Glutamine. Have you heard of it? Do you use it? It’s a nutritional supplement – specifically, an amino acid that some athletes use to recover more quickly after workouts and to prevent getting sick. I’ve used it in the past regularly. These days I use it strategically and sparingly.
How do you know whether or not to supplement with glutamine? Let’s look at the three reasons you might want to try this supplement:
1. You’re in an intense period of heavy training.
When you’re training hard and working out often, you need to recover fast and not get sick. Glutamine has been shown in some studies to promote muscle glycogen synthesis – which means helping you to recover more quickly following a workout. That said, it should also be noted that reviewers have concluded eating enough carbohydrates immediately post-workout will do the same thing (drink that recovery shake!).
Training hard and often opens up the possibility of pushing you into a state of being overtrained. Studies show that overtrained athletes are also low in glutamine and being low in glutamine may make you more susceptible to getting sick. Therefore, supplementing with glutamine may prevent illness (more on this below).
As a side note, while glutamine has also been studied for potential enhancement of muscular strength, studies have not been able to show that glutamine supplementation makes any difference when it comes to endurance, lean muscle mass or muscle strength.
2. You’ve struggled with constantly catching the latest bug going around.
Glutamine is used as fuel by the cells of our immune systems. It is actually the most abundant amino acid found in our bodies but it decreases after an intense hard or long run. It then remains low until we’ve completely recovered, leaving us more susceptible to catching the latest cold or flu being so generously passed around. For this reason, supplementation with glutamine immediately following a tough workout may help to prevent us from getting sick by boosting our immune system.
Research has not given us a clear answer on whether or not this really works. While some studies do report lower rates of sickness among athletes who consumed glutamine in their post-workout recovery drink, others found it had no effect on immunity (although it did help to boost post-workout glutamine levels back up to normal levels).
Anecdotally, I hear the same thing. Some athletes swear by glutamine for their continued health, while others don’t really notice any difference at all.
3. You suffer from “leaky gut” or other digestive problems.
Gut permeability, or “leaky gut” is a problem associated with food sensitivities & allergies, abdominal pain, bloating, heartburn, muscle cramps, constipation & diarrhea, fatigue, and constant hunger pains. Supplementation with glutamine has been shown to reduce gut permeability, thereby alleviating the associated symptoms. While there are foods and supplements that I believe have a stronger positive effect on “leaky gut” conditions (such as probiotics), glutamine is another option worth considering.
Glutamine may be worth a try if you’re training hard, constantly getting sick or struggling with digestive issues. If you do decide to try using glutamine, use it for no longer than 4 months at one time and then take a break from it for at least 4 months. Consult your health care professional or follow the directions on the bottle for dosage, but generally adding 1 heaping teaspoon into your recovery shake following your run or workout will do the trick.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that first and foremost it is an overall healthful diet that will keep you strong and healthy. In fact, glutamine is naturally produced in our muscles from another amino acid called glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is found in raw cabbage, spinach and parsley. So add shredded cabbage to your salads and drink your green smoothies, such as this Tropical Green Smoothie which provides a good 3-4 cups of leafy greens per serving!Glutamine simply cannot do the same thing that a balanced, anti-inflammatory and plant-strong diet can do for you.
Additionally, if you already use a protein powder, you’re getting enough glutamine (it’s found in all protein powders, and in high amounts in whey). Therefore there’s no need to additionally supplement with glutamine. In fact, that may only serve to abnormally spike your levels of glutamine leaving your body to try and balance it’s amino acids.
Do you use or have you ever used glutamine? What has your experience been? Let me know in the comments below!
And as always… Happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RHN