Subjects who increased carnosine levels through supplementation were able to sustain a 22 percent greater resistance training volume than control subjects. That’s a major difference!
Q: What can you tell me about carnosine? I’ve heard it’s a good supplement for weight training.
Carnosine is a compound synthesized from the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. There is quite a bit of evidence showing that carnosine supplementation can be beneficial during intense strength training, particularly when moderate-to-high reps (6 to 15) and limited rest intervals (30 to 90 seconds) are employed. Here’s the scoop.
During moderate-rep/limited-rest resistance exercise, the body relies primarily on carbohydrates for fuel in an oxygen-independent manner. This, in turn, causes a gradual buildup of lactic acid in the working muscles, which leads to a corresponding decrease in muscle pH level. As pH levels become more and more acidic, the muscle’s ability to contract is impaired, hastening the onset of fatigue. And when you fatigue early, you compromise results.
So how does carnosine fit into this puzzle? Well, carnosine has been shown to act as a buffering agent (it helps to neutralize pH levels). Hence, while lactic acid continues to accumulate during intense exercise, buffered muscles are able to keep functioning for an extended period of time. A study bears out just how beneficial this can be; subjects who increased carnosine levels through supplementation were able to sustain a 22 percent greater resistance training volume than control subjects. That’s a major difference!
The key point to keep in mind here, though, is that results were achieved using a routine that consisted of moderate reps and limited rest intervals. Other studies that have employed longer rest periods and/or lower rep schemes have not shown similar benefits from carnosine supplementation, likely due to a reduced reliance on carbohydrate metabolism (and thus, less lactic acid production) in these protocols.
The best way to increase levels of carnosine in the body is to supplement with beta-alanine rather than carnosine. Studies have shown that supplementing with carnosine is no more effective than beta-alanine alone in elevating carnosine levels. Considering that carnosine is substantially more expensive compared to beta-alanine, the choice is clear: beta-alanine provides the better cost-benefit ratio.
Based on my experience working with physique athletes, a daily dose of 3 to 4 grams of beta-alanine is sufficient to produce beneficial results – higher amounts do not seem to provide any additional advantage. Although side effects appear to be minimal, some people do experience a flushing of the skin accompanied by a persistent tingling sensation. To avoid the potential for such adverse symptoms, it is advisable to space out your intake over the course of a day. Consuming 1 to 1.5 grams with a minimum of several hours between doses seems to be ideal. It generally takes a few weeks to begin to see results, with peak effects seen after about 12 weeks.