Someone once asked me what it was I thought was the single most beneficial supplement to help in aiding fat loss, to which I replied, “Hard work.” After a quick har har har I explained myself a bit more specifically – nothing will work unless you do. Plain and simple. Having said that, I suppose it’s dealer’s choice as to what takes the title for best supplement in aiding fat loss. Caffeine? Green tea extract? B vitamins? Vitamin D? Calcium? Protein? Omega 3’s? CLA? Truth is, they all have their place in fat loss, but I want to shift my focus on a supplement that is a staple to some, yet foreign to others – l Carnitine.
Do I have to supplement it?
Similar to the above mentioned supplements, l-carnitine can be consumed through a well balance diet. Carnitine typically hangs out in red meat, but can be found in other forms of food like avocados and soy beans. Unlike creatine’s sensitive breakdown during its cook time, carnitine doesn’t necessarily breakdown, but you can shoot for higher amounts by keeping the meat as red as digestibly possible. Where the line gets foggy: trying to keep doses regulated through food. It is unknown in regards to dosing how much you will or will not get through food alone. Maybe you’re getting the right amount one day and falling extremely short another? Problem is, you just don’t know. This is where supplementation becomes more than ideal. We can now properly time and dose what it is we are choosing to take in. Huge positive. Additionally, there is no recommended daily dose, so deciding where to keep that sweet spot is relative. The Human Performance Resource Center quoted as high as 300mg/kg being administered without any apparent toxicity. In the end, 2-4 grams a day seems to be agreed upon by the masses.
There can be some misconceptions about l-carnitine as far as it being potentially dangerous – that can almost undoubtedly be proven false with good research. Carnitine is made in the body by the liver and kidneys and as much as 95% is stored is stored in the heart and skeletal muscles. It is an amino that plays a critical role in transporting fat into the cells to eventually convert into energy. Most fats are long chained, which for easy explanation can translate into meaning longer times needed to digest and do its primary directive. Just as carbohydrates can be categorized into fast or slow acting, so can fats (real butter and coconut oil are examples of medium chain fats, or faster absorbing). The point in explaining some quick basics is to then help understand that carnitine works more specifically with longer chained fatty acids and is essential. This stuff is very necessary for our bodies, things are just amplified once we look at the sedentary person compared to the active person. All this positive talk wouldn’t be fair unless a negative were addressed, like how some studies link carnitine to cardiovascular consequences (cardiovascular disease) and cancer. With enough research you too can find that no concrete evidence can back these wild claims. The closest thing I found was an article in Nature Medicine (2013) that made such claims, based on the idea that a gastrointestinal toxin provoked by read meat (and/or l-carnitine) promotes atherosclerosis. Just as easy as that article was found, a refute written in an editorial in the Nutrition & Food Sciences disproved this by explaining it isn’t the carnitine causing the toxin to then ultimately cause the internal degradation, instead the toxic build up is a result of poor kidney function. It even went as far to explain that halibut produces 100 times more of the said toxin, but with proper kidney function any given person will excrete most of this toxin via urine. All of this to say that l-carnitine can in most cases be considered as safe as vitamin c.
So where do we sit as far as performance? Well, I haven’t found anything directly related to performance being boosted as a result from supplementing l-carnitine, but that doesn’t mean it lacks benefits. We can use it to target fat loss when limiting calories or limit fat gain when your calories are increased during “bulking”. Due to the action carnitine has in mobilizing fat, it has become a go to for people dieting down. Often taken before a session of cardio or a workout in general, it can serve as a sort of “furnace effect” in that it will help mobilize fat for energy during these intense periods, ideally preserving muscle. Knowing what we know about it, it would then make sense why people opt to take it when increasing their calories to add muscle. Adding muscle without fat is hard enough, but supplementing l-carnitine during periods of these high calorie times, one can ideally limit fat gain use by mobilizing fat for energy and preserving the carbs and protein to build and repair muscle.
How do I take it?
As mentioned above the dose varies from person to person because there is no set dietary minimum or maximum. That said, professionals tend to agree that 2-3 grams taken with a meal will render its highest potential benefit before a workout. L-carnitine is absorbed more easily with food, so it goes to say that in most scenarios it will benefit you by doing so. That doesn’t mean the true blue fans of taking it on an empty stomach first thing in the morning before grinding out some fasted cardio are flat out wrong, it’s just their cup of tea. I prefer to take 2-3 grams before I work out and 3-4 grams before my biggest meal of the day. While I’m not currently trying to shed fat, I’m also not packing on the pounds despite my diet being in question post competition.
In the end
I’ve met two types of people when dealing with carnitine: the type who loves it, and the type who doesn’t know much about it. I’m not suggesting to be a specialist on the stuff, but I believe in it and I’m sure with proper research and a regimented supplementation… you will too.