Glutamine, Creatine's Sexy Sister? Part I
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 poweders (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, volumize 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.
Are you overtraining?
“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.