The Skinny Guy's/Gal's Guide To Glutamine by Vince DelMonte
When was the last time you read an article discrediting the effects of glutamine? Maybe this will be your first one? Unfortunately, the majority of bodybuilding and muscle magazines still have this supplement on their "Top 5 Lists." I am not here to convince you to never buy another tub of glutamine again, but if stay with me, I will do my best to debunk some of the common myths that have led you to believe that this expensive supplement is necessary.
But I Thought Glutamine Was A "No Brainer" Supplement?
Creatine is a 'no brainer' supplement, protein powder is a 'no brainer' supplement, multi vitamins and fish oils are 'no brainer' supplements. Sorry, Glutamine, you did not make the team - despite the fact it gets its own message boards, chat rooms, magazine articles and its own section in the supplement store. I don't need to remind you that the supplement industry is a billion-dollar industry. Since I used to be a skinny guy myself, I know how badly you want to build the perfect body - or at least one that gets you more dates and more respect at the gym!
Since I have already wasted thousands of dollars on certain, not all, supplements myself, I feel an obligation to tell you the other side of the story. To reveal the glutamine research that NOBODY wants you to read. But this is obvious - nobody makes money disproving the credibility of a hot selling supplement!
So here is where I will make my stand. Glutamine has no muscle-building effects whatsoever. Now before we get too deep, remember that I am not a PH.D student or a research geek. I will pass along the information and let you decide for yourself, and, in the process, do my best to make this fun and interesting.
Here is a quick introduction for you skinny guys who have never heard of glutamine. Glutamine makes up 2/3's of the amino acids in our body, which could make a strong case for it being the most important. Understand that glutamine is also a non-essential amino acid which means your body produces it by itself. This does not mean you do not need it - only that external consumption is not mandatory. The most interesting fact about glutamine is that during times of stress (which is not clearly defined), our amino acid pool is depleted which can prevent muscle growth since glutamine makes up the greatest percentage of amino acids. Hence, the theory for supplementing with glutamine if you weight train.
I cut and pasted these right out of random chat room just to show you I am more in tune with the word on the street:
"...glutamine helps with weight training and prevents muscle soreness..."
"...you need glutamine to repair your muscles."
"...supplemental glutamine can help prevent your body from losing muscle."
"...glutamine is not worthless. I train with bodybuilders every day and they recommend it."
"Glutamine is the most important supplement for bodybuilders..."
"It boosts immune function which helps you recover from colds much quicker.."
"Taking large amounts of glutamine before a workout contributes to huge pumps..."
"Glutamine assists in situations of trauma which contributes to faster recovery..."
What Glutamine Sales Reps Are Afraid Of You Discovering
Although the majority of glutamine supplementation hoopla praises its contribution to increased muscle size and strength, decreased chance of overtraining and the other claims above, current research today gives no evident benefits for the skinny guy who wants to build muscle - never mind for any weight trainer in general.
Recently I received an article from a fellow colleague, David Barr MSc., who collected a large batch of research with an exhaustive reference list supporting the notion that glutamine is useful for only very specific conditions (which we will discuss shortly).
Here is a list of some of the most interesting data that David Barr found in his research with my extra commentary:
Just because glutamine has been proven to work in clinical stress testting does not mean it equates to exercise stress that you experience after a killer workout. Clinical stress such as severe burns, AIDS and extensive surgery are good reasons to warrant its, use but you simply don't cause enough muscular damage during your workouts to justify its use.
A 2001 study by Candow et al determined that 0.9g of supplemental glutamine/kg/day during weight training resulted in no considerable effect on muscle performance, body composition or muscle breakdown on healthy adults. Since I am just over 200 lbs that is 80 grams of glutamine a day or over $1000 US in glutamine a year! If 80 grams was shown to have no anti-catabolic effects, why would you waste your money on taking the recommended 5-10 grams per day?
The majority of the research on endurance athletes has revealed minimal contribution in regards to enhancement of the immune system. More significantly, a number of studies disclosed information that glutamine supplementation does not alter exercise-induced suppression of the immune system. Contrary to popular belief, whether your glutamine levels drop or not after training, they have no impact on immunity. - Hiscock N, Pedersen BK. Exercise-induced immunodepression- plasma glutamine is not the link. J Appl Physiol 2002 Sep;93(3):813-22
Many claim that glutamine helps increase your 'pump' by improving cell volumization. Dr. John Berardi, Ph.D, did some preliminary testing and discovered nothing to support this. Glutamine supplementation has no response on total body water, intra-cellular fluid levels, or extra-cellular fluid levels. - Dr. John M Berardi, Ph.D., Appetite For Construction, JohnBerardi.com 2002 Nov 8
It is still a question whether or not glutamine improves glycogen stores post-weight training. But why should you care? If you are already consuming a post-workout drink with sugary carbs to replenish glycogen (this is mandatory for any skinny guy who wants to build muscle), then further supplementation with glutamine is unnecessary.
In conclusion, studies that tested athletes who consumed an amino acid drink post-workout showed an increase in protein synthesis by 48%. However, when glutamine was added to the drink, no additional benefits occurred. That blows the muscle-building theory out the window!
So Is Glutamine A Worthless Supplement?
Well, if you stopped reading right now you would think so! And you are probably confused as heck right now because everything you have heard on glutamine before today praised its holiness. Remember, the supplement industry is a billion-dollar industry and nobody makes money by disproving the effectiveness of supplements. In the end, you must decide for yourself what you wish to believe.
When Glutamine Is Worth Using
David Barr fingers a few situations when glutamine supplement will prove useful for the bodybuilder, so here is a chance to see if your glutamine should still be in your budget:
Glutamine supplementation could prove useful for bodybuilders who decrease their testosterone levels after coming off a cycle improperly. Muscle breakdown is at its highest in these circumstances despite a quality nutrition plan, so glutamine might help.
During a pre-contest training regiment that consists of very low calories and high volumes of exercise, protein breakdown is much more likely. Basically, any extreme dieting or fat loss program with the hopes of getting extremely lean can result in increased stress, therefore increased catabolism. Competitive bodybuilders and fitness models are perfect examples of those who might benefit from glutamine supplementation in this above-normal fat loss situation.
During incidences of extreme weather conditions and/or multi day training, there are situations where extreme stress can be counteract with glutamine supplementation. Triathletes and endurance athletes come to mind.
Glutamine supplementation would be beneficial for conditions where catabolic waste is at its peak. Severe burns, severe colds or flu's, severe allergies, alcoholism, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, irritable bowel syndrome are a few examples.
At the start I stated that, "Glutamine has no muscle building effects whatsoever." After reviewing this article, you will notice that is not as black and white as that. However, the take home message, especially to you skinny guys, is that if you are on a proper muscle-building meal plan and using solid post-workout nutrition strategies, glutamine is not a worthwhile supplement for you. Save your money and put it towards food if you are motivated to gain muscle weight.
Save your money and put it towards food if you are motivated to gain muscle weight.
I hope this supplement was a good example of looking at the evidence rather then the hyped-up muscle rags and advice from the 'expert' at your gym. In the end, you are free to believe what you wish, but remember that the current research today does not support the spectacular muscle-building effects supplement companies claim.
1. Barr, David J., CSCS, MSc. Candidate. Glutamine Destroying the Dogma,
Part 1 http://www.t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=461188
Part 2 http://www.t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=459884
2. Berardi, Dr. John M, Ph.D. Appetite For Construction, JohnBerardi.com 2002 Nov 8
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