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The hidden benefits of Glutamine

Source: www.maximuscle.com
By Lynn Clay BSc, Sports Nutrition Consultant, AAA of England 10 mile champion

Can glutamine increase your recovery and immune function?

With the London marathon just gone.. any serious runner who takes part would be asking themselves many questions, some being; did I train enough, too much, or even properly! With so much effort being put into training for such a gruelling event, getting your nutrition right and keeping your immune system in peak form is vital if you want to avoid not getting ill the day before or being ill for weeks afterwards. The answer to this will greatly depend on race day preparation and recovery.

Back in 1998, I failed to make my target time of 3hrs, crossing the finish line in a frustrating (for me) 3.05.26. The photograph I received did not show a celebratory smile but a distant stare and more of a grimace than a smile. I did not then have the information available to me today and therefore, not only was the race a little disappointing to me, but the days that followed featured a mixture of muscle strains and an almighty cold. Memories come to mind of the long journey home, at that time, to the South Coast. After gorging on a Mars Bar and a bottle of Lucozade, I slept whilst my husband drove, reluctantly, through the congestion and out of London. On exiting the car 4 hours later I struggled to even straighten my legs and remember not being able to place my heels down at all. Hobbling to the front door feeling dizzy and hungry, with a slightly irritated husband assisting, I promised myself I would warm down properly next time and plan my post marathon food. I mean, there's so much focus in getting to the start line, it's so easy to neglect your post marathon recovery.

Your story doesn't have to be like this if you get a few fundamentals right. Firstly, you've heard it before I know, but carbohydrate really is your greatest ally. Not only to optimise stored carbohydrate (glycogen) in the muscle tissue and to supply energy throughout your marathon, but also to support vital glutamine levels in the body which researchers have linked with immune function. Yes, it looks like the little known supplement glutamine could increase your chances of staying well after the marathon! Aresearch study in 1992 suggested that a decrease in plasma glutamine following endurance exercise created an increased susceptibility to catching a common cold or infection. There is no doubt that there is a high incidence of infection after a marathon. If you haven't suffered yourself after a long run, or racing the marathon, I'm sure you know many that have.

Indeed, in 1996 Castell and his team of researchers looked at the incidence of infections in athletes undertaking prolonged strenuous exercise based on evidence that cells in the immune system are less able to mount a defence against infection after exercise. The researchers monitored levels of infection in 200 runners and rowers and found that levels of infection were highest in those running the full marathon distance or further. They took blood samples from middle distance and marathon runners for the measurement of plasma glutamine and found that a 5g dose of glutamine after strenuous exercise increased plasma glutamine levels markedly with levels returning to near normal about 2 hours after ingestion. Athletes taking part in the study also reported less incidence of infection within 7 days of intense, exhaustive and prolonged exercise after taking glutamine. Indeed, 80% of those in the group ingesting glutamine reported no infections or colds compared to only 48% in the control group drinking a placebo maltodextrin (carbohydrate) drink, a staggering 32% difference.

The study concluded that the provision of a glutamine supplement after exercise and then again 2 hours later decreased the risk of infection in athletes completing exhaustive and prolonged exercise. Sounds like the equivalent of discovering the Holy Grail, for distance runners!

So what does this practically mean for your marathon preparation and recovery?

1. Fuel your workouts with a quality carbohydrate formula. When carbohydrate levels are increased prior to exercise and replenished during and after exercise, this has been shown to have a positive effect on supporting plasma glutamine levels.

2. After a run (and the marathon) take your carbohydrate in a more concentrated form (not a premixed isotonic drink) as this will replenish carbohydrate levels more effectively than a weaker solution. Apowder formulation will provide the flexibility to mix it to your needs providing an isotonic solution during exercise, a hypotonic (weaker) solution prior to and a hypertonic (more concentrated) formulation after exercise.

3. Look for a carbohydrate drink containing Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). These are important amino acids that are converted to glutamine in the muscle and released into the blood.

4. Mix glutamine with water and use after strenuous training and that allimportant marathon. Take 5g immediately after the marathon and 5g, 2 hours later as used in the Castell study. For ease you can add glutamine powder to your energy drink.

Don't think that glutamine is only for runners, far from it, there is also excellent research showing that any intense training, such as bodybuilding, cycling, etc… will also benefit greatly from glutamine.

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