Does Glutamine Help Muscle Recovery?

cropped-bangalore-steroids-supplements-india-bodybuilding-body-9515244_std1Welcome back to the series that is looking at many of the different supplements on the market to see if the claims made by them are true or not. This week we will be taking a closer look at the fairly commonly used supplement glutamine. The main claims made by glutamine are that it reduces muscle breakdown, supports muscle growth and muscle recovery. There are also claims that glutamine can help with immune function.

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. It is produced in the muscles and distributed by the blood to the organs that need it. Skeletal muscles are the tissues most involved in glutamine synthesis, which is probably what leads many to believe glutamine is helpful in building muscle. The question becomes is this correlation or causation? So let’s do that thing we do and take a look at the research.

One reason why someone might want to take glutamine to supplement their training would be because of a drop in glutamine levels from training. The effects of exercise on plasma glutamine concentration appears to be dependent on the duration and intensity of exercise. Research on short-term (less than an hour) high intensity exercise has been fairly inconclusive. Some research actually shows an increase in plasma glutamine levels in short-term high intensity exercise (1) while others show no change. Either way it’s clear short-term exercise does not cause a drop in plasma glutamine concentration.

hqdefaultWhen it comes to more prolonged bouts of exercise, however, the research pretty consistently shows plasma glutamine levels fall below pre-exercise levels. In one study by Robson et al. (1999) researchers took 18 healthy males and looked at the effects of exercise at 80% of VO2max resulting in fatigue in under an hour as well as more prolonged exercise at a lesser rate of 55% VO2max for up to 3 hours. What the research showed was continuous cycling at 55% VO2 max for 3 hours resulted in a decrease in plasma glutamine concentration from 580 μmol/L pre-exercise to 447 μmol/L after 1 hour recovery. In contrast continuous cycling at 80% VO2max with a mean endurance time of 38 minutes in the same subjects did not alter plasma glutamine concentration. (2) This might suggest supplementing with glutamine post-workout could be of some benefit for longer endurance type training, but not for short-term high intensity exercise.

The previous research was done utilizing cardiorespiratory training and I’m sure you’d like to know more about what happens from muscle damage. After all, that’s what supplement companies claim it helps with and most readers of this site are interested in muscle. Well, Gleeson et al. (1998) looked at severe exercise-induced muscle damage and how it alters plasma concentrations of glutamine. Peak soreness came 2 days post-exercise and peak creatine kinase activity (signs of muscle damage) came 3 days post-exercise. The exercise-induced muscle damage did not produce changes in plasma glutamine concentrations nor was there any evidence of reduced muscle soreness when consuming glutamine compared with placebo. (3)

bodybuilding1That certainly doesn’t bode well for the claims that supplementing with glutamine reduces muscle breakdown and supports muscle recovery does it? In fact in all my research I was unable to find any evidence from peer-reviewed journals that supplementing with glutamine has a beneficial effect on muscle repair or reduced muscle soreness.

When it comes to overtrained athletes, glutamine levels have been shown to be low, however, a lot of things go wrong in the body with individuals who are overtrained. That said, what I found interesting was research by Kingsbury et al. (1998) showed inadequate protein intake could lead to overtraining and reduced plasma glutamine levels in elite athletes and taking in an additional 20-30 grams of protein can restore depressed plasma glutamine levels in overtrained athletes. (4) Perhaps instead of worrying about taking a glutamine supplement one would be better off including foods high in glutamine which just so happens to come mostly from animal proteins as well as some plant proteins such as spinach.

So glutamine does not appear to do anything in terms of helping build muscle, but what about the claims that it can help with immune function? If it can help you stay healthy, perhaps it could still be worth it. Many believe those who frequently train are more susceptible to catch an illness and have lowered immune function due to the body constantly recovering from training.

2e219af2002061f24f3ddd28The premise behind glutamine helping with immune function starts with the thought that if a decrease in plasma glutamine concentration from training (which we now know only happens in long-term endurance training) limits the availability of glutamine for cells of the immune system, then preventing the fall in plasma glutamine by supplementing with it would prevent this immune impairment.

Krzywkowski et al. (2001) looked at just this very subject. They had subjects cycle for 2 hours at 75% VO2max on 2 separate days. Subjects were given either glutamine or a placebo. While glutamine supplementation did prevent a decline in glutamine concentration it did not prevent the decrease in natural killer cells (a type of cytotoxic lymphocyte critical to the innate immune system.) (5) This matches similar research by Rohde et al. (1998) (6) Yet another bust for glutamine.

I think it goes without saying by now, but I’m going to say it anyway. Despite the low price tag of glutamine supplements, it does not appear to be worth your money. It doesn’t seem to do any of the things it claims to. About the only cases where I can think it may be of use is for extreme endurance athletes such as marathon runners and in people with an inflammatory gastrointestinal disorder. 1379784_731649036851693_518524751_nOtherwise you are better off spending your money elsewhere. This probably comes as bad news to some people, some of which I personally know who are avid glutamine users. Although as the saying goes, whether something is placebo or not, it works…

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This article was researched and written by Colin DeWaay

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9 comments for “Does Glutamine Help Muscle Recovery?

  1. Jim
    January 26, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    I always use a golf ball muscle roller to massage my muscles and take biosteel supplements which really helps my muscles recover. What do you think?

    • Lifestyle and Strength
      January 27, 2015 at 4:40 am

      If it works for you Jim, then keep doing it.

  2. February 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Hey Dara,

    Didn’t you just get over your 2nd bout of being really sick in the last month or two? 😉 Haha! Actually yes the research on natural killer cells was on all males. If you had digestion issues it’s very well likely glutamine would help with that based on what I’ve seen!

    • February 3, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Haha! :p seriously though, it’s interesting you point that out. Before I started taking Glutamine I would get a bad cold a couple times a year. It would be about a week of a sore throat, congestion, coughing and sneezing. And since Glutamine, nothing. The sicknesses you are referring to were 1) right around the time I left my job and was under a lot of stress and I got sick right after – but was better in 2-3 days versus the usual week and the symptoms weren’t nearly as bad as in the past and 2) the second recent time was a couple weeks ago when I was sleeping poorly and started feeling unwell so I doubled my glutamine and was better in a day. Anecdotal evidence I know, but I’ll take it 🙂 I’m just curious about the correlation between men having more muscle mass and therefore possibly higher amounts of glutamine.

      • February 3, 2014 at 3:08 pm

        Definitely and by all means if it works for you stick with what works for you! Like I said in my last article, even if it’s just the placebo effect, it still works right? Or perhaps your body just has really low level naturally, who knows. Everyone is different! I did do a quick search just now and didn’t find anything about the correlation between men / more muscle mass and higher amounts of glutamine. Interesting theory though!

      • February 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm

        And since you mention it and I think back, it really does seem like everyone I know who is huge on glutamine is a female. huh….

  3. February 3, 2014 at 7:10 am

    When I first started taking Glutamine it was for muscle recovery and I didn’t know about the supposed immune and digestion benefits. It was only after I noted that I wasn’t getting sick or that “run down” feeling as often and also wasn’t having the digestion problems that I usually had that I made the connection and found this info on further research into Glutamine. I would be curious to know if all of the research subjects were male?

  4. February 3, 2014 at 5:47 am

    Hello there!

    I have enjoyed reading this post of yours. As far as I know, Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. It is actually produced in the muscles and distributed by the blood to the organs that needs it.

    • February 3, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      Thank you George and yes sir you are correct!

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