One of the most important realizations to surface in the last couple of years is the recognition of the fact that a natural athlete can overload a muscle group in just about a half dozen sets and then get the hell out of the gym! The importance of rest and recuperation as it affects muscle building is one of the great new areas of exercise science. Supplements that help with recuperation become a supplement you better know more about!
The study of the processes that take place metabolically as the muscle performs work, reaches exhaustion, then goes through recuperation is revealing to us some extremely important information leading to the use of specific supplements to prevent muscle breakdown and speed recovery. After all, I'd rather grow more by working out less, wouldn't you?
Why Glutamine Is So Important
One of the most important finds has been the role of the amino acid glutamine. This amino acid is integral to a whole host of systems in the body. Glutamine sweeps ammonia from the brain and other organs, regulates blood PH, is involved in immune function and antioxidant production, is a major component of muscle tissue and metabolism, and may be the most important aid to recuperation you can buy over-the-counter.
Glutamic Acid Formula
About 60% of the free-floating amino acids in the muscle tissue are glutamine. The muscles act as a primary storage area for this substance. Glutamine breaks down in response to energy demands into glutamic acid by throwing off ammonia, and glutamic acid breaks down into alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG) by throwing off another ammonia molecule. ALG then breaks down into adenosine-triphosphate (ATP) which is the primary energy source for muscle contraction. So glutamine is a major source through aerobic metabolism for ATP (and also explains why sweaty bodybuilders smell so bad, all that ammonia!)
Heavy exercise can deplete glutamine stores by 40% or more, and this is where things get interesting. Decreased glutamine levels impact enormously on immune system functioning. In fact one of the big causes of overtraining syndrome is glutamine depletion and the accompanying suppression of the immune system. Additionally, lack of glutamine means lack of ATP so your energy levels and endurance will be lowered as well.
Your body will struggle to replace lost glutamine by tearing branched chain amino acids out of the skeletal muscle tissue and using them to reconstruct glutamine molecules. Wait a minute..."tearing branched chain amino acids out of the muscle"? That's right, depleted glutamine stores make it nearly impossible to recover properly from heavy workouts. Your body is thrown into a catabolic state in which it's cannibalizing its own muscle for the building materials for glutamine. Your body needs glutamine more than it needs the extra muscle!
Glutamine depletion can become so chronic that people can end up in an overtrained state for weeks or months at a time.
How Much & When To Take It
Well, it should be pretty clear why glutamine supplementation is so important. The issue of how much and when is currently being studied but we can make some educated guesses. The best time to dose would be right after a workout when your muscles are most depleted. Glutamine doesn't mix too well with water but its texture is extremely fine and it has no flavor so I just dump it into a glass, swirl it around and swallow it down.
As far as dosage levels we run up against a tricky issue: the tissues of the digestive system use most of the glutamine you ingest. The glutamine is taken up by the lining of the gut and used as fuel for its energy requirements. This is a normal aspect of body metabolism and begs the question of how much glutamine is getting into the bloodstream and hence to the muscle. Since a big part of muscle catabolism is glutamine replacement in other parts of the body, I'm not as concerned with how much glutamine ends up in the blood as long as the deficit is replaced in those cells that will demand glutamine from the muscles.
Let's look at the amount of glutamine that is absorbed in the first place. There is a substance that has recently become available on the market, which increases the ability of the intestinal wall to pass nutrients to the bloodstream. No matter how much glutamine you take, making more of it available is worthwhile. The substance is called lysophosphatidyl choline or LPC. LPC does its job by temporarily increasing the size of the pores that line the GI tract. LPC increases the ability of amino acids and other nutrients to pass through. LPC is already used in industrial food manufacturing and has thus been moved into GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status as a food additive.
If you've begun to realize the benefit of short, intense workouts, with plenty of rest in between, glutamine supplementation should be a regular part of your training supplementation.
1. The Emerging Role of Glutamine as an Indicator of Exercise Stress and Overtraining, by Rowbottom, Keast, Morton Sports Med. 21 (2):80-97 1996 Feb.
2. Depression of Plasma Glutamine Concentration After Exercise Stress and Its Possible Influence on the Immune System, by Keast, Arstein, Harper, Fry, Morton Med J. Aust, 162 (1):15-8 1995 Jan 2
3. The Ultimate Nutrient Glutamine, Shabert, Erlich Avery Pub. Group 1994