What if you could take a supplement that aids in fat burning, increases endurance and improves your brain’s functions? Meet L-carnitine, which is your — and more specifically, your mitochondria’s best friend. You probably have heard of amino acids and how important they are to protein production. Similar to LEGOs blocks, amino acids are your body’s protein building blocks.
What Is L-Carnitine?
L-carnitine is a nonessential amino acid our bodies produce in limited amounts from the essential amino acids methionine and lysine. We can get it from foods such as meat (especially red meat), fish, chicken and dairy products. Carnitine occurs in two forms: L-carnitine and D-carnitine. D-carnitine is biologically inactive, meaning our bodies can’t use it. The form we care about is L-carnitine. This little wonder compound is a surprisingly potent tool our bodies need.
Although we can get L-carnitine from our diet, a variety of studies are finding that adding an L-carnitine supplement to our daily health routine may significantly help us achieve our health and fitness goals. We can experience deficiencies in L-carnitine due to certain medications, diarrhea, dialysis, inadequate dietary intake, and some genetic disorders. Vegans and vegetarians are also at risk of l-carnitine deficiencies since it is primarily found in animal products.
How Do Our Bodies Use L-Carnitine?
L-carnitine is the conveyer belt that transports fat (in the form of long-chain fatty acids) into the mitochondria of cells. In case you’re wondering, mitochondria are basically our cells’ powerplants — they are organelles that take in nutrients, break them down and then produce energy-rich molecules called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for the cells. Because muscle cells, especially heart muscle cells, require a lot of ATP (energy), they have the most mitochondria. Fat cells have a lot too because they store energy. You’ll find a lot of mitochondria in brain cells too.
Without L-carnitine, the fatty acids can’t get into our mitochondria, so that’s why it’s so crucial to metabolizing fat. Our mitochondria are working when we’re at rest and moderate exercise, but they really ratchet up their performance during intense activity.
What Are the Benefits of L-Carnitine?
Hang onto your water bottles because we are about to embark on an intense sprint of the powerful benefits this amino acid brings to our bodies.
- Boosts Athletic Performance
It should come as no surprise that athletes can get some serious benefits from L-carnitine because athletes’ muscles require vast amounts of ATP. Several studies such as this one have shown that taking L-carnitine supplements improves exercise performance because muscle cells have access to more ATP. Studies have also found that L-carnitine supplementation enhances endurance as well, allowing you to work out longer before feeling fatigued.
- Facilitates Weight Loss and Fat Burning
If you’re bulking, L-carnitine can help limit fat gains — and if you’re cutting, it can help transport fat into your mitochondria and be burned as fuel. If you’re primarily interested in weight loss, no silver bullet will wipe out your love handles or spare belly tire without some improvements in your diet and fitness routine. Adding an L-carnitine supplement to your routine can help you lose weight faster because of its role in metabolizing fat.
- Minimizes Muscle Damage
You probably know those intense sweat sessions are doing some damage to your muscle cells, breaking them down. Remember mitochondria, our cells’ powerplants? Our muscle cell mitochondria are vulnerable to damage when working at top capacity, so having higher levels of L-carnitine available to them helps prevent that damage.
Studies of human subjects have found that adding L-carnitine supplements protected muscles from damage during intense exercise. Researchers measured the levels of substances in the blood such as creatine kinase which indicates cell damage has occurred and found them to be lower with supplementation.
- Boosts Brain Function and Slows Aging
So we’ve talked about how L-carnitine benefits your body because of its role in fat metabolism, energy production, and cell protection, but it also has some positive impacts in your brain. One study of elderly patients found that L-carnitine supplements resulted in improved physical and mental abilities, likely due to l-carnitine’s ability to support mitochondria.
Mitochondria are particularly susceptible to oxidative stress because they are continually exposed to high levels of energy and oxygen. Oxidative stress occurs when an imbalance occurs between the bad guys, free radicals — and the good guys, antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals. Because your brain cells consume significant amounts of ATP and oxygen, they are the most likely cells to suffer from oxidative stress.
Preventing mitochondrial decay in brain cells is a proven way to slow or halt cognitive decline. Mitochondrial decay is the primary cause of all neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia. It is also the primary cause of aging in human tissue.
- Helps Cardiovascular Health
Our heart cell muscles have the highest number of mitochondria because they never get a break. Heart muscle cells require a tremendous amount of ATP, so they need to have an abundance of L-carnitine
on hand to instantly transport those fatty acids into the mitochondria. Several studies around congestive heart failure, heart attacks, and poor circulation have found that L-carnitine supplementation:
- Reduced heart muscle injuries during heart attacks
- Improved the ability to exercise after heart failure and heart attacks
- Improved heart failure symptoms
- Reduced heart inflammation (myocarditis)
- Reduced heart ischemia (insufficient blood flow)
- Combats Infertility and Improves Sperm Motility
Remember when we said earlier that L-carnitine is a surprisingly potent tool? Here’s another surprise — studies have found that L-carnitine supplementation can help boost sperm count and motility (their ability to move around). Because sperm mature and acquire their motility in the epididymis (where sperm is produced in the testes), there are large concentrations of L-carnitine found here. Low levels of L-carnitine levels can impair sperm development.
The Bottom Line — L-Carnitine Is a Green Light
Since L-carnitine provides so many physical and mental health benefits and is generally well-tolerated, you should consider adding to your health and fitness arsenal. The benefits we identified here are only the tip of the iceberg. Look for L-carnitine supplements that contain L-glycine too, because L-glycine helps break down and transport nutrients such as glycogen and fat to be used by cells for energy. Check out Metcon L Carn Pre-Burn. Avoid L-carnitine supplements that contain artificial flavors, dyes, and sweeteners.