L-carnitine is one of those supplements that everyone will have heard of but that very few people will actually understand what it does. Included in everything from protein shakes to energy drinks, you are almost guaranteed to have seen it on the packaging of something you have used before.
Thanks in no small part to its prominence in the supplement and fitness industries, this has led to it being touted for use in a wide range of different ways, to achieve a number of different results. One question that is coming up more and more as of late is whether or not you should use it before bed?
With the average human spending roughly one third of their life asleep, people are always looking for ways to optimise our body’s performance during this time. The question is, is L-carnitine a safe option to use while you are asleep and, if so, what benefits can you hope to achieve from doing so?
Well, those are exactly the sort of questions that we hope to explain to you in the following piece, as we show you everything you need to know about L-carnitine and taking it before bed. So, if you are thinking of giving a nightly dose of L-carnitine a try for yourself, this is the article for you.
What Is L-Carnitine?
L-carnitine is a chemical and amino acid derivative that is naturally produced in the brain, kidneys, and liver of the human body. However, in order for l carnitine to keep being made, a person needs to be consuming enough of the two compounds it is made from, lysine and methionine, in their diet.
In addition to the l carnitine that is naturally produced by our bodies, scientists can also create a synthetic version of the compound, which is what you will find in L-carnitine supplements.
These supplements can then be used by people who have naturally low L-carnitine levels, eat a diet low in what is required to produce it naturally, or for its wide range of potential health benefits.
The Different Types Of L-Carnitine
While L-carnitine itself is an amino acid derivative, the supplement can also come in three different forms: acetyl l carnitine, l carnitine l tartrate, and propionyl l carnitine.
Acetyl L-Carnitine is a combination of L-carnitine and acetic acid. It provides the same benefits as regular L-carnitine but can also help to protect nerve cells. This can reduce the risk of users developing certain mental and physical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
L-carnitine l tartrate is a blend of l carnitine and a tartaric acid salt. When combined, the two become a particularly powerful antioxidant, which can help to reduce fatigue, muscle soreness, and muscle weakness after a workout.
Propionyl L-carnitine is a mix of L-carnitine and propionic acid which is very effective at increasing the mobilisation of fat stores and production of nitric oxide in the blood.
This boosts blood flow and muscle recovery, improves physical performance, aids certain health conditions, and offers pain relieving and antirheumatic qualities.
How Does L-Carnitine Work?
L-carnitine works by binding to long chain fatty acids, as well as certain amino acids, and helping to transport them across the mitochondrial membrane for oxidation. This is vital as it makes the process much simpler and reduces the likelihood of the fats being stored.
The primary reason for L-carnitine doing this is to improve the metabolism of these fatty acids by the mitochondria to allow them to be converted into energy more easily. However, it also plays a great deal of other roles in the human body, such as producing collagen and functioning as an antioxidant.
The Potential Benefits Of L-Carnitine
L-carnitine supplements were first made to be used in a medical setting, to aid with restoring optimal levels of the chemical in a person’s body. In these cases, L-carnitine supplement use is very effective to help a person maintain a healthy level of the chemical and the practice is still widely used today.
However, outside of hospitals, there are also numerous other uses of L-carnitine supplements that offer a wide range of different benefits. We will now take a closer look at the 10 most popular of these L-carnitine benefits.
Improves The Health Of The Heart
Studies into people supplementing with a moderate dose of L-carnitine in the mid to long term have shown it has the ability to regulate the dilation of blood vessels in the heart, which will improve circulation while also moderating blood pressure.
This will not only limit the likelihood of you developing heart disease but will also remove or provide relief from a range of the symptoms of heart failure, including things like arrhythmia or chronic chest pains. L-carnitine supplements can also reduce the frequency and intensity of angina symptoms.
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
The use of an L-carnitine supplements has also been shown to be useful for people who have high cholesterol levels. The way in which it helps fats to be metabolised lowers the bad LDL cholesterol levels and raises the good HDL cholesterol levels in users, helping them achieve the ideal balance.
This is an extremely beneficial effect of L-carnitine, as high cholesterol can cause a number of severe health problems and conditions, including heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and strokes, all of which can have significant negative health effects and may even lead to death.
There is evidence to suggest that L-carnitine can be beneficial for people who experience various types of inflammation, whether it be caused by an injury or a disease like arthritis. It particularly seems to be effective for reducing inflammatory responses in the cardiovascular system.
The reason for this is because one of the compounds that L-carnitine is made of, methionine, is a powerful antioxidant. This means it can neutralise the harmful free radicals in the blood, preventing them from causing oxidative damage to the joints and tissues.
Boosts Mood & Brain Functions
Recent studies on L-carnitine supplements have shown that they can have a particularly beneficial effect on how the human brain functions. This occurs largely due to the fact that L-Carnitine supplements are nootropics, which have the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
This will allow a constant flow of essential nutrients into to the brain, helping it to function at an optimal level. Beyond just better functioning, it also helps to offer effects like limiting brain fog and boosting mood and learning, leading you to feel much happier and clearer headed on a daily basis.
This improved flow of nutrients will also boost the immune system and help it remove the toxic by-products made by the brain, which can help to stop the degradation of the brain cells caused by aging. As we get older, our brains will gradually begin to deteriorate and function less effectively.
In less extreme cases, this may just mean you get a bit slower and struggle to remember certain things. However, in worse cases it can progress into brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease. High L-carnitine levels are a great way to reduce the prevalence and severity of diseases such as this.
Enhances Exercise Performance & Recovery
Outside of medical settings, L-carnitine supplements are most often used by athletes or people who do strenuous exercise or physical activity, as it is able to elevate their performance. As L-carnitine is able to improve blood flow, it boosts the supply of oxygen to the working muscles in the body.
For starters, L-carnitine will improve both their strength and endurance. This will not only increase your performance during the workout or activity but will also allow you to engage in it for longer.
It does this as it replenishes your body’s stores of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) much faster, which in turn will allow you to continue performing explosive, powerful movements for much longer.
L-carnitine also speeds up the rate that muscles metabolise a range of vital nutrients, such as things like protein and amino acids. This will not only further boost their performance but will also reduce fatigue and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and speed up their recovery after a session.
This combination will then increase your exercise capacity. This means you will be able to reduce your rest periods and get back in the gym to perform your next workout much sooner than you otherwise could, which will lead to you making gains much faster.
Promotes Weight Loss
The most common reason people supplement with L-carnitine is because it has been shown to have a great ability to help people lose weight. By is nature, L-carnitine is primarily required to help move both stored and consumed fats across the mitochondrial barrier to be broken down.
As it speeds up the rate at which your body burns fatty acids to get energy, your body weight and fat stores will go down much faster. As higher levels of L-carnitine make your body use fat first when in need of an energy source, it will also limit the chance of any extra weight gain at the same time.
Aids With The Symptoms Of Type 2 Diabetes
One of the less talked about benefits of L-carnitine supplements are their ability to help people who have a naturally high level of insulin resistance, a complication which is the cause of type 2 diabetes. This occurs as recent studies have shown that L-carnitine is able to boost a user’s insulin sensitivity.
By raising insulin sensitivity, L-carnitine helps to improve the efficiency with which the body utilises glucose. This will manage the level of glucose and sugar in your bloodstream, limiting or even preventing the potential damage it causes that is a real danger, especially to diabetes sufferers.
Encourages The Production Of Red Blood Cells
By supplementing with an external source of L-carnitine, you can take a strain off of the kidneys and liver, as they won’t need to produce quite as much themselves. This will lead to them being healthier and functioning more efficiently, one of the benefits of which is an increased red blood cell count.
By raising your red blood cell count and also boosting your blood flow, which is a direct result of the improved heart health that L-carnitine offers, you can not only ensure all of your muscles get a good supply of oxygen, helping them work at an optimal level, but you can also avoid issues like anemia.
Among the less obvious benefits of L-carnitine supplementation is its ability to lower the mRNA level of tartrate resistant acid phosphatase present in a user. This means that the bones are able to repair themselves much faster after an injury, while having a stronger, less brittle structure.
This makes L-carnitine supplements a great option for people with pre existing bone or joint issues, people recovering after a major injury, or anyone who participates in an activity that puts their skeleton under a great deal of stress.
Helps To Prevent The Side Effects Of Chemotherapy
Recent studies have found that L-carnitine supplementation can be beneficial for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy for multiple reasons.
Firstly, chemotherapy has been shown to impair your natural L-carnitine production. By using an L-carnitine supplement, you keep your levels where they should be, allowing your body to function effectively.
Then there is the fact that L-carnitine has been proven to be able to repair some of the damage that chemotherapy causes to the cells around the human body. This means taking a supplement will not only help you to function normally but can also stop some of the side effects liked to the treatment.
How Does L-Carnitine Affect Sleep?
As we touched on at the start, many people want to utilize the benefits of an L-carnitine supplement while they sleep, which should be understandable, given you now know the wide range of benefits it is capable of offering. However, it’s generally not considered to be a good idea to take it before bed.
While not everyone experiences the exact same feeling after taking an L-carnitine supplement, there are many people who experience a significant increase in energy and alertness after ingesting it. This often leads to them struggling to fall asleep or repeatedly waking up even if they do.
If this occurs, L-carnitine supplements will lead to a lower quality and quantity of sleep. This means that all of the benefits of L-carnitine will be negated by the issues that arise as a result of poor sleep, meaning it will likely do more harm than good.
While you may not experience this issue, you need to be aware that it is a very real possibility. If you are set on trying to use L-carnitine before you go to bed, consider trying it for the first time on a night when you have nothing on the next day, so you can make up for lost sleep then if the issues do arise.
What Is The Best Time To Take L-Carnitine?
The general consensus is that the most beneficial time to take an L-carnitine supplement is first thing in the morning before breakfast. This is because it won’t negatively affect your sleep and works best on an empty stomach. It will usually take around 20 to 45 minutes for the effects to begin kicking in.
Due to how long it takes to kick in, you ideally also want to take it shortly before a workout if you are training that day. This is because the boost in energy that many people experience from L-carnitine can help to give you a lift in your overall physical performance, benefitting your session and results.
What Is The Optimum L-Carnitine Dosage?
The recommended dose of most types of L-carnitine for the average person is between 1 to 4 grams per day, with around 2 grams the preferred amount for many to reap most of the benefits. That said, if you are using acetyl l carnitine, it is considered safer to stick to around 0.6 to 2.5 grams per day.
While these doses are the average, people with issues like an L-carnitine deficiency or anyone going through chemotherapy will likely need to use a higher dose. In this situation, the safest option is to begin using the recommended dose and work your way up until you find one that is effective.
If doing this though, it is highly recommended that you do so while consulting with a medical professional, to ensure you don’t do anything that could negatively impact your health.
L-Carnitine and Coffee
L-carnitine is not technically classed as a stimulant, but it is still known to often result in a boost in energy levels. While in some people this will translate to an increase in physical energy levels, others simply experience a greater level of focus and mood when they take an L-carnitine supplement.
While those in the former category may not want to overdo it and combine the two substances, those in the latter could use the two in combination, to get the best of both worlds. If you are unsure, the best option is to start with low doses of both and gradually increase each one at a time.
Those who are particularly sensitive to stimulants should be careful though. While you may be able to take L-carnitine without seeing a rise in energy, combining the supplement with a cup of coffee may cause the caffeine to amplify the effects of l carnitine, in addition to providing its own boost.
Those who want to take the idea of mixing caffeine and L-carnitine to create a maximal energy boost can even go one step further and use a pre workout instead of coffee. If you do go this route though, use a supplement that doesn’t contain L-carnitine, such as C4 extreme, so you don’t take too much.
Other Potential Side Effects Of L-Carnitine
While the list of positive effects of L-carnitine is extensive, there are unfortunately some side effects that have been linked to its use as well. It is important to understand these potential complications, as it gives you the ability to prepare yourself, so you know what you may expect to experience.
Among the most common side effects associated with the use of L-carnitine supplements are nausea, diarrhea, stomach pains, high blood pressure, headaches, vomiting, reduced appetite, low blood sugar, trouble sleeping, and cognitive issues, such as psychosis.
In rare cases, it has also been known to pose an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly in people who already know they have a weakness.
FAQS (Frequently Asked Questions)
Before we conclude our examination of L-carnitine and whether or not you should take it before bed, I want to quickly address some of the most frequently asked questions people have on the topic. This should ensure everyone knows if it is the right supplement for them or not when we are done.
Can Vegans Take L-Carnitine And If So, Should They?
While L-carnitine is most commonly seen in animal based products, there are L-carnitine supplements available that are vegan friendly. As L-carnitine is something many vegans are deficient in, due to the food in their diet, it is a substance that is extremely beneficial for them and is highly recommended.
What Foods Contain L-Carnitine Naturally?
L-carnitine is primarily available in foods sourced from animals, such as meat and dairy, which should not be overly surprising, given that carnitine is a derivative of the Latin word for flesh. That said, not all such foods contain the substance in equal quantities, and they also aren’t the only ones that do.
For those seeking to obtain L-carnitine largely from the food they eat, the best options available are beef, milk, white fish, chicken breast, and cheddar cheese. For those on a vegan diet, L-carnitine can also be found in wheat and asparagus, although it is present in notably lower quantities.
L-carnitine is a fabulous substance that has a huge number of both mental and physical benefits to offer the human body. Available in a wide range of supplements, they are a quick and easy way to up your levels and optimise your health and performance, especially for vegans.
However, as it can function as a stimulant in some users, it isn’t usually advised you try to utilise the effects while you are asleep. In fact, to truly get the most out of L-carnitine, you are better off taking it in the morning, so you can enjoy the benefits and effects throughout the day.
Instead, why not try a supplement designed to be used just before you go to bed, such as a night time fat burner or cleansing supplement? These will still allow you to progress and make the most of the time while you are asleep, without putting you at risk of having issues sleeping.
If you are determined to use L-carnitine before bed though, just remember to use the correct doses and test the waters gradually. That could help you to achieve the type of effect you are looking for, without running in to any issues that could end up derailing all of your hard work.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost