodybuilding supplement, it is more relevant to consider the dosage of the parent amino acids. For more details, please refer to our beta alanine article.
1 Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements, p. 474
2 NYU (2012), Carnosine. NYU Langone Medical Center