The role of carnitine and carnitine supplementation during exercise in man and in individuals with special needs

J Am Coll Nutr. 1998 Jun;17(3):207-15. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1998.10718750.


Carnitine is critical for normal skeletal muscle bioenergetics. Carnitine has a dual role as it is required for long-chain fatty acid oxidation, and also shuttles accumulated acyl groups out of the mitochondria. Muscle requires optimization of both of these metabolic processes during peak exercise performance. Theoretically, carnitine availability may become limiting for either fatty acid oxidation or the removal of acyl-CoAs during exercise. Despite the theoretical basis for carnitine supplementation in otherwise healthy persons to improve exercise performance, clinical data have not demonstrated consistent benefits of carnitine administration. Additionally, most of the anticipated metabolic effects of carnitine supplementation have not been observed in healthy persons. The failure to demonstrate clinical efficacy of carnitine may reflect the complex pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of carnitine supplementation, the challenges of clinical trial design for performance endpoints, or the adequacy of endogenous carnitine content to meet even extreme metabolic demands in the healthy state. In patients with end stage renal disease there is evidence of impaired cellular metabolism, the accumulation of metabolic intermediates and increased carnitine demands to support acylcarnitine production. Years of nutritional changes and dialysis therapy may also lower skeletal muscle carnitine content in these patients. Preliminary data have demonstrated beneficial effects of carnitine supplementation to improve muscle function and exercise capacity in these patients. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is also associated with altered muscle metabolic function and endogenous acylcarnitine accumulation. Therapy with either carnitine or propionylcarnitine has been shown to increase claudication-limited exercise capacity in patients with PAD. Further clinical research is needed to define the optimal use of carnitine and acylcarnitines as therapeutic modalities to improve exercise performance in disease states, and any potential benefit in healthy individuals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arteriosclerosis / drug therapy
  • Carnitine / administration & dosage*
  • Carnitine / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / drug therapy
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism


  • Carnitine