One of the best sports supplements to take as an athlete is amino acids. But with so many of them and the full spectrum supplements so pricey, which are the best to include in your daily intake?
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and is essential for many functions including energy production and repair of the body’s tissues. It is considered a non essential amino as the body can create sufficient amounts of it as opposed to essential amino acids which must be consumed in our diet. So if we can make this amino acid, why am I writing about it?
The truth is, for the average person, there is an abundance of glutamine stored in the body, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are a runner, therefore are not the average person. Athletes, especially those of us who prefer the long distance stuff like Shaun and I, can use so much glutamine, we struggle to replenish it, unless we start to supplement. But let’s take a quick look at some of the functions of this amino.
- It’s a great immune booster for athletes and has been shown to reduce the incidence of colds and flu in athletes who do higher intensity/distance races and training sessions. The same benefit is not seen from people who do lower intensity exercise.
- Glutamine has been shown to reduce the rate of death in severe trauma and critically ill patients. It also reduces the risk of infection after surgery and burns.
- It can help with bowel issues such as leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome. I know many runners who suffer from gut issues during runs, this may be worth a try…
- There have also been some studies showing AIDS and cancer patients may benefit from taking glutamine by helping to prevent the weight loss associated with the disease and treatment.
In reality though, glutamine, generally supplemented as its active form L-Glutamine, has limited effect on performance for athletes. However the benefits are seen more in the health effects it has with the immune system and gut health. But used in conjunction with an amino supplement like BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids) a group of 3 essential aminos, we start to see some athletic performance advantages.
When we exercise for extended periods of time and our energy levels start to deplete, we must create our own energy from the stores inside our body. Amino acids are perfect for this, apart from the fact that aminos make up the proteins used in our muscles. Which is the reason so many of us runners can be quite lean in muscle mass in the upper parts of our body. Taking branch chain amino acids raises the blood levels of them, giving your body a readily available source of them, preserving some of your muscle mass.
Supplementing with L-Glutamine regularly and BCAA’s before and after a hard training session can help improve your endurance and taking them directly afterwards is a great way to kick start recovery. In events that last more than 3 hours, I even take BCAA capsules regularly through the event to prevent going catabolic, or scavenging the muscles protein.
Taking protein at these times is partly a waste of time especially during an event as it’s too much of a stress on the digestive system. Plus, the body doesn’t really have a use for protein, but what it really wants is the amino acids in the protein. So as we digest protein, we break it down into amino acids then create the proteins our body requires. So don’t get me wrong, protein is not useless, but taking it to recover from a hard session is not always the best option. If we can cut out a step in the process of getting the proteins to the muscles for recovery, we will start repairing the muscles at a faster rate. Aminos are perfect for this.
Studies have shown that taking BCAA’s during extended exercise will reduce the amount of muscle breakdown and stress hormone (cortisol) production*
So on your next long training run, take a couple of BCAA tablets about half hour to an hour before heading out, take 2 more about 2 hours in and another couple at the end of the run. Take note of your energy levels through the run and you may be surprised. It works for me.
*Borgenvik, M., Nordin, M., et al. Alterations in Amino Acid Concentrations in the Plasma and Muscle in Human Subjects during 24 Hour of Simulated Adventure Racing. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012.