Raising the levels of carnosine in people over the age of 70 has been found to increase cycling endurance by nearly 20%.

Carnosine is present in large amounts in the body, especially in the muscle and brain. Carnosine can prevent and can even reverse damage caused by oxidative damage by oxygen radicals or through reactive sugars which are so much of a problem in diabetes, for example. Carnosine also acts as a buffer in muscle to neutralise the acidity that can build up when exercising.

It is a fact that, trained athletes have more carnosine in their muscle compared to people who do not train. In addition, the levels of carnosine in muscle declines with age. Levels of carnosine in 65-80 year olds has been found to be half that in 20-35 year olds.

In the study, people were given beta-alanine – one of the building blocks of carnosine. It was found that the amounts of carnosine in people given beta-alanine increased significantly after several weeks of taking beta-alanine and this was associated with an increase in cycling endurance.

Many animal studies have shown the benefit of feeding animals carnosine. However, carnosine is rapidly broken down in people so that levels cannot be increased by merely taking carnosine – so taking carnosine supplement is probably a waste of time. Instead, as was demonstrated in this study, carnosine can be increased by taking one of its building blocks, beta-alanine.

One problem with taking beta-alanine is that in many people it can cause a brief episode of severe and unpleasant tingling of the skin. This can put people off taking beta-alanine and indeed in the study reported, some people dropped out of the study because of this effect. The problem can be reduced or even avoided by taking smaller amounts of beta-alanine, perhaps split into several doses spread over time. On the other hand, I found that this unpleasant effect diminished after several days of taking beta-alanine.