What is Glutamine?
Glutamine is the most abundant amino-acid in our body, it is known as a conditionally essential amino-acid because it can be produced in the body from branched-chain amino acids. However it may need replenishing via the diet and/or supplements if levels run low because of its importance in maintaining homeostasis (general internal wellbeing). The role of Glutamine is vast, and includes serving as a co-factor in the formation of the neurotransmitters Glutamate and GABA, as well as playing a part in our ability to replenish muscle tissue, maintain gastrointestinal (digestive tract) integrity and fight infection.
Glutamine- fuel to our immune system
Muscles release Glutamine as an energy source for Neutrophils, Macrophages and Lymphocytes, our main line of defence from invading bacteria and viruses. However, training has a profound impact on our circulating glutamine levels, resulting in a marked decline. This low glutamine count lasts for around 1-2 hours after training, exposing us to a reduced number of Neutrophils, Macrophages and Lymphocytes resulting in an ‘exercise induced immunosupression’ (reduced ability to fight infection). This immunosuppression is a co-factor in the all too common condition amongst athletes and resistance trainers....Overtraining. Glutamine has been used in the clinical setting to aid recovery from surgery, to support immune compromised patients such as those undergoing cancer treatments, and in patients with some form of infection.
How to prevent Glutamine deficiencies
Several factors impact on our Glutamine levels, including our overall health, infection, dietary adequacy and training. So in order to limit the occurrence and duration of Glutamine deficiencies, it is integral that we get the balance right between the factors we can control i.e. dietary/ supplement adequacy and training. Our nutritional requirements, particularly protein (including amino-acids such as Glutamine) and carbohydrate increase as a result of exercise. We must therefore include foods such as beef, pork, chicken, turkey and dairy, and have a portion of green leafy vegetables such as raw spinach and cabbage in at least one meal a day. However, the physical stress of intense physical and mental activity can mean our diet isn’t always adequate to meet requirements, and quite often we just don’t have time, meaning supplementation may be necessary during the 1-2 hour window after exercise!
Why should you Consider Glutamine?
Approximately 90% of the body’s Glutamine is found in the muscles, and as mentioned before, the muscles liberate this when demand increases. The nature of exercise and training places strain on our muscles, meaning an adequate external source of Glutamine could serve to preserve muscle and promote muscle synthesis, whilst replenishing ‘fuel’ for our immune system, maintaining health and reducing the risk of overtraining! Glutamine also supports osmotic regulation in our muscle cells, so through maintaining Glutamine pools (stores) we stand to cause a muscle swell (osmosis draws fluid into the cell) which aids healing, reducing muscle soreness and increasing muscle size. This said, Glutamine’s roles go far beyond maintaining muscle integrity and immune protection, it is also vital in gastrointestinal health and cell regeneration, plus it is a key mediator in the secretion of insulin- the ‘Anabolic Hormone’ (see our article on how Insulin can help you achieve your muscle and toning goals)