A trimethylated amino acid roughly similar in structure to choline, carnitine is a cofactor required for transformation of free long-chain fatty acids into acylcarnitines, and for their subsequent transport into the mitochondrial matrix, where they undergo beta-oxidation for cellular energy production. Mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation is the primary fuel source in heart and skeletal muscle, pointing to the relative importance of this nutrient for proper function in these tissues. Although L-carnitine deficiency is an infrequent problem in a healthy, well-nourished population consuming adequate protein, many individuals within the population appear to be somewhere along a continuum, characterized by mild deficiency at one extreme, and tissue pathology at the other. Conditions which seem to benefit from exogenous supplementation of L-carnitine include anorexia, chronic fatigue, coronary vascular disease, diphtheria, hypoglycemia, male infertility, muscular myopathies, and Rett syndrome. In addition, preterm infants, dialysis patients, and HIV positive individuals seem to be prone to a deficiency of L-carnitine, and benefit from supplementation. Although available data on L-carnitine as an ergogenic aid is not compelling, under some experimental conditions pretreatment has favored aerobic processes and resulted in improved endurance performance. Altern Med Rev 1998;3(5):345-360.