Glutamine is traditionally labeled a “non-essential” amino acid. An amino acid is non-essential if it can be produced in the human body. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in our blood. However, when we work out, become sick, injured or are post-surgery, our body’s demand for glutamine increases. This is because glutamine plays a key role in our immune system. In these situations, glutamine becomes “conditionally essential:” aka we need to supplement our diet with glutamine.
Current research displays that the immune system utilizes high levels of glutamine, specifically during functions such as nitric oxide production and NADPH production. The production of NADPH from NADP+ is prevalent through the entire immune system and is necessary for potent immune function. High levels of immune function are required most coming out of surgery and after high intensity exercise.
Assuming that most of you reading this blog relate better to high intensity exercise than surgery, optimizing your immune system while training at high intensity will allow your body to recover faster and stronger because less energy is wasted to fight off infection. Having a strong immune system is a huge bonus whether you are trying to get your first pull-up or training 3x a day to get ready for the CrossFit Games as it allows you to train harder and more often.
There is no understood upper limit to glutamine supplementation, though little research has found anything over 25g a day to be beneficial. Therefore, having a rounded teaspoon 1 – 3 times a day (morning, post-WOD, evening) will aid the most in topping off your immune system and allowing you to train harder and longer the next day.
P.S. – If you have an injury, make sure to take increased amounts of glutamine, such as 5 rounded teaspoons a day.
Castell, L.M. & Newsholme, E.A. (1997) The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged exhaustive exercise. Nutrition, 13, 738-742.
Newsholme, P. (2001) Why is L-Glutamine metabolism important to cells of the immune system in health, postinjury, surgery or infection? Journal of Nutrition, 2515-2522.