In a land much like ours live two sisters, Creatine and Glutamine. Creatine's hot, there is no doubt about it. Long legs, a nice tan, and she looks good in a thong (thong sandals, that is). Yes, Creatine turns heads wherever she goes.
She's even put on the cover of all the popular magazines. Glutamine, on the other hand, sticks to herself, wears glasses, braces, and rarely lets her hair down. She certainly doesn't get the same attention as Creatine. But that doesn't seem to bother her, even when guys brush her aside for a little extra "quality time" with Creatine.
However, when you take off Glutamine's glasses, braces, and let her hair down, you've got one sexy little package. Oh yeah, she's also smart and has a big bank account...The total package you could say.
"I think it's time I got better acquainted with Glutamine."
Glutamine is one of those supplements that doesn't receive the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, it gets thrown into the shadows of some flashier products like creatine, growth hormone boosters, and prohormones. In the ultra-competitive sport supplement industry, manufacturers are racing forward in an attempt to bring to market the latest, greatest, cutting edge supplement.
For many people glutamine just seems boring in comparison...until you get to know it.
People are often shocked that I classify glutamine as a "foundation supplement" (I classify a foundation supplement as a product that I can't live without). In my opinion glutamine ranks as high as whey protein, meal replacement powders (MRP's), and essential fatty acids. That's right boys and girls, I even rank glutamine above creatine in terms of importance. Shocked? You're not the first, believe me.
Sure, glutamine doesn't have full-page ads touting 300% increase in this, or a 200% increase in that, but it provides a basis for a solid foundation for the athlete and non-athlete alike. Glutamine can increase growth hormone secretion, reduce muscle soreness, speed recovery, assist your body in times of stress, stimulate protein synthesis, volumes muscles, provide immune system support, and help support numerous internal organs.
Plasma glutamine levels are also used as a marker in determining Overtraining Syndrom (OTS), therefore can help prevent OTS. Furthermore, glutamine also assists in the production of glutathione, one of the body's most potent antioxidants. Like I said, glutamine is one sexy little package.
What Is Glutamine?
Glutamine is one of many amino acids that make up protein. It equates to over 60 percent of free amino acids in the body, making glutamine the most abundant amino acid. Originally glutamine was labeled "nonessential" because it can be synthesized from other amino acids - glutamic acid, isoleucine, and valine.
However, more recently some people have upgraded it to "conditionally essential" because the body can not always produce as much glutamine as required. I believe both of these labels can be misleading.
When a statement is made that something is "not essential", too often people consider it to mean not important or not necessary. I consider glutamine to be both important and necessary. The majority of glutamine is produced and/or stored in the skeletal muscles and lungs. Supplemental glutamine is sold in powder or capsule. The powder, which I prefer, is white and fluffy, kind of like the stuff you see at Hollywood parties (just don't snort glutamine). The flavor is slightly sweet and tastes neither good nor bad.
Why Would Anyone Require More Glutamine Than The Body Can Produce?
Exercise or lifestyle stress (like almost getting busted with your boss's spouse...on your boss's desk - now that's stressful) can rob glutamine stores. Critically ill patients, burn victims, and people undergoing surgery also require additional glutamine. When the body is exposed to this stress or trauma it draws glutamine from skeletal muscle stores. In an attempt to heal itself, the body sends stored glutamine to damaged tissue.
As glutamine stores are depleted, the ability to heal damaged tissue is reduced. Catabolic stress, as associated with stress or trauma, can reduce glutamine levels by more than 50%. 1 This makes the category of who requires additional glutamine very broad; anybody who exercises, has lifestyle stress, is injured, or ill will benefit from glutamine supplementation. So if your boss does catch you, you'll probably need additional glutamine for stress and surgery.
"I train five days per week, work my butt off, and never seem to get anywhere. Not only that, I'm sick all of the time, irritable, and my ass drags about four feet behind me when I walk. I don't think I can train anymore than I do, but I want to see some results. What am I doing wrong?"
This was a question that somebody actually asked me recently; can anyone say overtraining? Sometimes getting slapped in the face every day isn't enough to wake someone up. As with many things in life, more is not always better (of course, with many things more is better - hey, get your mind out of the gutter).
Often diagnosed by using plasma glutamine levels as a marker, overtraining is a result of training volume or intensity increasing beyond the recovery time allowed. If not allowed sufficient recovery between workouts, the body can not adequately repair itself, thus resulting in OTS. OTS is responsible for diminished physical performance, immune problems, lethargy, and irritability.
What's more disappointing is that once a person has OTS, only time, rest, nutrition, and supplementation can help. Unfortunately, when more time is spent experiencing OTS, more time is necessary to recover.
Many athletes have OTS for as long as six months at a time. In a recent study, researchers had seven athletes engage in bouts of long distance running each day for ten consecutive days. Researchers determined that even after six days of recovery some athletes still had low plasma glutamine levels.
In the same study, researchers also found that after athletes performed just one workout of short sprints, their plasma glutamine levels dropped by 45%. 2 As you can see, the potential of developing low plasma glutamine levels can happen very easy, and these levels may remain low for quite some time.
I believe supplementing with glutamine is a wise way to maintain skeletal muscle glutamine stores as well as plasma glutamine levels. Maintaining glutamine stores and plasma levels may be the most effective way to limit the possibility of developing OTS. The old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has never been truer.
Growth hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland, is a very complex hormone consisting of 191 amino acids. Increasing lean body mass, reducing bodyfat, improving sexual performance, mood, memory, and alertness are all benefits linked to growth hormone. Unfortunately, at the age of about 30 the body begins to produce less growth hormone, and as we age that amount continues to decrease.
With a growth hormone decrease we can expect a reverse effect of its benefits. If we can prevent and turn around this decrease in growth hormone we may be able to put a little more wiggle in our walk, more lead in the pencil, and a little more ya in our yahoo. Dare I say, growth hormone could be the fountain of youth.
There are two ways to increase growth hormone: By using Recombinant Growth Hormone (synthetically produced in a lab, and administered by injections), or by stimulating our pituitary gland to naturally release more hormone. Recombinant growth hormone therapy can cost in excess of $20,000 per year, and in most cases is not covered under insurance.
For most people Recombinant Growth Hormone is not economically feasible. On the other hand, using products that stimulate the pituitary gland can provide a much thriftier way to increase growth hormone.
Glutamine has been proven an effective supplement in substantially raising plasma growth hormone levels. Forty-five minutes after eating a light breakfast, nine people were given a two-gram serving of glutamine. After only 30 minutes plasma growth hormone increased up to 430%, and returned to normal within 90 minutes. 3 With the ream of benefits that elevated growth hormone has, this research is certainly exciting.
If you are interested in an inexpensive way to maintain increased growth hormone you could consume two to five gram servings five to six times per day between meals. Growth hormone is naturally released shortly after you fall asleep; ensure that your last serving of glutamine is consumed shortly before bed.
How To Use Glutamine!
Answering the question of how much glutamine to consume is somewhat difficult. There is not one blanket answer to cover every variable. Things to consider when determining the amount of glutamine to consume include body weight, activity level, lifestyle stress, overall health, and diet. Another variable to consider is what you are using glutamine for. Is it to prevent OTS, stimulate growth hormone secretion, help boost your immune system, or replace sugar in your post-workout drink?
To assist in preventing OTS I recommend consuming glutamine both before and after training, and before bed. Again, there are too many variables to give you an exact amount to consume. Generally five to ten grams pre and post workout, and before bed is a good place to start. If you are on a very low carbohydrate diet, you may want to consider upping this amount, especially in your post-workout drink. Glutamine can increase glycogen storage by as much as 16 percent if consumed post-workout. 4
I have seen recommendations as high as .44 grams per lean pound of body weight. Consuming high levels of glutamine about a half an hour before a workout will leave you with a memorable experience. Upon experimenting with 30 grams of glutamine pre-workout, I experienced increased muscle volume to the point that I could no longer contract the muscle.
No other supplement, including creatine, has ever given that intensity of "pump" before. I must warn you, however, I have had some people tell me they experience nausea when consuming large amounts of glutamine per serving (even with large servings I have personally never experienced any side effects).
But, at the same time, they also said their workouts were some of the best they've ever had. Interestingly, while I was experimenting with larger servings (30 grams pre/during workout and 15 grams post-workout) I found it nearly impossible to get sore muscles.
Normally I'm hobbling around in shear pain for four or five days following a hard leg workout; I was obviously ecstatic to be able to walk around pain-free.
This experiment is hardly scientific, however, if you suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS - the intense muscle pain that occurs and peaks about 48 hours after a workout) I suggest you consider adding glutamine to your supplement routine.
Unfortunately, like so many other topics relating to our bodies, the amount of glutamine one should take offers no black and white blanket answer. Use the above recommendations as a guide and look to your body for feedback. If you gobble down 30 grams of glutamine, then feel like you're going to blow chunks, reduce your next serving size. If you have any nausea, or stomach discomfort start with small serving sizes and gradually introduce larger amounts.
Rarely in the sports supplement industry does one come across a product as diverse as glutamine. However, with flashy supplements hitting today's market, unfortunately glutamine has to play second fiddle. But, a solid body can never be built with these flashy supplements unless a solid foundation is first laid. If you are looking for a product that prevents sickness, speeds recovery, prevents sore muscles, and stimulates growth hormone production look no further than glutamine.
As I said earlier, glutamine is sexy. I'm glad I took some time to get better acquainted.
- Askanazi J, Carpenter YA, Michelsen CB, et al. Muscle and plasma amino acids following injury: Influence of intercurrent infection. Ann Surg 1980;192:78-85.
- Keast D, Arstein D, et al. Depression of plasma glutamine concentration after exercise stress and its possible influence on the immune system. Med J Aust, 162:15-8, 1995.
- Welbourne TC. Increased plasma bicorbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load. Am J Clin Nutr, 61: 1058-61, 1995.
- Varnier M, Leese GP, Thompson J, Rennie MJ. Stimulatory effect of glutamine on glycogen accumulation in human skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol 1995 Aug;269(2 Pt 1):E309-15