Carnitine in Human Muscle Bioenergetics: Can Carnitine Supplementation Improve Physical Exercise?

Molecules. 2020 Jan 1;25(1):182. doi: 10.3390/molecules25010182.


l-Carnitine is an amino acid derivative widely known for its involvement in the transport of long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondrial matrix, where fatty acid oxidation occurs. Moreover, l-Carnitine protects the cell from acyl-CoA accretion through the generation of acylcarnitines. Circulating carnitine is mainly supplied by animal-based food products and to a lesser extent by endogenous biosynthesis in the liver and kidney. Human muscle contains high amounts of carnitine but it depends on the uptake of this compound from the bloodstream, due to muscle inability to synthesize carnitine. Mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation represents an important energy source for muscle metabolism particularly during physical exercise. However, especially during high-intensity exercise, this process seems to be limited by the mitochondrial availability of free l-carnitine. Hence, fatty acid oxidation rapidly declines, increasing exercise intensity from moderate to high. Considering the important role of fatty acids in muscle bioenergetics, and the limiting effect of free carnitine in fatty acid oxidation during endurance exercise, l-carnitine supplementation has been hypothesized to improve exercise performance. So far, the question of the role of l-carnitine supplementation on muscle performance has not definitively been clarified. Differences in exercise intensity, training or conditioning of the subjects, amount of l-carnitine administered, route and timing of administration relative to the exercise led to different experimental results. In this review, we will describe the role of l-carnitine in muscle energetics and the main causes that led to conflicting data on the use of l-carnitine as a supplement.

Keywords: fatty acid oxidation; l-carnitine; muscle energetics; physical exercise.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carnitine / administration & dosage
  • Carnitine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Carnitine / biosynthesis
  • Carnitine / chemistry
  • Carnitine / metabolism*
  • Carnitine / pharmacology
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase / metabolism
  • Dietary Supplements / adverse effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Methylamines / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Fatty Acids
  • Methylamines
  • acylcarnitine
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase
  • trimethyloxamine
  • Carnitine