Glutamine is one of twenty amino acids. When you consume foods which contain protein (meat, eggs, dairy, beans, etc.), your body breaks the protein down into the basic building blocks called amino acids which are used to build and repair muscle tissue (and other structures) in the body. 9 out of the 20 amino acids are named essential amino acids (EAAs), as these must be either consumed from food or supplemented as needed. Your body can produce the other 11 amino acids itself by recycling protein that is broken down in the body (a normal and constant process) and glutamine is one such amino acid. Glutamine is produced mostly in muscle and then released into the blood where it can travel to other places for use. Glutamine is crucial for a healthy immune response, intestinal function and during times of severe stress. Glutamine is found in many foods so those consuming an adequate balanced diet consume glutamine daily.
Although glutamine is not an EAA, it is considered a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning it is usually not essential, except in times of illness or stress. That is why glutamine supplementation is considered for use in a variety of situations including burns, critical illness, post-surgery recovery and more such as athletic performance. Muscle is constantly being built and broken down in the body. In order for new muscle to be built, the body must have a large enough supply of all the essential amino acids and the non-essential amino acids to meet the body’s demands.
For active individuals and athletes, supplementing with glutamine may support the immune system and prevent infection, improve gut barrier function, greater water absorption from the gut, stimulation of muscle glycogen (energy) stores, stimulation of muscle building and growth, reducing muscle soreness and improving muscle repair as well as improved intensity of exercise performance. Athlete or not glutamine is an important energy source for the cells that make up the intestines as well as the immune system. It plays an important role in supporting the maintenance of the defense barrier between the outside world (things consumed) and the rest of the body.
Glutamine can be found in a variety of foods. Some of the better sources include meat, dairy, eggs, raw spinach and kale, parsley, fresh beans, beets, carrots, brussels sprouts, grains (e.g. oats and whole wheat), nuts (e.g. almonds, pistachios and walnuts) and nut butters. Eating a variety of foods can help ensure the body receives enough of all of the amino acids it needs along with energy and other nutrients to perform at it’s best. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can answer more specific questions about food and performance and help guide athletes based on their needs and goals. A Dietitian or member of a care team can help guide consideration of supplementation and dosing if appropriate for individuals with increased needs.
Supplementation with glutamine is considered relatively safe and well-tolerated by most healthy individuals. There is a possible role of glutamine in promoting muscle glycogen (energy storage) and protein building. In these settings glutamine supplementation can be an added benefit as a part of their medical care.