Supplements are handy tools for bridging nutrient gaps and reaching any and all fitness goals faster. When used right and in moderation, they are a nice addition to a wholesome, balanced diet. Recently, one supplement has taken over the spotlight, and it’s not creatine: L-carnitine. While some swear by it, others try to expose it as a complete fraud.
As it often is in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. For all those who have not yet explored all of its benefits, or even heard about it, here is a short guide to the benefits of L-carnitine, and how it can help you achieve your goals.
Let us begin by saying that L-carnitine is a naturally occurring amino acid we find mostly in meat and dairy products. It serves a vital purpose in our body: it is present in our muscles, where it is responsible for the production of cellular energy. Interestingly enough, this amino acid is “conditionally essential,” which means that our bodies are capable of producing it in sufficient quantities as long as we are consuming enough of two other amino acids (methionine and lysine).
Note that there are several forms of this substance. There is the one that we naturally produce, but there are also some types that have gone through different chemical processes (Acetyl-L-Carnitine) or are bound to other substances, like tartaric acid (L-Carnitine L-Tartrate). The most important thing, however, is the reason why people use L-carnitine. Namely, its popularity is the result of the fact that it increases carnitine levels in the muscles.
Different strokes for different folks
Most people maintain diets that are healthy enough to provide enough carnitine for normal functioning. On the other hand, the elderly and those who do not consume meat are prone to carnitine deficiency. That is to say that for young and healthy individuals, supplementation with L-carnitine is redundant from the health standpoint. The logic behind taking it is to increase the levels of carnitine in your body, beyond what is naturally possible.
In other words, it provides fitness benefits that are certainly worth considering. This is in fact why L-carnitine is finding its way into more and more supplements these days. According to manufacturers, L-carnitine enables people to reap a set of benefits, including better workout recovery, enhanced cognitive performance, increased muscle gains, and it also speeds up the weight loss process. So, do these claims hold water or are they too good to be true?
Who is doing the heavy lifting here?
Those who use L-carnitine claim that it mitigates muscle soreness, improves post-workout recovery, and boosts nitric oxide production. The truth, however, is that no single form of L-carnitine can ensure all these benefits. It must be said that by far the most reliable benefit of L-carnitine supplementation is the alleviation of muscle soreness and damage. The supplement does facilitate the repair process after an intense workout and recharges your batteries for challenges yet to come.
Believe it or not, scientists are still figuring out exactly how this plays out, but it is safe to assume that it is linked to the increase in blood flow to the muscles and better cellular signaling. As for fat loss, things are not as simple. It is true that a carnitine deficiency can lead to a slower fat loss process, but as we have previously mentioned, most people do not have this problem.
Besides, there is little evidence that increasing levels beyond normal brings us closer to fat loss goals. Along similar lines, we have to debunk the myth that carnitine helps us build muscles faster, similarly to creatine. Yes, some people experience faster progress towards their body composition goals, but the effect is indirect and related to better recovery as well as less mental and physical fatigue.
So, my piece of advice is not to expect miracles. Do your own thing because this supplement will not take your performance to the next level or improve your power output. It does not make up for the lack of hard work, warm-up, appropriate equipment, and quality bodybuilding clothes. Also, we have to again point out the importance of good eating habits. Whether you want to shed some weight or sculpt your body, they are the copper-bottomed bedrock of your efforts.
The pros and cons
When it comes to the pros and cons of using L-carnitine, the facts and figures are still not as cut and dry as we would like them to be. There is no doubt that supplementation can correct a deficiency and help certain categories of people. Then again, it is far from being a one-size-fits-all solution. If you are young, healthy, and eat well, it is highly unlikely that L-carnitine will be an essential tool in your supplementation arsenal. That being said, it could prove to be a nice asset in terms of post-workout benefits and cognitive function.
About the Author:
Samantha has a B.Sc. in nutrition, and has spent two years working as a personal trainer. Since then, she has embarked on a mission to conquer the blogosphere. She currently runs the blog, Ripped.me, as Editor in Chief. When not in the gym or on the track, you can find her on Twitter, or in a tea shop.