Supplementing With Glutamine
What is Glutamine?
Glutamine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks to protein. Glutamine is not just any amino acid, it is the most abundant amino acid in our body - and highly concentrated in our muscles. Glutamine has recently been re-classified as a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that while the body can make glutamine, there are times when the body's need for glutamine is greater than its ability to produce glutamine.
What can Glutamine do for me?
Studies have shown that glutamine supplementation can do the following:
- Increase Protein synthesis (which leads to increased muscle mass)
- Increase nitrogen retention
- Decrease muscle breakdown
- Decrease recovery time needed after a workout
- Enhance immune functions
How does Glutamine produce all these positive effects?
In order to answer this question we first need to review how our body builds muscles. The key to building muscle mass is protein metabolism. Interestingly, our body does not make muscles while we workout, it is during the recovery time after we workout that muscles are made. Our body goes through a constant cycle of catabolism and anabolism. Or, in simpler terms - we are constantly going through cycles of protein synthesis and protein breakdown (remember, protein is the building block for muscles). During the stage of muscle catabolism we lose nitrogen and glutamine is stripped from our muscles. You see, our body needs glutamine for many other critical functions such as the immune system, and these functions take precedence over the building of muscles. Without any glutamine in the muscles we can not build muscle mass and in fact the muscles can start to breakdown.
The more stress our body is under the more glutamine that is pulled away from the muscles. And guess what- working out puts a lot of stress on the muscles. Ironically, when we work out we are really putting our body into a catabolic state and losing the glutamine that is essential to protein synthesis (which is how muscles are built). Now, if we supplement our body with glutamine before an intense workout we allow our body to keep a high supply of glutamine in the muscles and stop the muscle catabolism. This means the body can use the glutamine in the muscles to synthesize protein and build muscle mass. In addition, because there is enough glutamine for the whole body - the other critical functions such as the immune system have enough glutamine to perform their necessary functions.
An interesting side note, for years high levels of glutamine have been used in Emergency Rooms for patients that have been involved in a high trauma accident. When a person is in a car accident, their body is put into a stressful situation and begins to enter a catabolic state. The muscles start to breakdown as the body quickly starts to pull glutamine from the muscles to deal with other more serious problems. Doctors have found that giving patients a high dosage of glutamine is very effective in preventing the muscle breakdown. To a much smaller scale the same theory holds true when you work out - if you keep a high level of free glutamine, your body will not need to pull glutamine out of the muscles when the stress begins.
Who should take glutamine supplements?
If you perform any type of serious workout you should consider taking a glutamine supplement. In addition, if you are going through any type of stressful event or just trying to fight off the cold or flu - glutamine can be very helpful.
The following people should NOT take glutamine:
- People with kidney problems
- People with cirrhosis of the liver
- People with Reye's syndrome
- Pregnant women
- Women who are breast feeding