Is Glutamine an Essential Supplement for Weight Training?

Glutamine has to be one of the most misunderstood and hyped up supplements in the area of sports. If you ask ten different people about what glutamine is and what it does you will probably get 10 different answers. Many bodybuilders and strength athletes use glutamine because they say it helps their recovery.


By Alex Miller

Glutamine has to be one of the most misunderstood and hyped up supplements in the area of sports.  If you ask ten different people about what glutamine is and what it does you will probably get ten different answers.  Many bodybuilders and strength athletes use glutamine because they say it helps their recovery.  In fact, they say the only way for it to have any effect is to take a large number of grams every day.  Exactly how recovery is helped is a subject for some debate.  Most articles about it are nonsense written only to get you to buy tubs of the stuff.

What is glutamine?

Glutamine is the most abundant naturally occurring amino acid in the body.   Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins and glutamine is one of the few that can actually cross the blood brain barrier so it is quite a popular component in the body’s physiology.  Under normal circumstances it is not an essential amino acid which means that there is no need to supplement with it with the same idea as you would take extra protein to support anabolism (bigger muscles).  In fact, your body is probably producing its normal amount and storing plenty of it in your muscles if you are eating some of these:  Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, dairy products, wheat, cabbage, beets, beans, spinach, parsley, tofu, cheese and yogurt.  About 90% of the glutamine synthesized in the body is in the muscles.  In fact, when study [1] testing is done to see how much glutamine is present in muscle mass, biopsies are sometimes taken from the vastus lateralis (outside biggest quadriceps muscle).

First let us get some misunderstandings out of the way:

 I’m too fat.  Should I take glutamine for weight loss?

No, there is no evidence or studies to show that supplementing with glutamine helps to lose fat.  It is not a fat burner or diet pill.  Fat loss is only possible through burning more calories than you put in your mouth and limiting the amount of carbohydrate foods you eat.

I’m a scrawny guy.  Will glutamine help me with weight gain?

No, you just need to eat more healthy food, train for hypertrophy, and perhaps look into increased daily protein on the order of some whey protein supplementation.  Glutamine won’t affect weight gain directly although it does play a role in protein synthesis as any other amino acid.

Will glutamine affect my weight training performance?

No, supplementing with glutamine will not affect your lifting directly.  One study [2] shows that it has no direct effect on strength performance.  It is not like Creatine Monohydrate which acts as a cell volumizer and helps you get that extra rep or two when doing a set.

What is the difference between glutamine and L-glutamine?

They are the same.  When you buy a supplement product off a store shelf, it will usually have L-glutamine written on it.  There are “L” forms and “D” forms of amino acids (as in d-glutamine).  The “L” is latin for “levo” (left) which refers to a particular molecular configuration to the left and is the one sold for human consumption.

What is the relationship of glutamine to the immune system?

When you engage in a very intense anaerobic workout, your immune system takes a huge hit as does your body’s glutamine levels—and this is very interesting:  If the concentrations of glutamine in your body were measured immediately after a stressful resistance type of workout session, they would be at roughly the same levels as when you began.  After about two hours, however, those levels would have decreased by as much as 30-35%.   (The levels of some essential amino acids, by the way, would decrease as well by that time).

Where does the glutamine go?  There is some evidence [3] to suggest that is is used by white blood cells, lymphocytes and neutrophils, as metabolic fuel.  Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cells of your immune system.  They travel through your bloodstream and migrate very quickly to areas of trauma in the body where there is inflammation or infection.

If your immune system needs more fuel in the form of glutamine to recover then it only makes sense that you should supplement heavily with it, right?    In one study [4] where subjects were given 20-30 grams of glutamine daily to see if this affected their white blood cell count.  It was found that although glutamine is needed for the rapid reproduction of lymphocytes (white blood cells), the levels of glutamine after a stressful workout done by “healthy, well nourished humans” do not fall low enough for white blood cells in the immune system to need more help to repopulate.

The study goes on to say that although healthy people can tolerate such large daily amounts (20-30 grams) of glutamine, administering mega doses of the supplement does not prove to support the immune system nor appear to have any miraculous anti-catabolic effects.  If you’re healthy and eating nutritiously with enough vitamins, nutrients and minerals and staying hydrated, drinking lots of water, your immune system will take care of itself.

You already have a lot of glutamine stored up under normal circumstances.  Here is the other side of the story and where the debate originates from:

The benefits of Glutamine Supplementation

A person may have adequate nutrition but sometimes under extra-ordinary physical conditions, the immune system is put into constant jeopardy.  In the realm of Sports science, there are studies [5] [6] that show that with overtraining syndrome (OTS) among elite athletes, glutamine levels are much lower than normal.  It is therefore suggested that glutamine levels should be monitored and tested at regular intervals during the training program.  If the levels are low then extra rest may be indicated as well as mega doses of glutamine supplementation.  This is when glutamine becomes what is called a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning, it is necessary to take extra from outside sources.

There are other types of conditions similar to severe athletic overtraining at an elite level that may cause the glutamine stores in the muscles to never fully recover unless there is ample supplementation.  Glutamine levels may become low due to immunosuppression due to bone marrow transplants, burns, surgery, and sepsis.  There is one study [7] concerning bone marrow transplant patients who experienced less infection and whose hospital stay was shortened due to glutamine supplementation.

The Bottom Line
Should you supplement your weight training regimen with glutamine?  If you are training two or three hours a week for about a half hour to forty five minutes at a time or less then you probably don’t need it.  Save your money.  If, however, you are training six days a week and approaching elite levels of performance then it may be indicated to take mega doses in powder form mixed with some kind of liquid.  Also if you knew you were going in for some kind of invasive elective surgery it probably wouldn’t hurt to stock up on glutamine and start supplementing immediately.


[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18931969

[2]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11834123

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12696982

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18806122

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16389883

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8775515

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10582122

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