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Should runners take a glutamine supplement?

Glutamine has become more popular among runners, but does it actually provide any benefit?

Running has so many benefits, but when done at a high volume and intensity, it can end up causing some less desirable side-effects, like decreased immune system function, increased digestive distress and chronic fatigue. To deal with some of these unwanted side effects, some runners may look to supplements for help. Originally used by bodybuilders, glutamine has become much more popular among runners, but does it really help? Continue reading to find out if you should add glutamine to your supplement regime.

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What is glutamine?

Glutamine is an amino acid, which is a building block of protein. It is considered non-essential, because your body produces glutamine naturally, so you don’t have to get it from your food. It performs many functions in the body, including:

  • aiding in immune system functionality
  • preserving the digestive tract
  • moderating the inflammatory response
  • stimulating protein synthesis, which is impacted by exercise
  • involved in the synthesis of certain antioxidants
  • helping to rebuild your glycogen (energy) reserves

While your body does create glutamine itself, it can also be found in many foods, including meat, fish, dairy products, legumes and cereals, and is available in supplement format as capsules or powders.

The benefits of glutamine

There are many proposed benefits of glutamine, but not all of them are science-based. One of these supposed benefits is aiding in muscle recovery and repair, which is why it’s popular among bodybuilders. While this sounds good, in reality, glutamine is mainly used by the cells of the intestines and the liver, so it doesn’t really do much to help with muscle repair after your long run. Another reason some people choose to take a glutamine supplement is to strengthen their immune system, but this has also not been shown to be true.

There are some benefits to glutamine supplementation. Following a long or hard run, your muscle glycogen stores are depleted, and the faster you can replenish them, the better it is for muscle repair. Studies have shown that consuming glutamine along with a glucose drink can help your body reconstitute your body’s glycogen supply faster. Glutamine has also been shown to play a protective role in your digestive system, so if you struggle with GI distress, adding a glutamine supplement may help repair the lining of your digestive tract and reduce inflammation.

Should you take a glutamine supplement?

If you’re struggling with digestive distress or you feel as though you’re not recovering as quickly as you’d like after your runs, a glutamine supplement may be an appropriate choice, but the truth is this supplement is not as beneficial as it’s sometimes made out to be. If you do choose to try a glutamine supplement, talk to your doctor before adding a new supplement into your regime, especially if you are already taking other supplements or medications.

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