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Do I Even Need Glutamine?

There you are, at your supplement station, making another post-workout shake immediately after a grueling lifting session.  You only feed your muscles the best and, as you admire your pump while you manhandle little shovels and tubs of powder, you hesitate….

“Do I even need the glutamine?”  At first you heard it was great for recovery, so you started taking it and saw some increases at the gym.  Unfortunately you also started taking BCAA’s, beta-alanine, creatine and god-knows-what-else around the same time.  Now you’re not sure if it had anything to do with your increases or if it’s even necessary to maintain your gains, but you’re not willing to risk it and cut it out of your stack.  

To start: Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid of the human body1.  So yes, you absolutely need glutamine. The real question you’re asking is “Do I really need glutamine supplementation?”

According to a study by McMaster University, the addition of glutamine to post-exercise shakes had no effect on muscle protein synthesis but may suppress proteolysis (catabolism) during the later stages of recovery2. Luckily preventing catabolism is something gym rats have had the solution to for awhile: eat more, eat often.  Supplementing with glutamine will be no replacement for a balanced diet, however a balanced diet is a great replacement for glutamine supplementation.  On average glutamine makes up nearly 5% of the amino acids in the protein of meat and almost 9% of the amino acids in milk and milk products (Whey & Casein)3.  So if you’re like 99% of the weightlifting world you’re already consuming enough milk proteins and chicken breast to meet any glutamine requirements your body needs to recover from your grueling workouts.

Glutamine does have another role however.  Glutamine is a great supplementation when the body has been critically injured or is experiencing illness4. In these situations glutamine becomes the preferred fuel source for rapidly proliferating cells (white blood cells).

My recommendation: keep a jar of glutamine on hand for times of illness or when you feel as though your injuries are severe enough to require it.  Other than that, keep it out of your daily workout stack and keep it simple for maximum uptake.

 

Sources

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9045524 – Glutamine: effects on the immune system, protein balance and intestinal functions.
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17111006 – Addition of glutamine to essential amino acids and carbohydrate does not enhance anabolism in young human males following exercise.
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19756030 – Evaluation of a novel food composition database that includes glutamine and other amino acids derived from gene sequencing data.
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2080048 – Is glutamine a conditionally essential amino acid?