Muscle Function and Recovery – Focus on Carnosine

A study published a few months ago found that carnosine has significant effects on skeletal muscle, increasing contractile force and decreasing fatigue (Dutka TL, Lamb GD. Effect of carnosine on excitation-contraction coupling in mechanically-skinned rat skeletal muscle. J Muscle Res Cell Motil. 2004;25(3):203-13.).

However, this study is just the latest in a long line of studies that have looked into the many potential actions of carnosine in a myriad of other beneficial processes (see References below).

Carnosine, a dipeptide made up of the amino acids alanine and histidine (histidyl-alanine) has a number of properties that are beneficial for anyone that exercises. It has been shown to have significant antioxidant properties, increase recovery and healing, provide a buffering effect, enhance the immune system, provide anti-aging effects, and enhance the benefits of exercise by increasing increasing muscular contraction and decreasing fatigue.

L-carnosine is found in most tissues but is highest in muscle (more in type II than in type I muscle fibers) and brain, where it is felt to have an anti-ischemic effect and thus protect and buffer these tissues.

Carnosine is also believed to decrease both central and peripheral fatigue. In the brain it is also used to synthesize neurotransmitters which are involved in fatigue. In muscle, carnosine decreases exercise fatigue and contribute to recovery.

These effects are mainly from carnosine’s ability to counter certain kinds of damages that occur in the body, as a result of exercise and longer term from aging.

Mechanism of Action for Some of Carnosine’s Effects

It’s important to prevent or at least alleviate destructive structural changes in muscles and nerves. These include changes that alter the body’s repair mechanisms so that changes in cell membranes, DNA, and cellular proteins that can decrease the potential anabolic and fat burning effects of exercise and especially your ability to recover.

This damage can result from a number of processes including oxidative and free radical damage, and the cross linking of sugar to protein. Processes such as carbonylation, glycation, and others can have adverse effects on metabolism and muscle and central nervous system structure and function. These processes are also involved in the aging process.

There are several ways to mitigate this damage. One is by the use of antioxidants and certain other compounds that decrease any damage done by the various processes.

The amino acid derivative L-carnosine, a powerful antioxidant and protective agent, is one of the more effective compounds for protecting the musculoskeletal and nervous system against this damage.


1Abe H. Role of histidine-related compounds as intracellular proton buffering constituents in vertebrate muscle. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2000 Jul;65(7):757-65.
2Boldyrev AA. Problems and perspectives in studying the biological role of carnosine. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2000 Jul;65(7):751-6.
3 Boldyrev, A., Song, R., Lawrence, D., et al. “Carnosine protects against excitotoxic cell death independently of effects on reactive oxygen species.” Neuroscience (1999). Vol. 94(2) pp. 571-7.
4 Dutka TL, Lamb GD. Effect of carnosine on excitation-contraction coupling in mechanically-skinned rat skeletal muscle. J Muscle Res Cell Motil. 2004;25(3):203-13.
5 Maynard LM, Boissonneault GA, Chow CK, Bruckner GG. High levels of dietary carnosine are associated with increased concentrations of carnosine and histidine in rat soleus muscle. J Nutr. 2001 Feb;131(2):287-90.
6 Nagasawa T, Yonekura T, Nishizawa N, Kitts DD. In vitro and in vivo inhibition of muscle lipid and protein oxidation by carnosine. Mol Cell Biochem. 2001 Sep;225(1-):29-34.
7 Parkhouse WS, McKenzie DC. Possible contribution of skeletal muscle buffers to enhanced anaerobic performance: a brief review. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1984;16(4):328-338.
8 Suzuki Y, Ito O, Mukai N, Takahashi H, Takamatsu K. High level of skeletal muscle carnosine contributes to the latter half of exercise performance during 30-s maximal cycle ergometer sprinting. Jpn J Physiol. 2002 Apr; 52(2): 199-205.
9Swearengin TA, Fitzgerald C, Seidler NW. Carnosine prevents glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate-mediated inhibition of aspartate aminotransferase. Arch Toxicol. 1999 Aug;73(6):307-9.

10 Wang, A. M., Ma, C., Xie, Z. H., et al. “Use of carnosine as a natural anti-senescence drug for human beings.” Biochemistry (Moscow). (2000). Vol. 65(7) pp. 869-71.
11 Zakharchenko MV, Temnov AV, Kondrashova MN. Effect of carnosine on self-organization of mitochondrial assemblies in rat liver homogenate. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2003 Sep;68(9):1002-5.

Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale :: Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale :: is one of the most influential voices on diet, performance and athletic training in the world. His innovative work in finding safe nutritional alternatives to anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs has won him praise from athletes, trainers and fitness experts around the globe. Dr. Di Pasquale was a world-class athlete for over 15 years, winning the World Championships in powerlifting in 1976 and world games in 1981.

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