Carnosine is a dipeptide composed of two amino acids: histidine and β-alanine. It is produced in the body, but it can also be obtained through food or in the form of supplements. β-alanine is a factor that strongly influences carnosine production. It is known that the addition of this amino acid in the amount of 5 g / day increases the amount of carnosine in the muscles by 28 – 45%. The consequent increase in the amount of carnosine helps to improve exercise parameters in endurance sports and during intense exercise. These data suggest that carnosine is crucial for the athlete’s muscles. And questions arise:
“Isn’t it better to take carnosine instead of β-alanine?”
“How to take carnosine?”
“What is the significance of this dipeptide in the muscles of athletes and what is the relationship between β-alanine and carnosine?”
You can read about all of this below.
How much carnosine is in muscle?
The amount of carnosine in the muscles is affected by: the amount of meat consumed and the type of supplements based on β-alanine and carnosine. Typically, in people who do not take β-alanine, the carnosine content ranges from about 16 to 33 mmol per kg of lean muscle mass, which makes a big difference between individuals. The less red meat there is in our diet, the more likely it is that there will be little of this dipeptide in our muscles. It has been confirmed that in bodybuilders, the amount of carnosine in the muscles is one of the largest, reaching 43 mmol per kg of lean muscle mass. Perhaps this is a direct result of their special diet during the muscle building phase.
Muscle is basically a mixture of fibers with different metabolic and contractile properties. Thus, we distinguish between muscle fibers that have a fast contractile velocity (so-called type II or white fibers) and slow fibers (so-called type I fibers or red fibers).
- Type II muscle fibers contain as much as 66% more carnosine than type I fibers.
- Depending on the type of exercise, you can use it to stimulate the development of certain types of muscle fibers. Thus, top sprinters can have as much as 80% of type II fiber (which is richer in carnosine) in some muscles, which gives them above-average muscle strength. The same, of course, applies to bodybuilders whose main developed muscle fibers are type II fibers.
Carnosine – on an empty stomach or after a meal?
The stability of carnosine is affected by whether it is taken on an empty stomach or with a meal. If you take synthetic carnosine on an empty stomach, it will be rapidly hydrolysed by an enzyme in the blood serum (called the enzyme carnosinase-1 or CN1). The two amino acids that make up carnosine are the breakdown product of carnosine. When carnosine is added to adults on an empty stomach, the amount of this compound in the blood does not increase significantly, but the amount of β-alanine and histidine increases very rapidly. 30 minutes after ingestion of 4.5 g of carnosine, the amount of both carnosine-forming amino acids (eg histidine and β-alanine) is already five times higher than on an empty stomach and remains high for 90 minutes after ingestion.
Such a strong jump in the concentration of β-alanine and histidine is apparently due to the very high activity of the enzyme CN1 in the blood. It has been shown that it is possible to change the dietary strategy and thus prolong the stability of carnosine in the blood. They have shown that carnosine introduced through a diet (e.g. in beef) is not broken down as quickly. In this case, the highest level of carnosine in the blood is recorded 2.5 hours after such a meal, and its stability is extended to 5.5 hours. This is very good news for people who want to supplement with carnosine. The best strategy, then, would be to consume another portion of synthetic carnosine after a meal, which should definitely include red meat. Most likely, chemical compounds (including amino acids) in meat inhibit the enzyme CN1 and thus contribute to prolonging the stability of carnosine in the blood. This strategy has very strong anabolic potential: not only will we optimize carnosine levels for muscle, but we will also increase the amount of protein in the diet that is known to have anticatabolic and anabolic effects.
What is the role of carnosine in muscle?
The β-alanine and histidine dipeptide described in the article perform a number of key functions in muscle:
- Carnosine has a buffering ability, meaning it maintains acidity at a safe level. This is very important during intense muscle work / training. As a result of metabolic processes, lactic acid is formed in them. Carnosine has been found to be responsible for as much as 20-40% of muscle buffering.
- Carnosine regulates the proper level of calcium ions needed for muscle contraction.
- During intense muscle work, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed in aerobic processes, which can damage muscle fiber membranes and proteins. Thanks to carnosine, excess ROS is partially neutralized.
- Carnosine promotes the breakdown of glycogen by activating the enzyme that regulates this process. Glycogen is a store of carbohydrates in the muscles that is broken down for energy with each exercise.
In general, muscle carnosine is involved in key processes that determine the proper functioning of muscle fibers. Proper carnosine levels will optimize muscle work during exercise.
Karnosin Extra is currently available on the market, which contains several other additives in addition to carnosine, including grape seed extract, blueberry extract and a few others. Based on research conducted by the Siniša Stanković Institute for Biological Research in Belgrade, Carnosine Extra is less susceptible to carnosinase action. The mechanism of greater stability of this product in the presence of carnosinase is currently unknown. Perhaps this is due to the properties of CN1 themselves. First, this enzyme has the zinc ions needed for it to work. If zinc ions are removed (e.g. by chelated compounds), then CN1 cannot degrade carnosine. However, it is possible that the previously mentioned ingredients, which are added to the dietary supplement, promote this type of action in Karnozin Extra.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that Carnosine Extra has an anti-doping certificate, which is rare in the supplement market. Carnosine Extra has been shown to be free of anabolic steroids and banned stimulants. This is extremely important for professional athletes who want to influence all the parameters of their training and shape them with this supplement as well.
β-alanine or carnosine?
By taking β-alanine, you will stimulate the production of carnosine in your muscles. The presence of this amino acid in the diet determines how dynamically carnosine will be formed. Of course, histidine is also needed here, as it is a structural element of carnosine. Moreover, because histidine is then not re-synthesized in the body, it must be administered in the form of a supplement or with food.
Unfortunately, in such a complementarity strategy, the “catch” …
Prolonged intake of β-alanine (eg 6 grams for 23 days) will stimulate carnosine synthesis. But at the same time you will limit the intake of histidine from the gut. At such doses, you may notice a 30% reduction in muscle and serum histidine. The effects of prolonged limitation of the amount of histidine in muscle are currently unknown. Nevertheless, taking synthetic carnosine (preferably after a meal) bypasses the histidine absorption limitations described above due to β-alanine.
In short, by providing synthetic carnosine with a meal:
- increase the level of carnosine in the blood serum,
- allow muscles to take carnosine, not just β-alanine,
- do not limit the absorption of histidine from the gut,
- increase the amount of carnosine in the muscles and contribute to the optimization of muscle processes for the needs of your sports activity.
- Park YJ, Volpe SL, Decker EA. (2005) Quantitation of carnosine in humans plasma after dietary consumption of beef. J Agric Food Chem. 53(12): 4736-9.
- Wu G. (2020) Important roles of dietary taurine, creatine, carnosine, anserine and 4-hydroxyproline in human nutrition and health. Amino Acids. 52(3):329-360.