A new method for non-invasive estimation of human muscle fiber type composition

PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21956. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021956. Epub 2011 Jul 7.


Background: It has been established that excellence in sports with short and long exercise duration requires a high proportion of fast-twitch (FT) or type-II fibers and slow-twitch (ST) or type-I fibers, respectively. Until today, the muscle biopsy method is still accepted as gold standard to measure muscle fiber type composition. Because of its invasive nature and high sampling variance, it would be useful to develop a non-invasive alternative.

Methodology: Eighty-three control subjects, 15 talented young track-and-field athletes, 51 elite athletes and 14 ex-athletes volunteered to participate in the current study. The carnosine content of all 163 subjects was measured in the gastrocnemius muscle by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS). Muscle biopsies for fiber typing were taken from 12 untrained males.

Principal findings: A significant positive correlation was found between muscle carnosine, measured by (1)H-MRS, and percentage area occupied by type II fibers. Explosive athletes had ∼30% higher carnosine levels compared to a reference population, whereas it was ∼20% lower than normal in typical endurance athletes. Similar results were found in young talents and ex-athletes. When active elite runners were ranked according to their best running distance, a negative sigmoidal curve was found between logarithm of running distance and muscle carnosine.

Conclusions: Muscle carnosine content shows a good reflection of the disciplines of elite track-and-field athletes and is able to distinguish between individual track running distances. The differences between endurance and sprint muscle types is also observed in young talents and former athletes, suggesting this characteristic is genetically determined and can be applied in early talent identification. This quick method provides a valid alternative for the muscle biopsy method. In addition, this technique may also contribute to the diagnosis and monitoring of many conditions and diseases that are characterized by an altered muscle fiber type composition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Carnosine / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Fibers, Fast-Twitch / metabolism
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Physiology / methods*


  • Carnosine