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The Role of Glutamine in Recovery

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Whether you are an elite athlete or a recreational runner training for long distances, you are at risk for developing overtraining syndrome and other bodily system ailments. Marathon training requires one to engage in multiple strenuous training sessions several days out of the week. More advanced runners train somewhat intensely every day! Prolonged and intense exercise can increase the risk of muscle tissue damage, inflammation, cardiac dysfunction, decreased immune function, and overuse injuries. When deciding what type of marathon training plan is right for you, it is important to know that all plans can be modified based on your needs. Some athletes require more rest and recovery days than others. There is a reason that these easy days are scattered throughout the training weeks in every plan. It is meant to decrease the risk of developing the negative side effects of too much running.

There are important vitamins and nutrients athletes specifically need in order to stay healthy. Although a good balanced diet, preferably higher in quality calories, may be enough to obtain all of these essential nutrients, sometimes supplementation is necessary. Getting in everything we need for a balanced diet is difficult to do day in and day out, especially if you have a busy schedule to begin with. Many athletes supplement their diets with extra protein, usually in the form of powder. The reason for this is that protein is crucially important for the health of muscles, bones, skin, cartilage, and blood in the body. When deciding which protein powder to use, it is best to choose one that includes the important amino acids, which are the building blocks of the protein we need in order to function.


One extremely essential amino acid that gets depleted with hard training is Glutamine. The depletion is said to likely be from the demand for Glutamine from different organs exceeding the supply in the body after exercise. The role of this essential amino acid in the body is to assist with protein synthesis to build stronger muscles, support the immune system, and for the enhancement of hydration in the body. After strenuous exercise, the depletion of Glutamine can last up to six days, which can greatly affect the recovery process of muscle damage. The low state of this essential amino acid is also what causes athletes to be more susceptible to illness, such as colds and influenza, following hard training. Glutamine may also be depleted with other conditions such as trauma, burns, muscular dystrophy, and any other conditions causing stress in the body.

Muscle Repair

Muscle tissue damage is almost inevitable in athletes. The breakdown of muscle, causing tiny tears, is what builds strength. But this strength is only built during the recovery and healing process. This means that your muscles aren’t actually getting bigger and stronger while you are weight lifting—it all happens when you begin your rest period. Of course, nutrition will also play an important role in these strength gains. It is always a good idea to eat after a workout, especially after a strenuous run. A carbohydrate and protein-rich meal or snack is ideal, since this will help speed up the recovery process. As mentioned above, choosing a protein powder that includes the essential amino acids for a recovery shake is a good option to replenish the possibly lost Glutamine. Glutamine alone also comes in the form of capsules, so this may be a quicker option for some athletes.

Immune Function

Glutamine is essential to immune function as it assists with lymphocyte proliferation and the production of cytokines. Lymphocyte proliferation is basically cell production and cytokines are molecules the immune system needs in order to communicate when there is infection, inflammation, or trauma. Without these processes, immunity is weak and cannot properly fight against bacteria. Studies have shown that the inclusion of Glutamine following surgery, medical procedures, and trauma, especially in patients with a compromised immune system, resulted in lower levels of infection and shorter hospital stays. In the case of endurance athletes, studies have concluded that there have been less episodes of illness following strenuous training or races with the intake of a Glutamine supplement.

Muscle Hydration

Glutamine assists in the absorption of water and other nutrients to keep our muscle tissue hydrated properly. Prolonged and intense exercise causes extreme stress and dehydration throughout the body. Glutamine supplementation has been shown to improve the hydration process by way of enhancing electrolyte and fluid absorption in the muscles. It may be beneficial to opt for electrolyte drinks that contain Glutamine and other branched-chain amino acids, usually labeled “BCAAs”.

If you are a runner looking to increase your training time and improve your performance, it is extremely important to pay attention to your diet. Many people have the thought that since they are exercising so much they can eat whatever they want and not worry about nutrition. Yes, the body will burn a load of calories with the hard workouts, but it will only impede strength gains and performance improvements if the body is not taking in the nutrients and vitamins it needs to repair and build. With all of the calories burned, essential nutrition gets depleted as well. This will only lead to fatigue, illness, and/or injury.


  1. Vinicius Fernandes Cruzat, Maurício Krause and Philip Newsholme, Amino Acid Supplementation and Impact on Immune Function in the Context of Exercise, Journal
  2. Rohde T, MacLean DA, Pedersen BK., Effect of Glutamine Supplementation on Changes in the Immune System Induced by Repeated Exercise., Journal
  3. Boelens PG, Nijveldt RJ, Houdijk AP, Meijer S, van Leeuwen PA., Glutamine Alimentation in Catabolic State, Journal

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