Hide this

Story at-a-glance +

Previous Article Next Article
 

Eat Carnosine to Reduce Muscle Soreness after Exercise

September 11, 2011 | 278,781 views
Share This Article Share

In this interview, Dr. Craig Sale, an expert in sports physiology and nutrition, discusses the benefits and science behind supplementation with beta-alanine to improve muscle performance.

Many times, you can finish a workout and feel great, but the next day your body starts to ache. Your muscles feel sore because they are damaged and need time to recover; this is called DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness.

DOMS starts between 8 and 24 hours after a workout. It happens most often to those who do not exercise on a regular basis or who have just resumed activity after a long term of inactivity. It used to be thought that the cause was buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, but it is now known that lactic acid does not remain in your muscle tissues for very long after an exercise session.

According to Steady Healthy, possible theories for the cause of DOMS include:

  • Muscle soreness occurs because of microscopic tears in muscle fibers
  • It is caused due to tears in the tissue that connects the muscle not the muscle itself
  • The damaged muscles release chemical irritants, which irritate pain receptors
  • The damaged muscles become inflamed hence causing soreness
  • Changes in osmotic pressure, muscle spasms and a change in the way the muscle cells regulate calcium may be responsible for the soreness
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

In a recent interview, Dr. Gabriel Cousens brought up a nutritional supplement of particular interest to vegans and vegetarians, namely carnosine. Muscle building can be particularly tricky for vegans since they don't get any animal protein in their diet, but Dr. Cousens' research has lead him to believe that vegans can compensate for the lack of protein by getting sufficient amounts of carnosine.

I was intrigued with Dr. Cousens' concept when he introduced it to me, so I decided to invest a few hours and scour the medical literature for evidence in support of it. As a result, I also interviewed Dr. Craig Sale, an expert in sports physiology and nutrition, to get his opinion on it. He's a wealth of knowledge on this topic, so to get the full scoop, I highly recommend listening to the entire interview or reading through the transcript.

Interestingly enough, not only is there some evidence suggesting it can be helpful for vegans but it also plays a significant role in muscle performance and muscle soreness.

What is Carnosine, and How Can it Benefit Your Muscles?

Carnosine is a pluripotent dipeptide composed of two amino acids, beta-alanine and histadine, found in many tissues but most notably in your muscles. It serves several important roles, two of which are:

  1. Buffering acids in your muscle and
  2. Serving as a potent antioxidant

It appears particularly useful for improving anaerobic high intensity exercise performance, but both of the functions mentioned above also explain how carnosine may help reduce muscle soreness.

As mentioned in Steady Health, damaged muscles become inflamed, which can cause soreness. Since carnosine is a potent antioxidant, in your muscle, its presence can serve to quell muscle inflammation. It's also a primary buffer against high lactic acid levels, as explained in a review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in 2005.

However, if you are considering using carnosine as a supplement it is important to realize that carnosine itself is probably not that useful because enzymes rapidly break it down to its constituent amino acids (beta-alanine and histidine), which are then absorbed by your muscles and re-formed back into carnosine.

Most studies find that if you want to increase athletic performance with carnosine, your best bet is to use beta-alanine instead, since beta-alanine appears to be the rate limiting amino acid in the formation of carnosine.

Dr. Sale explains:

"One of the critical things to understand is that we talk about beta-alanine supplementation to increase muscle carnosine levels in the muscle. We do that because beta-alanine is the right limiting step to carnosine synthesis, primarily due to the fact that it's held in low concentration in your muscle. It's got a higher Km with muscle carnosine synthase, which is the enzyme responsible for the formation of carnosine in the muscle."

The reason you want to have higher, or optimal, concentrations of carnosine in your muscle is because when you perform high intensity exercise, metabolites such as hydrogen ions accumulate in your muscle, which can disrupt the "contractile machinery" in your muscle and lead to fatigue.

As your muscle accumulates hydrogen ions, you reduce the pH, making the muscle more acidic. The theory behind beta-alanine supplementation is that by improving the levels of carnosine in your muscle, you can counteract the detrimental effect of these hydrogen ion, thereby enabling you to continue muscle contraction in the high intensity exercise for a longer period of time.

Beta-Alanine for Improved Performance and Reduced Muscle Soreness

A 2002 study demonstrated that athletes have a greater requirement for carnosine stores in their muscles and may be a factor determining their performance during high-intensity exercise, such as Sprint 8 or strength training.

Beta-alanine has also been shown to be helpful for preventing muscle soreness when working out.

An interesting study on carnosine published last year states that:

"Recent studies have shown that the chronic oral ingestion of β-alanine can substantially elevate (up to 80 percent) the carnosine content of human skeletal muscle.

Interestingly, muscle carnosine loading leads to improved performance in high-intensity exercise in both untrained and trained individuals. Although carnosine is not involved in the classic adenosine triphosphate-generating metabolic pathways, this suggests an important role of the dipeptide in the homeostasis of contracting muscle cells, especially during high rates of anaerobic energy delivery.

Carnosine may attenuate acidosis by acting as a pH buffer, but improved contractile performance may also be obtained by improved excitation-contraction coupling and defence against reactive oxygen species. High carnosine concentrations are found in individuals with a high proportion of fast-twitch fibres, because these fibres are enriched with the dipeptide.

Muscle carnosine content is lower in women, declines with age and is probably lower in vegetarians, whose diets are deprived of β-alanine."

So, should you use a supplement?

My impression is that although there are a number of useful dietary dipeptides like carnosine that might help with athletic performance, muscle building and soreness, the average person is still best served getting them from foods rather than supplements. The foods with the highest amount of useful dietary dipeptides like carnosine would be animal proteins, like eggs, whey protein, poultry and beef.

Since vegans avoid animal proteins and are deficient in carnosine-this is why Dr. Cousen recommends it as a supplement to his vegan patients.

Remember, that if you are a vegan or just want to improve your athletic performance and do decide to take a supplement, I recommend taking its primary precursor, beta-alanine, rather than carnosine, based on the science in this area. Dr. Sale agrees on this point. Beta-alanine is also a far less expensive supplement, compared to carnosine.

Another Beneficial Supplement for Optimal Muscle Performance

Another "supernutrient" worth mentioning here is astaxanthin—one of the most potent antioxidants known to date. For example, it's far more powerful than beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, lycopene and lutein, all of which are members of its chemical family.

Astaxanthin is produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation. It exhibits VERY STRONG free radical scavenging activity, and protects your cells, organs and body tissues from oxidative damage, and has been shown to help improve muscle endurance, workout performance and recovery.

It also reduces inflammation from all causes, including workout injuries, and even enhances your ability to metabolize fat!

Mice given astaxanthin were found to have accelerated body fat reduction (i.e., "fat burning") when combined with exercise, as compared to exercise alone in a 2007 study. The researchers reported that astaxanthin seems to exert this effect by protecting the function of a lipid transport enzyme on the membrane of mitochondria that "fuels" energy production.

The end result?

Buff mice. Not that the world needs more physically fit rodents, but what works on mice often works on YOU.

Another Option: Using Acceleration Training

Aside from using a beta-alanine supplement, or eating foods high in carnosine or its precursors, there's an entirely different option that can help build and strengthen muscles while at the same time reducing muscle soreness.

The alternative I'm thinking of is called Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT), also known as Acceleration Training using a Power Plate. By stimulating your white muscle fibers—which are your fast- and super-fast muscle fibers—the Power Plate kick-starts your pituitary gland into making more growth hormone (HGH), which helps you build lean body mass and burn fat. Another great effect of HGH is its ability to accelerate tissue healing.

Acceleration Training is quite different in that the vibrating plate targets your entire body, focusing on fully integrated motor and neurological patterns, which allows you to work ALL your muscles, and nerves, all at the same time.

It's a truly revolutionary approach to fitness because it addresses your neuromuscular system as a whole, rather than one limb or muscle group at a time. Not to mention it's time efficient, allowing you to trim off several precious hours per week from your workout time.

When used together with my Peak Fitness program, which includes Sprint 8; a series of powerful high-intensity burst-type exercises, you can complete your entire workout a fraction of the time you'd have to spend on traditional workouts.

Acceleration training using the Power Plate is really the perfect complement to Sprint 8 to build strength, shed excess fat, and improve athletic performance. Both of these techniques also help you produce growth hormone (HGH) naturally.

How the Power Plate Works

The Power Plate works by vibrating in three-dimensions, or three planes: vertical, horizontal and sagittal (up and down). By moving very quickly (25 to 50 times per second) across a very short distance (two to four millimeters), you aren't knocked off balance, but the complex movement is just enough that your muscles have to continuously accommodate.

  • When the Power Plate vibrates up and down, your muscle tone improves.
  • The left to right and front to back movements improves your balance and coordination.

The net result is a dramatic improvement in strength and power, flexibility, balance, tone and leanness. But that's not all.

When you stand on the vibrating Power Plate, each muscle in your body reacts in a continuous flow of micro adjustments, expanding and contracting reflexively. Just like when your leg automatically jerks after your physician taps it with his reflex hammer, your muscles react automatically to the Power Plate's vibrations—25 to 50 times per second. Stimulating your muscles and nerves this way results in more work being done by your body in a shorter period of time—with FAR greater recruitment of your muscle fibers.

Just 12-25 minutes of Acceleration Training, three days a week, is really all you need.

The Many Benefits of Acceleration Training

Aside from the benefits already mentioned, Acceleration Training has also been shown to provide:

  • Immediate improvement in blood circulation
  • Improved range of motion
  • Improved proprioception and balance
  • Increased bone density
  • Faster recovery from injury
  • Reduced pain and soreness

Which brings us right back to the issue of sore muscles...

While the jury is still out on what causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), there are strategies to help reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, whether you're a professional athlete or not.

To summarize, eating a diet that includes naturally-occurring carnosine, i.e. animal protein such as organic grass-fed beef or free-range chicken, or taking a beta-alanine supplement, and using a Power Plate can all help.

[+] Sources and References