Advances in Physical Education
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 169-174
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 169
The Acute Administration of Carnosine and Beta-Alanine Does
Not Improve Running Anaerobic Performance and has No Effect
on the Metabolic Response to Exercise*
Pietro Luigi Invernizzi1, Stefano Benedini1,2#, Sandro Saronni3,
Giampiero Merati1, Andrea Bosio4
1Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano, Italy
2Research Centre of Metabolism, San Donato Milanese, Milan, Italy
3School of Exercise Sciences, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy
4Human Performance Laboratory, MAPEI Research Centre, Olgiate Olona, Varese, Italy
Received July 26th, 2013; revised August 26th, 2013; accepted September 4th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Pietro Luigi Invernizzi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
An increase in muscle carnosine content, following its chronic supplementation, has been shown to im-
prove anaerobic performance. In addition, carnosine can affect plasma glucose concentration and insulin
response. However, it is not clear whether the acute ingestion of carnosine can have the same effects. Aim
of this study was to investigate the acute effects of carnosine ingestion on anaerobic intermittent per-
formance and the responses of blood insulin, glucose, bicarbonate and lactate concentrations to exercise.
Twelve healthy, young, active participants (BMI 23.5 ± .6, age: 22 ± 2 years) underwent in two separate
occasions (double-blind, randomized, crossover design) the running-based anaerobic test (RAST), con-
sisting of 6 × 35-m sprints interspersed with 10 s rest after acute (4 hours before the test) ingestion of ei-
ther 1 g of L-carnosine and 1 g of β-alanine or placebo. None significant difference was found between
the acute ingestion of carnosine and the placebo conditions in terms of running performance (30.0 ± .8
and 29.8 ± .8, p = .302), perceptual response to exercise (RPE), blood lactate, insulin (23.8 ± 13.0 and
19.5 ± 9.0 μU·ml1, p = .329), blood glucose (109 ± 23 and 104 ± 12 mg·dl1, p = .969), and blood bicar-
bonates (16 ± 2 and 16 ± 2 mEq·l1, p = .277). In conclusion, the acute ingestion of carnosine had no ef-
fect on performance, perceptual response to exercise, blood lactate concentration, insulin, glucose, and
bicarbonates responses to exercise compared to a placebo treatment. It is not clear whether these results
may be attributed to an insufficient dose of carnosine or to a lack of acute effect per sé.
Keywords: Carnosine; Performance; Administration; Metabolic Response; Running
The dipeptide carnosine is found in various tissues, espe-
cially in skeletal muscle (Hobson et al., 2012; Harris et al.).
Carnosine is recognized to have, in addition to antioxidant
properties (Alhamdani et al., 2007), buffering effects on acido-
sis (Hobson et al., 2012), as well as stimulating actions on the
immune system and on various neurotransmitters (L-carnosine
lowers neural activities of sympathetic nerves and facilitates
those of parasympathetic nerves) (Nagai et al., 2012). Although
carnosine is synthesized endogenously, its tissue concentration
is influenced by diet (Baguet et al., 2010). Indeed, exogenous
supplementation of β-alanine (precursor and limiting factor in
the synthesis of carnosine) has been shown to increase muscle
carnosine concentration in vitro (Margolis et al., 1985) and in
animal models (Hill et al., 2007).
At physiological pH, carnosine exerts a strong buffering ac-
tion (stabilization of the degree of acidity) that is of fundamen-
tal importance during muscle activity, usually associated with
an acidification of the intracellular compartment (Smith, 1938).
Carnosine is found in muscles of both type I and type II, but
its concentration is highest in type II fibres (Baguet et al., 2010).
Carnosine levels seem to be correlated to exercise performance:
Suzuki et al (Suzuki et al., 2002) observed a positive correlation
between carnosine content in the vastus lateralis and the power
generated at the end of a 30 second cycle ergometer test (Win-
gate test) in untrained men. Hill et al. (Hill et al., 2007) demon-
strated that β-alanine administration to active men can produce
a significant increase of carnosine levels in skeletal muscle,
which was related to an improvement of exercise performance.
In particular, β-alanine was administered to untrained men for
10 weeks, producing not only a remarkable increase of car-
nosine content in the vastus lateralis, but also a significant pro-
longation of the time for exhaustion during a cycling test per-
formed at 110% of energy production and maximal heart rate,
where the endurance time was estimated to be about 2.5 min-
utes (Hill et al., 2007). The role played by carnosine, or by β-
*The authors declare no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to
the content of this article.
#Corresponding author.
alanine, is of interest not only for untrained subjects: the two
compounds have a positive effect on strength in trained athletes,
especially sprinters, rowers and body-builder as well (Baguet et
al., 2010; Derave et al., 2010). Recent studies have described
other biological roles for carnosine as an antioxidant, antidia-
betic (reduction of glycosylation) (Derave et al., 2010; Hipkiss,
2009), or anti-aging (elongation of chromosomal telomeres)
agent (Shao et al., 2004). In particular, since carnosine content
in the diaphragm of streptozotocin (STZ)-diabetic rats was
lower than in wild type rats (Buse et al., 1980), it was hypothe-
sized that carnosine may be involved in the control of glucose
metabolism. In animal models peripheral administration of a
small amount of carnosine (.005 to 5 nmol/300 g body weight
[BW] by intraperitoneal injection [IP]), or administration of a
diet containing .001% carnosine, reduced 2 DG-hyperglycemia,
producing an increase in plasma insulin levels, a decrease in
plasma glucagon levels, and suppression of the activity of sym-
pathetic nerves innervating the adrenal glands and liver (Nagai
et al., 2003; Yamano et al., 2001). In addition, in animal models
of diabetes, the ability of carnosine to inhibit the adrenergic
system, with positive effects on glucose metabolism, was dem-
onstrated after both chronic and acute supplementation (Aldini
et al.).
Beta-alanine is usually administered orally for a period of 1 -
4 weeks (Jagim et al.), since chronic assumption seems to be
necessary to ensure carnosine increase inside the muscle fibres
(Derave et al., 2007). However, some evidences suggest that
few hours after the ingestion of carnosine the dipeptide is al-
ready available and ready to exert its function inside the muscle
fibers (Begum et al., 2005; Gardner et al., 1991). If this as-
sumption was valid, it would be interesting for athletes who
perform high intensity exercise because they might avoid the 3
- 4 weeks periods of β-alanine supplementation. The only study
on the acute effect of carnosine on performance failed to show
any improvement due to the ingestion of carnosine (Kraemer et
al., 1995). However, it is likely that the dose administered to
the participants was too low.
In a preliminary study (di Pierro et al., 2011) it has been
shown that the oral ingestion of l g of carnosine few hours be-
fore a heavy training session in volleyball players might have
decreased the blood lactate production and increased the spon-
taneous total amount of work.
Furthermore, other than the intracellular pH buffering capac-
ity, the increase in Ca2+ sensitivity of the contractile fibres
represents an alternative mechanism through which muscle
carnosine can improve muscle performance (Dutka & Lamb,
2004). This ergogenic effect of muscle carnosine might be use-
ful in those maximal efforts where the low levels of pH do not
represent the limits for the maintenance of the contractile prop-
erties of the muscles.
The aim of this study was to evaluate whether the acute in-
gestion of 1 g of L-carnosine and 1 g of β-alanine can improve
performance during a running anaerobic sprint test (RAST)
(Zagatto et al., 2009) compared to a placebo condition. Fur-
thermore, the response of blood insulin, glucose, bicarbonate
and lactate concentrations to the RAST, following the acute
ingestion of carnosine, was also investigated.
A recent meta analysis (Hobson et al., 2012) showed that the
supplementation of β-alanine can improve exercise perform-
ances with a duration comprised between 60 and 240 seconds.
However, some Authors (Suzuki et al., 2002) suggested that
towards the end of a 30-sec Wingate test, a higher content of
muscle carnosine may be important for the preservation of a
higher power output compared to a control condition. The use
of the RAST (due to its intermittent feature) could be a better
choice to investigate whether carnosine can increase exercise
performance towards the end of an effort lasting about 30 sec-
onds. We hypothesize that, at least, during the last 35 m-sprint
of the RAST, carnosine can have a beneficial effect on the final
time compared to a placebo condition.
Materials and Methods
Participants were recruited in the Milan area in Italy, ac-
cording to the following inclusion criteria: males aged between
20 and 30 years old, no smokers, absence of chronic diseases or
chronic drug treatment. All subjects signed a written informed
consent prior to participation according to the Declaration of
Helsinki. All the procedures used complied with the Good
Clinical Practice (GCP) principles.
Twelve healthy male subjects were enrolled (age: 22 ± 2
years, body mass: 74.1 ± 7.1 Kg, stature: 178 ± 5 cm, body
mass index: 23.5 ± .6 kg/m2): all participants were on a stable
diet and had normal glucose tolerance (according to ADA).
They were physically active and used to exercise on average 4
± 2 times a week for 2.0 ± .6 hours and 2 ± 2 times a week for
1.6 ± .8 hours at vigorous and moderate intensities, respec-
tively. The participants recruited for this study were soccer
players, basketball players and track and fields athletes, accus-
tomed with repeated all out intermittent sprints. On a separate
day, prior to the beginning of the data collection, a familiariza-
tion session with the RAST used in the present study was done.
Study Desi gn
The study was conducted according to a double blind, ran-
domized, crossover, counterbalanced, placebo controlled design.
The randomization, the preparation of treatment and placebo
tablets were done by person not involved in the study. The
treatment and placebo conditions were revealed to the authors
of the present study only after the conclusion of the statistical
All participants underwent two RAST on two different occa-
sions: on the first day, half of the participants (selected by a
computer-assisted simple randomization procedure) took 4
tablets containing 250 mg of L-carnosine + 250 mg of β-
alanine (DDM Carnosina, Omeopiacenza s.r.l., Pontenure—PC,
Italy) 4 hours before the test, whereas the other half of partici-
pants took 4 tablets of placebo (containing no active ingredients
but with the same appearance of L-carnosine and β-alanine
tablets), and vice versa on the second day of test (2 weeks
apart). Two weeks seems to be a more than sufficient washout
period when carnosine is acutely administered to human sub-
jects (Suzuki et al., 2006). The dose of carnosine administered
to the participants was similar to a previous study (di Pierro et
al., 2011) and in accordance to the prescriptions of the manu-
The Running-Based Anaerobic Sprint Te st (RAST)
A standardized 10 min warm-up, consisting of 5 min running
at a moderate pace followed by 5 accelerations over a distance
of 40 m, interspersed with 1 min of passive recovery, was com-
pleted by each participants prior to the beginning of the RAST,
Open Access
followed by five min recovery.
Starting from a standing position, on a track and field 400 m
track, each participant sprinted all-out over a distance of 35 m
for six times (forth and back) interspersed by 10 seconds of
passive recovery. Performance time was electronically recorded
using photocells gates at a height of 1.3 meters and posi-
tioned .5 meters ahead of the start line. The 35 m were meas-
ured as the distance between the two photocells gates. During
all the sprints the athletes were verbally encouraged by the
researchers, in order to obtain the maximal performance. The
RAST has been shown to be a valid and reliable (for Total Ef-
fort Time ICC = .90) test for assessing both anaerobic power
and predicting short-distances performances in running (Za-
gatto et al., 2009).
The outcome measures were a) time to complete each section
of 35 m b) total time (the sum of the six partial times over the
35 m sections), c) ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) and mus-
cle pain (PAIN) immediately after the completion of the test
using the validated CR 10 Borg scale (Borg, 1998). Thirty min-
utes after the end of the RAST test RPE and PAIN were as-
sessed again. RPE collected at this time point was used to as-
sess the internal load through the session RPE-based method
(Foster et al., 2001; Impellizzeri et al., 2004). Finally, the de-
layed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) was evaluated at 24
and 48 hours post RAST.
Blood Analysis
Blood samples for lactate evaluation was collected from an
ear lobe at 3, 5, 7, and 9 minutes after the completion of the test
and analyzed using a portable blood lactate enzymatic analyzer
(GM-7, Analox Instruments, Hammersmith, London, UK). Two
different blood samples were drawn from an antecubital vein
two hours prior to the beginning of the RAST test and 1 minute
after the completion of the test, respectively, for the analysis of
blood glucose, insulin and bicarbonates.
All blood samples (20 ml each) were collected in test tubes
containing EDTA and placed on ice until plasma or serum were
separated by centrifugation at 4˚C (within 1.5 hours from sam-
pling). All plasma and serum aliquots were frozen at 60˚C for
later analysis. All assessments were carried out in duplicate.
Plasma glucose was measured with a glucose analyzer (Beck-
man Instruments, Fullerton, CA). Free-insulin was assessed by
a highly specific two-site monoclonal antibody-based immu-
nosorbent assay (ELISA; Dako Diagnostics, Cambridgeshire,
Aliquots of blood were taken before centrifugation for meas-
urement of bicarbonate, enzymatically determined using a
commercial kit.
Statistical Analysis
The normality of data distribution was preliminary checked
by the Shapiro-Wilk’s test. Data are expressed as mean ± Stan-
dard Deviation (SD). Differences between the two treatments
(carnosine and placebo) in terms of performance (total time
given by the sum of each 35 m run), perceived exertion and
pain at the end of the test, and session RPE at 30 minutes after
the completion of the test, were tested using the Student paired
A series of two way (condition × time) fully repeated meas-
ures ANOVAs were used to test the differences in glycemia,
insulin and bicarbonates levels prior to and after the RAST test
(PRE and POST test, main factor time) in the two conditions
(treatment with carnosine or placebo, main factor condition).
A series of two way (condition × time) fully repeated meas-
ures ANOVAs were used to test the differences between the
two conditions (treatment with carnosine or placebo, main fac-
tor condition) either for the times to complete each bout of the
RAST and the time course of blood lactate after the RAST
(main factors time).
Differences in DOMS between the two conditions (treatment
with carnosine or placebo, main factor condition) at 24 and 48
hours after the RAST (main factor time) were tested by mean of
a two way (condition × time) fully repeated measures ANOVA.
Significant differences detected by ANOVAs were adjusted
using the Bonferroni method.
The level of significance was set a priori at α < .05.
None of the participants reported any side effects due to the
administration of 1 g of Carnosine + 1 g of β-alanine.
No significant differences were found in performance and
RPE, pain, and session RPE immediately and 30 minutes after
the RAST respectively (Table 1).
After the RAST test blood insulin significantly increased
(main factor time, p < .001) both in the carnosine (pretest 6.0 ±
2.5 vs posttest 23.8 ± 13.0 μU·ml1) and placebo condition
(pretest 5.2 ± 2.0 vs posttest 19.5 ± 9.0 μU·ml1) but without
significant interaction (condition × time, p = .329). Similarly,
after the RAST blood glucose significantly increased (main
factor time, p < .001) both in the carnosine (pretest 79 ± 9 vs
posttest 109 ± 23 mg·dl1) and placebo condition (pretest 74 ±
10 vs posttest 104 ± 12 mg·dl1) but without significant interac-
tion (condition × time, p = .969).
Despite no significant interaction (condition × time, p = .277),
blood bicarbonates showed in both conditions (carnosine pre
test 30 ± 2 vs post test 16 ± 2 mEq·l1 and placebo pre test 29 ±
2 vs post test 16 ± 2 mEq·l1) a significant decrease (main fac-
tor time, p < .001).
During the RAST the time to complete each bout of 35 m
progressively increased in the two conditions (main factor time,
p < .001) but without significant interaction (condition × time,
p = .855) (Figure 1).
No significant interaction (condition × time, p = .509) was
detected for the blood lactate response monitored after the com-
pletion of the RAST (Figure 2).
Table 1.
The acute effects of carnosine administration, compared to a placebo
treatment, on the running-based anaerobic sprint performance (RAST),
rating of perceived exertion (RPE), pain, session RPE, blood glucose,
insulin and bicarbonate. Data are mean ± SD.
Carnosine Placebo p value
Performance (s) 30.0 ± .8 29.8 ± .8 .302
RPE (a. u. 0 - 10) 6.5 ± 1.2 7.0 ± 1.3 .195
Pain (a. u. 0 - 10) 4.0 ± 2.6 3.4 ± 2.1 .173
Session RPE (a. u.)107 ± 23 106 ± 28 .703
Blood glucose (mg/dl)109 ± 23 104 ± 12 .969
Insulin (μU/ml) 23.8 ± 13.0 19.5 ± 9.0 .329
Bicarbonate (mEq/l)16 ± 2 16 ± 2 1.0
Open Access 171
Figure 1.
The acute effects of carnosine administration, compared to a placebo
treatment, on the six sprint bouts of the RAST test; *Significant (p < .05)
main effects of time.
Figure 2.
Time course of blood lactate concentration in the two conditions (car-
nosine and placebo) following the running-based anaerobic sprint test
The RAST caused a very small and similar increase in
DOMS in the two conditions (condition × time, p = .755) with a
significant decrease towards zero (main factor time, p < .05) at
48 hours post test (carnosine 1.2 ± 1.3 vs .6 ± 1.0 at 24 and 48
hours respectively and placebo 1.0 ± 1.0 vs .4 ± .7 at 24 and 48
hours respectively).
The ingestion of 1 g of carnosine and 1 g of β-alanine 4
hours prior to an all-out shuttle running test did not have any
effect on performance, perceived exertion, muscle soreness and
session RPE. Similarly, the response of insulin, glucose, bicar-
bonates and blood lactate concentration to exercise were not
affected by carnosine supplementation compared to placebo.
During the RAST the time to complete each bout of 35 m in-
creased similarly in the two conditions, with no difference in
total time. Contrary to the study by Suzuki et al. (Suzuki et al.,
2002) we failed to show a difference between the two condi-
tions towards the latter fractions of an intermittent all-out exer-
cise. The different type of exercises (that is cycling versus run-
ning) and the modality (that is continuous versus intermittent)
might represent some of the causes for the discrepancy between
the two studies. Moreover, we cannot exclude that the acute
ingestion of carnosine failed to increase the muscle content of
carnosine (see below in the Discussion). The occurrence of
fatigue is the most plausible explanation for the decrease of the
running speed. In particular, a decrease in muscle pH represents
one of the main factors responsible for the decline in muscle
contractility (Allen et al., 2008). The high level of blood lactate
observed at the end of the RAST might be an indirect marker of
increased acidosis in the muscle. Therefore, it can be hypothe-
sized that the dose of carnosine utilized in this study was not
sufficient to increase the muscle content of carnosine to a level
that was sufficient to exert a buffering effect on muscle cells
acidosis. Alternatively, it can be hypothesized that the RAST
did not determine such a decrease in muscle pH to require a
higher concentration of muscle carnosine content than normally
present. However, the blood lactate concentration and the level
of bicarbonates after the all-out shuttle running indirectly sug-
gest that the metabolic stress (and the hydrogen ions concentra-
tions) was high.
Noteworthy, in the present study we failed to detect any dif-
ference in blood bicarbonates concentration between conditions.
On the contrary, some authors (in spite of the administration of
a lower dose of carnosine) showed such a difference and hy-
pothesized an increased action exerted by the nonbicarbonat
buffering due to carnosine and anserine administration (Suzuki
et al., 2006).
The lack of difference in performance between the two con-
ditions neither support the increase in Ca2+ sensitivity of the
contractile fibres that represents an alternative mechanism
through which muscle carnosine can improve muscle perform-
ance (Dutka & Lamb, 2004). In theory, this ergogenic effect of
muscle carnosine should have been useful if the maximal effort
performed was not sufficiently high to elicit low levels of mus-
cle pH.
A further aspect that might have contributed to the lack of a
positive effect of acute carnosine ingestion on performance is
the duration of the exercise. According to a recent meta analy-
sis (Hobson et al., 2012) a higher content of muscle carnosine is
beneficial mostly for high intensity exercises lasting between
60 and 240 seconds. In the present study the average overall
duration of the RAST was approximately 35 seconds.
Blood glucose and insulin showed an increase after the
RAST compared to baseline that was similar in the two groups.
It is likely that the increase in blood glucose was mediated by
an increase in cathecolamines. However, as for performance, it
can be hypothesized that the amount of carnosine administered
was not sufficient to be of any effect on the adrenergic system.
Although in the present study a much higher dose of car-
nosine than in an earlier study (Kraemer et al., 1995) was used,
no enhancing effect on short high intensity running perform-
ance was found.
It cannot be excluded that the acute administration of car-
nosine is a vain strategy for the improvement of exercise. How-
ever, future studies should aim to evaluate the effects of inges-
tion of carnosine at higher dosages (e.g. twofold the dose used
in the present study) and to assess its efficacy using much
higher stressing exercise (e.g. all-out intermittent or continuous
anaerobic exercises performed for a longer time period). Fur-
thermore, it would be interesting to test the effect of acute in-
gestion of carnosine in individuals (like vegetarians) who might
be characterized by a lower level of muscle carnosine.
A possible limitation of this study could be the lack of
evaluation of the dietary habits of subjects. In fact the content
of muscle carnosine in a subject that follows a predominantly
vegetarian diet could be drastically lower than a person taking
meat in high amount.
Open Access
In conclusion, the acute ingestion of 1 g of L-carnosine and 1
g of β-alanine few hours prior to an intermittent all-out running
exercise does not have any effect on overall performance and
on the latter bouts of the exercise. Similarly, the responses of
blood insulin, glucose, bicarbonate and lactate concentrations to
the RAST were not affected by the acute ingestion of carnosine
compared to placebo.
Based on the present results, the acute oral administration of
carnosine prior to an anaerobic running exercise lasting around
30 seconds does not seem to be an effective strategy to improve
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Open Access 173
Open Access
BMI: Body Mass Index;
RAST: running-based anaerobic sprint test;
RPE: perceptual response to exercise;
DOMS: delayed onset of muscle soreness;
EDTA: Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid;
ELISA: Enzyme-Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay