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A Bodybuilder's Dream: Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid found in our muscles and plasma (blood stream). It comprises 61% of skeletal muscle and, because of its unique structure, is the primary transporter of nitrogen and protein into muscle tissue where it is synthesized for growth. Many of our vital cellular activities rely heavily upon it to provide fuel for energy and is therefore considered an essential nutrient for proper immune function. It also helps buffer and eliminate the toxic products produced by exercise such as lactic acid and ammonia. In the past few years it has become of particular interest in the exercise community because of its positive effects on muscle growth through its ability to increase protein synthesis while slowing breakdown and increase growth hormone secretion. For the bodybuilder, one couldn't ask for a stronger single natural substance.

Various types of stress on the body such as surgery, infection, starvation and exercise deplete plasma glutamine levels significantly. Tests have shown that glutamine levels bottomed out after 4-6 hours after both endurance and strength types of exercise and returned back to pre-exercise levels ranging from 24 hours to a few days. The recovery time depends upon the duration of the exercise and the length of time the body as been continually depleted. So, the longer and more often you train, the longer the recovery period will be. Excessive training without sufficient rest between sessions can result in lowered glutamine levels, which could require an extended rest period for complete recuperation. This is a severe condition of overtraining which could impair your immune system for several years. It is important to note that any reduced level of glutamine also reduces your ability to combat infection and disease and makes you more likely to get sick. Some trainers believe that there are some scenarios of overtraining, carried out for so many years, as in the case of many Olympic athletes that the body ceases to be able to recover completely and a condition of "burn-out" occurs. Typically the athlete is forced to retire from competition.

Research has shown that supplementing with glutamine can not only restore the immune system but actually enhance it and make it work stronger than before. The bottom line is that the more glutamine present, the better and stronger the antimicrobial function of the immune cells. Supplementation also increases growth hormone secretion and nitrogen retention allowing for faster muscle growth and recovery. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a 2-gram oral dose of glutamine elevated circulating growth hormone levels by over 430%. This means there's a higher level of glucose and amino acid uptake by the muscles, a slowdown of protein breakdown (anticatabolic) and an increased use of body fat for energy.

How to best use L-glutamine? Take 5 grams in powdered form for best absorption one hour before training, 30 minutes after training and at bedtime. These are the three best "windows" to benefit from elevated growth hormone. If you used it only once per day, I would recommend taking after working out when most of the immediate muscle repair is being carried out. This is definitely an amino acid worth testing for yourself.

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