Half the battle of optimizing your performance and recovery, is finding the right supplements to get you there. BCAAS and Glutamine are both amino acids, and play a crucial role in the muscle building and repair process. However both serve a very different purpose and offer different ergogenic benefits. Studies show that both glutamine and BCAAs can improve exercise recovery and initiate the muscle building process. But what are some of the differences between BCAAs vs. Glutamine? And do you really need to supplement with both of them? Keep on reading to find out
Amino Acid Basics
In order to distinguish the differences between BCAAs vs Glutamine, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what amino acids are and what they do. Protein is metabolized and broken down into 20 total amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are considered to be ‘essential’, meaning that your body cannot create them on its own and that they must be obtained through dietary sources, or through supplements. These essential amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, histidine and tryptophan. Of those nine amino acids, three are what’s called Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAS. Those three are leucine, isoleucine, and valine and play a pivotal role in muscle protein synthesis.
Glutamine is what’s known as a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning that in certain conditions, it becomes essential to supplement or obtain from dietary sources.
Your body constantly utilizes amino acids from your diet and is in a steady state of turnover, meaning that new proteins are constantly being produced, while older proteins are being degraded. These amino acids are utilized in several enzymatic reactions and support the muscle-building process, prevent muscle mass breakdown, and provide your body with more energy through neurotransmitter regulation. When your body exceeds the number of amino acids that are being broken down, you are in what’s considered to be a ‘positive amino-acid balance’ also known as a muscle-building or anabolic state. When the number of amino acids being broken down exceeds the number of amino acids being created, you are in what is considered a breakdown of muscle mass, or a catabolic state. Theoretically, the anabolic state can also be achieved through inhibition of muscle protein breakdown. High-intensity training requires fuel for energy. The first line of energy comes from glycogen, obtained from the food you eat, while the second source, is obtained from fatty acids. The third source or reserve tank is obtained from amino acids, which can be catabolic especially in times of amino acid depletion during intense or prolonged exercise bouts, such as triathlons, marathons, and CrossFit competitions.
What Is Glutamine And What Does It Do?
L-Glutamine is the most abundant and naturally occurring conditionally essential amino acid in the human body. It constructs approximately 60% of the amino acid pool in your muscle tissue. Nearly 90% of glutamine is produced in the skeletal muscles and it is one of the very few amino acids with such versatility. Like other essential amino acids, glutamine can cross the blood-brain barrier, giving it the ability to freely enter the brain, making it vital in the process of nitrogen transport, acid-base regulation, gluconeogenesis, while also working as a precursor of nucleotide bases and the antioxidant glutathione.
In terms of performance and training, glutamine can inhibit muscle mass breakdown and improve exercise induced muscle soreness. Remember when I said that in certain conditions glutamine can become essential? Well, during high intensity or prolonged training periods, your body will utilize and deplete your glutamine stores, which will inhibit its function, decreasing strength, stamina, and prolonging the recovery process. Supplementing with Glutamine post workout will ensure that you properly restore glutamine levels to help better rebuild and repair muscle tissue and improve your recovery times.
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On the clinical side of things, glutamine is often referred to as the fuel source for your immune system. Studies have shown that Glutamine can improve immune system health by producing cytokines, (small proteins released by white blood cells). With an increased number of cytokines, you invariably increase your body’s susceptibility to illness and protect your immune system.
In a study conducted by Oxford Universities Biochemistry Department, 200 elite endurance athletes including distance runners and rowers, consumed a post-workout drink either containing 5g of glutamine, or a placebo immediately after and two hours after exercise. The results indicated that seven days following exercise, 81% of the glutamine group showed no infection post workout, as compared to the placebo group, which showed 49% with no infection [R].
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If you think that’s impressive, the mechanism that transcends glutamine above other amino acids, is the proven benefits on digestive health. L-Glutamine assists in rebuilding and repairing the intestinal tract and lining of your gut by maintaining your body’s nitrogen balance. Glutamine decides when and where to place nitrogen atoms to be most efficient and effective in repairing your body. This can be extremely beneficial for those that have gastrointestinal issues such as leaky gut, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Chron’s, Ulcerative Colitis and IBS since these conditions are characterized by a high prevalence of intestinal hyperpermeability [R].
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Benefits of Supplementing L-Glutamine Include
- Reduced Muscle Mass Breakdown
- Initiated Muscle Protein Synthesis
- Improved Recovery Times
- Decreased Muscle Soreness
- Improved Immune Health
- Improved Digestive Health
- Improved Symptoms Of IBD
What Are BCAAs And What Do They Do?
Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs are considered the building blocks of protein and are composed of the essential amino acids L-Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. BCAAS help increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis and inhibit muscle mass breakdown or muscle catabolism. Maintaining a positive amino acid balance, will ensure you have the muscle fuel you need to maintain a positive amino acid balance and maintain lean muscle mass.
Unlike other essential amino acids, BCAAs have aliphatic side chains, with a branch or (a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms), distinguishing them molecularly and functionally. The main biological function of BCAAs are found in intramuscular signal transduction, which controls and facilitates muscle protein synthesis. Research suggests that Leucine is the most critical branched-chain amino acid in the muscle building process, due to its higher oxidation rate, which will increasingly help build lean muscle mass and increase strength. This is the reason why most BCAA supplements contain a greater ratio of L-Leucine, than isoleucine and valine.
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Much like Glutamine, BCAAs help accelerate recovery times, by reducing muscle mass breakdown and initiating the muscle repair process.
A study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition examined the effects of BCAA supplementation on exercise induced muscle damage and recovery times. Twelve male participants performed 100 consecutive drop jumps to measure markers of exercise induced muscle damage. The results showed that BCAAs supplemented pre and post workout reduced markers muscle damage and accelerated recovery time, on all time variables 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours post workout [R,R].
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Benefits Of Supplementing BCAAs include
- Improved Muscle Recovery
- Reduced Muscle Mass Breakdown
- Rebuilding Lean Muscle Mass
- Reduced Exercise-Induced Muscle Soreness
- Delays Muscle Fatigue
- Increase Energy Levels
- Improve Endurance
- Improves Body Composition
BCAAs Vs Glutamine Differences
Although BCAAS and Glutamine both help improve exercise recovery by reducing muscle mass breakdown and exercise induced muscle soreness, there are several fundamental differences between BCAAS vs Glutamine.
Molecularly, BCAAS and glutamine are very different. BCAAs have aliphatic side chains, with a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms. Glutamine does not. Branched chain amino acids are essential, meaning that you must obtain them thorough your diet from the foods you eat or supplements. Glutamine is conditionally essential, meaning your body naturally produces glutamine, yet in times of increased physical stress or trauma, glutamine stores may be depleted and necessary to also obtain from glutamine rich food sources, or from supplementation.
Studies have shown that BCAAS can help improve body composition, improve energy levels, and increase strength. Unlike BCAAS however, several studies lack the evidence to support glutamine as an ergogenic aid specifically glutamines limited effects on performance outcomes such as muscle mass and strength [R].
Glutamine however has a dramatic impact on several other biological factors, in which BCAAS do not. Due to its role in nitrogen balance, glutamine plays may have significant effects on digestive health by rebuilding your intestinal tract and interior gut lining. Studies have also shown that glutamine may reduce symptoms of hyperpermeability associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as chrons, leaky gut, IBS, and ulcerative colitis.
Additionally, Glutamine is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. Often overlooked, athletes can experience an increased susceptibility to infection, due to weakened immune systems while training. Glutamine is used by white blood cells to produce cytokines, (small proteins released by white blood cells). With an increased number of cytokines, can protect and maintain a healthy immune system.
Should I Take BCAAs Or Glutamine?
Using any supplement largely depends on your goals. If you want to increase muscle mass, improve energy levels and optimize recovery times, then supplementing with BCAAS can improve your performance and training outcomes. If you constantly find yourself in a state of muscle soreness and can’t seem to recover quickly then Glutamine is definitely worth adding to the mix.
Studies show however, that taking BCAAs with Glutamine is the most effective way to increase muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle mass breakdown, which can help improve recovery and build more lean muscle mass and strength.
The specific mechanism of action has not been discovered, yet there has been evidence suggesting that there is a relationship between Glutamine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and protein metabolism. Since glutamine controls nitrogen balance, and BCAAs are the major nitrogen source of the body, glutamine essentially acts as the trigger for muscle tissue development. It also has an inhibitory effect on the breakdown of body proteins and decreases BCAA catabolism, expressing a direct effect on BCAA metabolism [R,R].
BCAAs Vs Glutamine Commonly Asked Questions
Are BCAAs and Glutamine Necessary?
Often times we get asked if BCAAs or Glutamine are necessary. The answer depends on several personal and situational factors. The first question you need to ask yourself, is how much protein do you eat? If you eat at least 1-1.4g of protein per pound of body weight, then supplementing with BCAAS or Glutamine may not be necessary, since you already get a substantial amount of amino acids from your diet.
However studies show that in order to derive ergogenic and therapeutic benefits of glutamine you need at least 5-10g to improve immune system health, digestive health, and symptoms of IBD.
Does Glutamine Build Muscle?
Although several studies have shown positive effects of glutamine on makers of fatigue and exercise recovery, there is a lack of evidence that supports glutamine as an effective ergogenic aid to improve performance factors.
Is Glutamine A Waste Of Money?
Anything is a waste of money if it’s not applied the right way or used as indicated. If you have digestive issues such as leaky gut, susceptible to getting sick, and have a hard time with muscle soreness and recovery, supplementing with 5-10g of glutamine per day can help optimize recovery and improve overall health and wellness.
BCAAs Vs. Glutamine: Takeaway
When it comes to optimizing performance, it’s important to find the supplements that will help you perform at your highest potential. Studies suggest that BCAAs can help rebuild and repair muscle mass, by inhibiting muscle mass breakdown and initiating muscle protein synthesis, to recover faster and build more muscle mass. Endurance athletes who endure longer exercise bouts, and multiple workouts per day, can greatly benefit from supplementing with BCAAs to inhibit muscle mass breakdown and remain in an anabolic state. Glutamine is also extremely beneficial to those that need to improve recovery times and reduce post workout muscle soreness. Adding 5g of Glutamine to your BCAAs post workout, can greatly enhance your recovery process and replenish your body with the amino acids it needs to optimize performance.
Ready to take your performance to the next level and add some BCAAs to training?
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Coqueiro, Audrey Yule et al. “Glutamine as an Anti-Fatigue Amino Acid in Sports Nutrition.” Nutrients vol. 11,4 863. 17 Apr. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11040863