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Glutamine for Lean Muscle

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Glutamine The Key for Maintaining Muscle while Dieting

By Peter Marino

The amino acid L-glutamine has been considered a non-essential amino acid since its discovery. The body produces it from other amino acids when in need. However, more and more data on the non-essential amino acid proves glutamine to be a conditionally essential amino acid in the presence of high stress or trauma.

Glutamine, formed from glutamic acid and the pre-cursor alpha-ketoglutarate, has been shown to be the primary fuel source for the intestinal tract, especially during stress. In addition, glutamine plays a role in controlling protein degradation (associated with muscle breakdown), protein synthesis, and glycogen synthesis. Glutamine has also been clinically shown to help boost immunity and growth hormone levels.

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in plasma and skeletal muscle, thereby contributing to the overall mass and size of muscle cells. Currently there is no established recommended daily allowance for glutamine because it is still considered to be a non-essential amino acid.

Glutamine serves as a favored respiratory fuel for rapidly generating cells, such as enterocytes and lymphocytes (involved in immune function). It also acts as a regulator of acid-base balance through the production of urinary ammonia. Glutamine is a carrier of nitrogen between tissues and an important precursor of nucleic acids, nucleotides, amino sugars, and proteinsą. During stress the body's requirements for glutamine appear to exceed the individual's ability to produce sufficient amounts of this amino acid˛. In one study, patients undergoing total hip replacement (an extremely stressful operation on the body) who used glutamine supplementation, prevented free glutamine levels, in blood plasma, from decreasing and protein synthesis remained unchanged after the operation. In the previous study, the use of supplemental glutamine improved the body's ability to withstand stress and revert to a state of normalcy in less time. To those of us who workout intensely and frequently (four to six days per week), glutamine can be of similar benefit. I have used glutamine in supplemental form for a trial of fourteen weeks. During those fourteen weeks my body was under tremendous stress:

  • I was dieting for a contest and eating an extremely low fat and low carbohydrate diet;
  • I was training seven times a week, five days of resistance training with two of those days incorporating aerobics into the routine, and two days of just aerobic training.
The goal was to bring my bodyfat down to 2% and to be as muscularly defined and hard as possible, with little or no muscle mass loss and without getting sick. My starting weight was 195 lbs. at 9% bodyfat (lean body mass being 177˝ lbs.) My actual outcome was 175 lbs. and 2% bodyfat (lean body mass being 171˝ lbs.) Therefore, I did maintain almost all of my muscle while losing the desired bodyfat. A loss of 6 pounds of muscle is a negligible amount compared to most bodybuilding competitors, especially in natural bodybuilding. L-glutamine is a very important factor in stressful or traumatic episodes of life. I would recommend it to anyone undergoing an operation, or other physiclal trauma, such as a pre-contest diet where one is working out intensely with a low calorie diet.

How Much Should You Use?
The dosage may vary according to one's bodyweight, but I used 15 grams of BioChem's L-glutamine Powder per day while on the low carbohydrate diet. The last two weeks before the contest I used 20 grams per day because I was carbohydrate depleting (eating 120 grams or less of carbohydrates each day). Keep in mind that the 15 grams I recorded per day was only from the supplemental form. I was actually taking in more than five grams a day because L-glutamine is found in foods and protein powders as well.

When Should You Take It?
There are four key times to take glutamine

  • In the morning
    The morning is an important time to take glutamine because the body has been without food usually for 8 or more hours. Therefore, the muscle stores of glutamine are depleted and need to be replenished;

  • Before working out
    This is an important time because one wants to prevent excessive breakdown of muscle while working out. L-glutamine stores in the muscle drop to their lowest while working out intensely. This depletion occurs due to the high demand of energy needed because of muscular contraction and micro-tears that result from a work-out;

  • After working out
    Being the most abundant amino acid in muscle tissue, it is important to replace glutamine after working out, as this will aid in recovery, and growth of the muscle. Glutamine is absorbed better after an intense workout due to the high demand. Glutamine adds to the overall weight and mass of muscle cells;

  • Bedtime
    Before going to bed it is important to take glutamine because of the long fast the body is about to encounter. The immunity also tends to diminish while sleeping. Taking glutamine has been shown to increase the immunity of subjects taking it. Therefore, it is important to get that dose of glutamine at bedtime to prevent lowered immune activity.

The Plan
The plan that I used for my pre-contest diet consisted of 20 grams of supplemental glutamine by BioChem as follows:

  • Morning: 5 grams of glutamine*
  • Pre-workout (˝ hour before workout): 5 grams of glutamine*
  • Post-workout (within ˝ hour after workout): 5 grams of glutamine*
  • Bedtime: 5 grams of glutamine*
*Note: Gradually increase your glutamine supplementation by 2 grams per day. Failure to do so can cause abdominal discomfort and/or constipation.

Good luck in maintaining your muscle while dieting!

References Cited:
ąGroff JL, Gropper SS, Hunt SM. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 2nd ed. Minneapolis/ St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1995: 163-164
˛Lacey JM, Wilmore DW. Is glutamine a conditionally essential amino acid? Nutr Rev 1990; 48: 297-309
Peter Marino is certified as a nutrition specialist, a fitness educator, and a personal trainer. He is also a competitive natural bodybuilder in New York. He has been published in Men's Exercise Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, and Gym Magazine. He is also the president of Precision Fitness & Nutrition. Peter is available for nutritional and diet consultations, personal training, fitness and nutritional seminars, and professional modeling.

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