What Is Glutamine?
So the question is… what is glutamine? And why the heck do we need it in our supplement regime? To put it in simple terms – Glutamine is one of the 20 natural amino acids that combine in unique sequences to build proteins in the body. Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body, which constitutes 25% of free amino acids found in the extracellular fluid and more than 60% in the muscles.
Generally, these amino acids can be split into 2 main categories: essential and non/semi-essential. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, but for athletes and those who take part in regular exercise, it is actually considered to be semi-essential.
How come? You ask, well this is because during regular intense exercise, due to the high level of stress that is exerted on our muscles, the body’s limited supply and endogenous production of glutamine is no longer enough to meet the increased physical demands.
Why Should Athletes Consume Glutamine?
Generally, proteins consumed in a balanced diet provide around 5 to 10 g of glutamine a day. The skeletal muscle is where free amino acids are stored, making it the largest reserve of glutamine. Glutamine’s direct effects on muscle performance and recovery is what makes this supplement a great partner for us athletes from all different disciplines and a supplement that for me, is core.
In the body, the muscles, lungs and liver are all producers of glutamine, whereby glutamine pools in extracellular amino acids are utilized by the body in states of stress injury, infection, or intense levels of training. That’s why for athletes, glutamine supplementation is important, as the physical demands of muscles are increased, and unlike those who are sedimentary, the body’s natural synthesis can become insufficient. Without supplementation during training we can often fall into a deficit or negative balance of glutamine.
How Do Glutamine Supplements Work?
In simple terms the purpose of glutamine supplementation is to keep our muscle pools at an optimum level so these amino acids can be directly delivered to the muscles and various organs when in need.
When we exercise glycogen is the body’s main source of fuel- however, when these supplies are quickly used up the body begins to break down muscle protein and use their amino acid components as fuel. Consuming 5-10g of glutamine before a workout can increase intra and extracellular levels and thus decrease the overall breakdown of muscle. Glutamine is one of the unique amino acids that can be directly used as a source of energy in the muscles. The effects of supplementation can also lead to an improvement in the synthesis of glutathione and therefore act to reduce free oxygen radicals and muscle catabolism.
Glutamine’s inverse effect on muscle catabolism presents a series of benefits for athletes, which can improve the body’s nitrogen balance to a positive level. This positive nitrogen balance can successfully promote muscle anabolism and enhance the synthesis of nucleotides and lymphocytes – which also serve as fuel and help to maintain immune system function.
What Are The Benefits of Glutamine?
Some of Glutamine’s many benefits include:
- It’s a precursor of protein synthesis.
- Glutamine participates in the transport of nitrogen between organs and tissues and amino acid homeostasis.
- Glutamine is involved in active cell replication.
- Is a source of carbon for gluconeogenesis and the Krebs cycle of some cells such as enterocytes.
- Prevents muscle protein catabolism.
- It is very important in the critically ill as a substrate for the synthesis of glutathione, which is a major endogenous antioxidant.
- Is the main substrate of renal ammoniagenesis and helps to regulate the acid-base status.
- Is involved in osmotic regulation cells; This is important because when a cell undergoes catabolism a main cause of this is dehydration, however during osmotic regulation the water content of a cell can be increased- meaning the cell can be hydrated and decrease catabolism. In order for this process occur there are a series of intracellular signals which are mainly related to glutamine.
- It is the main metabolic fuel for carbon and nitrogen. Glutamine can act to aid rapid cell proliferation which can support the intestinal mucosal immune system and healing.
- Recently, it has been found to be related to the prevention of insulin resistance.
A Take Home Message
Glutamine may be a so called “semi essential” amino acid but for athletes this supplement holds vital importance. Don’t be fooled by miraculous formulas and good marketing- proper supplementation should be simple, smart and focused on our goals.