While they may sound the same, Glutamine and glutamate are classified as two distinctly different amino acids, which serve two very different biological functions. We’re going to find out what those differences really are when we compare glutamine vs glutamate.
What Is Glutamine?
L-Glutamine is the most abundant and naturally occurring conditionally essential amino acid in the human body. Conditionally essential meaning one that is made by the human body, yet in times of severe physical stress or trauma such as high-intensity training, or more severe events such as surgery, is used and depleted, and therefore becomes essential and needs to be obtained from food or supplementation. It makes up 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 that can cross the blood-brain barrier, giving it the ability to freely enter the brain. It is vital in the process of nitrogen transport between tissues, in acid-base regulation, gluconeogenesis, and as a precursor of nucleotide bases and the antioxidant glutathione [R]
L-Glutamine is an important signaling molecule in stimulating anabolic functions such as muscle protein synthesis, cell growth and differentiation, and inhibiting catabolic functions such as protein degradation and apoptosis [R]. L-Glutamine is often used as an ergogenic aid, to help with reducing muscle mass breakdown and exercise-induced muscle mass soreness, acting as a key amino acid in recovery and performance.
Recent evidence also suggests that L-Glutamine has potential benefits as a treatment for digestive health issues, such as inflammatory bowel diseases – Chrons, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Ulcerative Colitis, and Leaky gut.
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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L-Glutamine is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. Often overlooked, endurance athletes and powerlifters alike can experience 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 amount of cytokines, you invariably increase your body’s susceptibility to illness and which can lead to excess inflammation and conditions like autoimmune diseases.
In a randomized controlled trial published by the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 24 athletes were administered 10g of Glutamine per day for six weeks, to determine whether Glutamine supplementation alters immune function in athletes during heavy resistance training.
The results found that T-cell ratings (White blood cells that help mediate immune health) were extremely different between the groups, indicating a positive correlation that glutamine supplementation may be able to restore immune function and reduce the immunosuppressive effects of heavy-resistance training in athletes [R]
Glutamine is naturally found in foods such as beef, dairy, eggs, and seafood. Supplementation of L-Glutamine is the most preferred form in order to support athletic performance, digestive and immune health.
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What Is Glutamate?
Glutamate, also known as Glutamic Acid, is a non-essential amino acid and acts as an important metabolic intermediate, which builds proteins. L-Glutamate is the most abundant free amino acid in the brain and it is the major excitatory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. Most free glutamic acid in the brain is derived from the local synthesis from L-glutamine and Kreb’s Cycle intermediaries. Glutamate plays an integral role in brain health, specifically synaptic maintenance, learning, memory, and formation of the cytoskeleton, through the cyclization of glutamate which produces proline, an amino acid important for the synthesis of collagen and connective tissue [R].
When excited, glutamic acid forms glutamine. Glutamic acid can be found in heavy concentrations in plant proteins as well as beef, poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, and soy. When glutamic acid combines with ammonia, a waste product of protein metabolism, it converted into glutamine.
Glutamine Vs Glutamate – Key Differences In Summary
Now that we’ve covered the essential functions of glutamine and glutamate how are they different?
- Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, and glutamate is a nonessential amino acid
- Glutamine and glutamate have distinctly different biological functions, purposes, and benefits.
- Glutamine is used as an ergogenic aid to help with post-workout muscle soreness and recovery. It’s also used for immune health and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease to rebuild gut lining.
- Glutamate is rarely used or prescribed as a dietary supplement.
- Glutamate is synthesized into glutamine
Interested in adding L-glutamine to your supplement regimen?
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Tapiero H, Mathé G, Couvreur P, Tew KD. II. Glutamine and glutamate. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56(9):446‐457. doi:10.1016/s0753-3322(02)00285-8
Watford, Malcolm. “Glutamine and Glutamate: Nonessential or Essential Amino Acids?” Animal Nutrition, Elsevier, 10 Sept. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405654515300299.