Glutamine for general health and fitness, as a bodybuilding supplement, to reduce the ravages caused by chemotherapy and a mood elevator? Yes, glutamine is that important!
What is Glutamine?
Starting with the basics, glutamine is one of the twenty nonessential amino acids. Nonessential does not mean that glutamine is not important, but rather the body can produce this substance itself. Sixty percent of our glutamine is found in the skeletal muscle, with the remainder residing in the lung, liver, brain and stomach tissue.
More than sixty percent of our free amino acids come in the form of glutamine and under normal conditions our body is able to produce more than enough to handle the load. But, during times of stress, glutamine reserves are depleted and need to be replenished through supplementation.
What kinds of stress cause glutamine depletion?
Research is showing that glutamine depletion caused by stress can be activated by something as minor as a common cold and the level of depletion increases with the severity of the disease. Patients undergoing surgery, burn victims, those suffering acute trauma, as well as HIV and cancer patients will all find their glutamine levels severely depleted by their condition.
The important thing, as fitness enthusiasts, is to remember that stress related glutamine depletion does not only occur with illness, but also occurs due to stress caused by exercise.
Glutamine and it's role in bodybuilding and exercise.
Intensive exercise will disrupt immune function, increase lactic acid and ammonium levels. High levels of ammonia can effect muscle function. Within the first five minutes of exercise glutamine levels will rise and catabolic hormones are released. But, the bad news for exercisers doesn't stop there, because even at the conclusion of the exercise session the muscles will continue to release glutamine causing a severe depletion situation. And the harder you train the higher the rates of depletion.
Why does glutamine depletion happen so quickly? Because glutamine increases the hydration state of the muscle cells. Hydration of the muscle cells can change rapidly, and once the cells are dehydrated they enter a catabolic state. During times of catabolic stress research has shown that glutamine levels can drop by as much as 50%.
Overtraining will result in less gains, but also higher disease rates, infections and a poor immune system, due to the heavy demands place on the energy reserves of the body. Higher levels of training result in higher stress demands on the body, which lead to a reduction in plasma glutamine levels.
Too little glutamine results in muscle loss.
Catabolic states, muscle loss, depletion, cell dehydration and muscle atrophy are phrases that weaken the knees of even the most seasoned of weightlifters or bodybuilders. How can one little supplement that is produced in abundance by the body be responsible for so many concerns?
According to Ronald Klatz, MD, President of the Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine in Chicago, "Glutamine promotes the assimilation of nutrients, regulates protein synthesis, stimulates growth-hormone production and enhances the immune system."
Weightlifters and bodybuilders need to realize that glutamine is critical for muscle building because it is a nitrogen donor, meaning that it moves the nitrogen around in the body to where it is needed. Anyone that pushes the iron understands that a positive nitrogen balance is a necessary criteria in the effort to gain muscle mass.
Entering the Krebs cycle as a non-carbohydrate source of energy, glutamine converts to glutamate and produces ATP which is an energy molecule. With adequate amounts of glutamine in the body through diet and/or supplementation, little or no muscle is broken down to provide glucose. And, remember, too little glutamine results in muscle atrophy.
How much glutamine is needed?
The typical American diet provides 3.5 to 7 grams of glutamine daily which is found in animal and plant proteins. Many people are choosing to supplement daily due to the long growing list of benefits.
Research shows levels of supplementation from 2 to 40 grams daily. Two to three grams has been found to help symptoms of queasiness. This two to three gram dosage used post workout builds protein, repairs and builds muscle and can induce levels of growth hormone found in the body.
High levels of glutamine supplementation have been used in hospital settings with doses of 20 grams per day to treat colitis, Crohn's disease and diarrhea. 40 grams per day of glutamine are used with HIV, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and burn victims.
Today, hospitals are beginning to study the effects of glutamine on reducing the number of days required for a hospital stay and are showing their confidence in the safety of glutamine by supplementing the nutritional needs of low, birth-weight babies with glutamine.
Can everyone take glutamine?
Current research shows that diabetics should use caution when supplementing with glutamine because they metabolize glutamine abnormally. Also, supplementation with cancer patients is controversial because of the reaction of glutamine on rapidly dividing cells, which is characteristic of a tumor.
But, the latest research shows that glutamine prolongs survival of cancer patients by slowing down catabolic wasting and helps the depleted immune system. As with all supplements, you should consult the advice of your physician before taking.
Additional benefits of supplementing with glutamine.
As the chief source of energy for the intestines, glutamine aids in diseases that effect the lining of the intestines. In addition, it can reverse some of the intestinal damage caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen. And in it's capacity to protect the brain from ammonia toxicity, glutamine is being researched with regard to it's positive effects on neurodegenerative diseases. As an energy provider to the brain, glutamine is a mood elevator, improves mental performance and helps with long and short term memory.
Glutamine research continues to produce additional benefits of this supplement on a daily basis. With the apparent lack of side effects, it is a supplement that all in the fitness industry should give serious consideration.
1. Bowtell, J. L., K. Gelly, M. L. Jackman, A. Patel, M. Simeoni, and M. J. Rennie. Effect of oral glutamine on whole body carbohydrate storage during recovery from exhaustive exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. Vol. 86, Issue 6, 1770-1777, June 1999.
2. Galassetti, P., F. Gibbons, K. Hamilton, D. Brooks Lacy, A. Cherrington, and D. Wasserman. Enhanced muscle glucose uptake facilitates nitrogen efflux from exercised muscle. Journal of Applied Physiology. Vol. 84, Issue 6, 1952-1959, June 1998.
3. Kuhn, K., K. Schuhmann, P. Stehle, D. Darmaun, P. Furst. Determination of glutamine in muscle protein facilitates accurate assessment of proteolysis and de novo synthesis--derived endogenous glutamine production. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, No. 4, 484-489, October 1999.
4. Welbourne, T. C. Increased plasma bicarbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 61, 1058-1061, 1995.
Diane Fields, MBA, ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, Specialist in Performance Nutrition, (pending), is a member of Legendary Fitness, LLC, a company designed to meet the special exercise and nutritional requirements of the babyboomer population. Coming soon on www.bodybuilding.com, Diane teams up with Richard Baldwin, Mr. America, Mr. USA, 1st runner-up Mr. Universe for a weekly column geared towards bodybuilders and weightlifters over the age of 40.
Additional online articles by Ms. Fields may be viewed at www.dolfzine.com, www.getbig.com, www.protraineronline.com and www.atozfitness.com. Her article, "Practical Considerations for Training Overweight Clients," will be featured in the November issue of the Personal Fitness Professional magazine. You may contact Diane Fields via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.