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Glutamine - Miracle Supplement?

If you're an athlete then you probably already know that glutamine can benefit your training and muscle building efforts.

In my last installment on BCAA usage for athletes I touched a bit on supplementation with l-glutamine and how it can benefit athletes and weight trainers. Truthfully, I feel a one page report on l-glutamine does this supplement a bit of a disservice as its potential benefits and applications are extremely diverse and far-reaching. If you're an athlete then you probably already know that glutamine can benefit your training and muscle building efforts.

What you probably don't know is just how great of an overall supplement it really is, not just for athletes and bodybuilders, but for ALL people. I thoroughly believe that glutamine should be on the vitamin shelf in EVERY household right next to the Vitamin C!

What's amazing is how everyone, regardless of lifestyle, can derive supplemental benefits from its use. Here is a brief list of the possible applications of supplemental glutamine.

  • Improves athletic performance
  • Improves brain functioning
  • Stabilizes blood sugar
  • Helps the heart function
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Maintains the health and functioning of the gut lining
  • Decreases alcohol cravings
  • Decreases sugar cravings
  • Helps with wound healing
  • Helps maintain proper acid/alkaline balance
  • Possible cancer benefits

Quite a long list isn't it? So you might be wondering how exactly glutamine exerts all these benefits? Recall that glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in circulation. In a healthy individual, the concentration of glutamine in the blood is 3-4 times greater than all other amino acids. It is actively transported and metabolized in nearly all tissues.

It is particularly found in high concentrations in the brain, muscles, gut lining, lungs, heart, kidney, and liver where it has multiple and critical functions.

Glutamic Acid

We primarily obtain glutamine from the conversion of glutamic acid from food, although some is also found in food. The average amount supplied from a healthy diet is 5-8 grams per day. Among medical practitioners who use blood tests to determine amino acid status, glutamine is one that is often found to be lacking, especially in patients with either chronic illness or mood and cognitive symptoms. For this reason glutamine has become extremely popular, not just with athletes, but among holistic medical practitioners who use it in the treatment of a wide variety of ailments.

Glutamic Acid Formula

As an athlete glutamine can help you directly in many ways. I've already touched briefly on this in my BCAA article but to recap, glutamine in muscle is a regulator of muscle protein synthesis or muscle building and supports muscle glycogen accumulation. When there is glutamine depletion, there is a breakdown in muscle. Studies indicate glutamine counteracts cortisone steroid induced muscle atrophy.

Skeletal muscle in the body accounts for approximately 30-40% of the total body mass. A 150 lb male would ideally have about 60 grams of glutamine in these muscles. Free stores of glutamine in muscles exceed those of any other amino acid. Surgical and injury trauma, infections, burns, stress, cancer, and most major illnesses dramatically deplete and alter the production and flow of glutamine causing movement of glutamine out of the muscle and decreasing glutamine blood levels.

Intense Training

Under these circumstances the net glutamine consumption exceeds the production and there is a decrease in muscle protein synthesis. This contributes to the muscle wasting seen in severe illness and trauma and can also happen with intense exercise.

Research has shown a significant correlation between survival in severely infected patients and the muscle glutamine concentration. Supplying glutamine helps the metabolic processes associated with recovery. So as an athlete glutamine can help you in the following areas:

  • Stimulates muscle protein synthesis by donating nitrogen to build proteins.
  • Increases growth hormone which can induce positive body composition and mood changes (Note: A study done in 1995 by LSU College of Medicine showed that a surprisingly small oral dose of 2 grams of glutamine raised GH levels more than 4X over that of a placebo. Age did not diminish the response of the volunteers who ranged in age from 32 to 64 years.)
  • Decreases muscle catabolism during exercise
  • Increases endurance by replenishing glycogen under conditions of glycogen depletion
  • Decreases muscle recovery time
  • Decreases the chances of illness/infection by boosting your immune system
  • Prevents over-training from high loads and long duration activities (recall that blood glutamine levels are an excellent marker of anabolic status).

These are some of the direct roles in which glutamine can boost your performance. What is just as important, if not more so in my mind, are the indirect roles that glutamine can play in building a healthy body. These are things that may not make you into a physical powerhouse but will still aid in keeping your body healthy and free of disease and give you some other benefits now and in the future.

These benefits are why I look at glutamine as a "wonder supplement" and I feel just about everyone should be using it. Next week I'll cover these other important areas.

Click HERE For Part Two!