What are the Pros and Cons of Glutamine for Bodybuilding?

Kelly Waterman

Bodybuilding is, essentially, the concerted effort of repeatedly pushing muscles to the point of muscle failure. The soreness felt in the days after a workout is the result of thousands of tiny tears in the muscle tissue. Research has indicated that higher-than-normal levels of the amino acid glutamine in the body during this recovery stage can help the body heal faster. That makes this recovery stage the ideal time for a person to start supplementing his diet with glutamine for bodybuilding. While it is generally considered safe, there are potential drawbacks that a person should know before beginning to take glutamine supplements.

The chemical structure of glutamine.
The chemical structure of glutamine.

Glutamine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the human body. It is not considered an essential amino acid, so a person typically doesn’t need to take a glutamine supplement. Studies of supplemental glutamine, however, have shown its promise as an addition to the diet of specific groups. Research points to a positive connection between the body’s immune system, the body’s required healing and recovery time, and levels of glutamine in the body.

Research suggests that glutamine can boost a bodybuilder's immune system and help his body heal more quickly.
Research suggests that glutamine can boost a bodybuilder's immune system and help his body heal more quickly.

Supplementing with glutamine for bodybuilding has gained favor because of research showing that the body may be able to recover more quickly from the muscle breakdown incurred from bodybuilding. A faster recovery means bodybuilders can get back to the gym sooner. It also means they will be able to workout harder than they could if their muscle fibers were still busy rebuilding themselves.

The research hasn’t been centered specifically on glutamine for bodybuilding and recovery time; it has been focused on health care, in general. Specifically, post-operative hospital patients were given supplemental glutamine, and the changes in the body’s ability to return to a normal pre-operative state were studied. Researchers found that patients who had been given glutamine recovered from surgery faster than those who had not. They also had a lower incidence of post-surgical infection or illness. The bodybuilding and dietary supplement industries have interpreted those studies to indicate that glutamine aids in recovery from all types of injuries, including those tiny muscle tears incurred during weightlifting.

Additional research is needed to determine if interpretations of the benefits of glutamine for bodybuilding are correct. In the meantime, studies have show glutamine to be generally safe to use as a supplement for bodybuilding, though side effects are possible. For example, people with liver disease should not take glutamine, which will worsen the condition. It also may trigger seizures in those with such disorders, and people who are sensitive to monosodium glutamate might have a similar reaction to glutamine. The amino acid may also have negative interactions with certain cancer therapy drugs and anti-seizure medications.

Only a small amount, about 2 grams, is needed to create a rise in blood-glutamine levels sufficient to offer the reported positive effects. Anything over the indicated dose does not pose significant risks or benefits — outside of the potential side effects — to the consumer. The excess will simply be excreted by the kidneys.

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