Wouldn’t it be amazing to never worry about money and just buy the perfect nutritional support? Obviously, but that’s not the real world.
When it comes to better nutrition, you need to weigh up what is most important. You’re working with limited resources and you can’t just get everything all the time. Today we’re considering two popular supplements – glutamine and BCAAs.
Read on and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about these compounds and what they can do for you, how they compare, and which is best for your needs.
Head’s up: We’re going to use our favorite supplement range, Opti-Nutra’s Performance Lab, as an example of what to look for throughout this article. These are top-quality products – mostly due to their nature-identical manufacturing, integrity, and clean label approach – and it’s a great line of products with great variety.
There’s a lot of poor-quality bunk on the supplement market and getting a high-quality product like this is something we recommend. For both safety and effectiveness. You’re free to make your own choices, but these are our favorites and we think they demonstrate the sort of product to look for.
What are BCAAs?
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a common form of dietary supplement. They’re essential amino acids, meaning you can’t produce them, so you need them from food or supplementation.
There are three BCAAs: Leucine, Valine, and Isoleucine. These are chemically similar but have significant differences – they’re not equally valuable all the time.
While BCAAs are essential, they’re available in foods like eggs, for example. Supplementation of BCAAs is usually directed to their own specific benefits on top of the dose you’re likely to get from food.
For supplementary doses, a high-quality BCAA product like Performance Lab SPORT BCAA can be a great choice. This allows you to get nature-mimicking levels of key BCAAs without the calories, in a format that can be used for pre- and intra-workout nutrition.
Why use BCAAs?
Leucine can have positive effects in muscle growth
Essential BCAAs are important to consume to ensure proper muscle growth and avoid serious fitness problems. Deficiency in BCAAs is uncommon but, if it affects you, you’ll experience poor performance and recovery.
This is because Leucine – the most important of the BCAAs, is a key player in the muscle protein signaling process. It’s the body’s “on switch” for a process known as mTOR that produces more muscle tissue.
If you’re missing out, you’re going to struggle to build muscle. On the other hand, there’s some early evidence that Leucine supplementation may support muscle growth during intense recovery-demand because of hard training.
-Leucine-HMB can reduce the risks of catabolism during a weight-loss diet
Leucine and its metabolite HMB are also important for supporting muscle maintenance while dieting to lose weight, as well as reducing muscle damage.
During regular dieting, your muscle tissue is at risk of being broken down into its building blocks for energy. This is a real problem since it can rapidly reduce your strength, negatively affects your physique, and is often totally avoidable.
With proper resistance training and effective leucine/HMB intake, you can reduce the risk of muscle wasting. This means keeping more of the hard-to-build muscle tissues you already have, supporting better health and fitness.
In case you’re wondering, HMB is the main ingredient in another Performance Lab product, Performance Lab SPORT Fat Burner, a product specifically designed for fasted training.
BCAAs are beneficial for improving exercise endurance
BCAA supplementation is also starting to be recognized as an endurance-aid for exercise. This is most pronounced in aerobic exercise – the kind of traditional cardio exercises like running or rowing.
The anti-fatigue benefits are also effective for supporting better cognitive performance, fat oxidation, and other secondary benefits. This is an indirect benefit: BCAAs can support better workouts and sports performance, which supports better muscle/fat changes.
However, these are not singular: they’re related to performance boosts seen in other compounds like citrulline and beta-alanine. If you’re looking for the best workouts, combining BCAA supplementation with these endurance-boosters can be a great choice.
This takes us back to using Performance Lab’s BCAA as a way of improving workouts. Proper timing and combination with caffeine/carbohydrate is a great way to fight fatigue and boost performance.
Glutamine is also an amino acid. It’s an essential amino acid and deficiency or risk-states (such as plant-based diets or those with poor dairy/protein intake) can be a significant problem.
As with BCAAs, this is an essential amino acid that you need to get from your diet. It’s not possible for your body to make up for it if you’re not getting enough, so it should be a priority in these at-risk groups.
However, Glutamine is also rapidly depleted during intense exercise due to its ability to be metabolized rapidly. It’s a source of energy for some crucial cells in the immune system, for example, and provides a significant benefit to prolonged endurance exercise.
Why Take Glutamine?
So, what else can Glutamine do for you?
The research into applications for fitness and health are still developing. There are some interesting benefits that we may confirm, however.
First, there are reports that glutamine reduces sugar cravings. These aren’t proven definitively but they’re mentioned in the literature often enough to be interesting. There’s value to this since Glutamine is an amino acid and thus less likely to spike insulin and have negative metabolic effects than sugar.
Glutamine Supports Recovery from Strength Training
Glutamine also seems to have an interesting role in exercise, but not in the ways people usually think. While glutamine is often taken for body composition, its key benefit for better training is in strength recovery.
Early research on this shows improvements to recovery from strength exercise. During the 72 hours following a workout, glutamine can improve the recovery of strength in men, as well as reducing muscle soreness. This is likely to be equally effective for women too, since muscular differences are minimal, and glutamine is key for everyone.
See the Science:
Glutamine is also associated with better health during periods of hard training. These are mostly seen in athletes who have been training hard and are susceptible to illness.
In these high-stress groups, glutamine supplementation actually helped fight off illness. This is the kind of benefit that we’d likely see in exercising individuals during tough workouts but also during periods of higher total stress (e.g. life stress + exercise stress).
A high-quality post-workout supplement that contains glutamine, like the soon-to-be-released new formula in Performance Lab SPORT Post-workout, can support effective recovery. This is crucial since the recovery/rest process is when your body improves, and maximizing the process means the very best results.
Glutamine as a Digestive and Immune Supplement
The key benefits to health are linked to Glutamine’s effects in the digestive and immune systems.
Gut health is really trendy right now, but Glutamine is an amine that we know is important for gut health and immune function.
In the gut, Glutamine is a key player in supporting the wellbeing and function of intestinal tissues. Deficiency is common in those who don’t eat meat/consume dairy, and it can produce significant issues with nutrient transport and digestive health.
Equally, as the primary source of energy in immune cells (called Leukocytes), glutamine is a key player in effective immunity. If your key anti-infection processes are energy-starved, they’re less effective and you’re at greater risk of illness.
These combined benefits make Glutamine a great choice for those in specific at-risk groups where deficiency can compromise these crucial systems. You can’t be healthy with poor digestive/immune function!
Glutamine Supports Muscle During a Diet
As with the leucine/HMB in BCAAs, glutamine can also combat the muscle breakdown effects of dieting.
This is great because muscle loss on a diet is a serious concern for how long it will take to achieve your goals. More time re-building lost muscle means more time between you and your goals.
Glutamine can support muscles during high risk of catabolism (muscle breakdown), and even more so during periods of high stress mentioned above. This means a more successful, sustainable weight loss process.
This is going to work best combined with other supplements – like HMB or Creatine – that support muscular energy. Getting these in combination can provide the best support for physique improvements and better health/fitness!
Glutathione and Glutamine Supplementation
Glutathione is an extremely important, powerful antioxidant that supports health in literally every cell in your body. It’s a key compound that is formed from glutamine, water, cysteine, and glycine.
These are cool compounds by themselves (e.g. glycine improves cell hydration, while cysteine reduces homocysteine-levels and improves health). However, when combined, they produce an immensely important pro-health compound in glutathione.
Liposomal glutathione is also a really cool choice but is so expensive that it’s only used in scientific research right now! However, you can get high-quality glutathione from the updated formula of Performance Lab Pre-Workout, meaning better cognitive performance in training and better recovery after workouts!
Concerns and dosage
When using glutamine, it’s important to be careful with dosing and timings.
Due to the way Glutamine works in the body, it contributes to production of ammonia. Obviously, ammonia isn’t a compound you want to build up in your body above a certain level. Excessive intake of glutamine should be avoided.
Doses at 5g or above are often used in the scientific literature, while excessive intake is considered to be .75g/kg (0.4g/lb.) of bodyweight. This is a significant dose, so there’s not too much problem. Just use glutamine supplements as instructed on the label.
Comparing BCAAs and Glutamine
So, how do Glutamine and BCAAs compare?
First, you don’t need to pick one or the other. If you can get both, you really should. They work best in combination and provide more extensive, comprehensive benefits when combined.
However, they do have different effects.
BCAAs are an effective anti-fatigue supplement that are primarily useful for improving endurance exercise. They can also support total dietary amino acid intake, including short-term intake during workouts – which can support better workout nutrition.
They’re also relatively useful for supporting better secondary effects due to better endurance performance. This includes information processing/reaction times, making BCAAs a reasonable choice for amino acid support and performance in sports.
Proper leucine intake is important and BCAAs may be useful for this purpose, especially during restrictive dieting. BCAAs also preserve weight during a workout, which may be useful for muscle hydration, though it’s too early to say for certain how much this affects performance.
Glutamine, on the other hand, is more useful for strength and health.
The ability to improve strength training recovery is important and may be useful for secondary benefits to muscle/strength gains. This is even more important during periods of extreme stress or very-intense training.
The digestive and immune benefits of glutamine make it a crucial supplement for vegetarians and vegans. However, these benefits also apply to high-stress individuals – whether from huge workouts, or a combination of exercise and regular stress.
Glutamine is a good choice for effective overall health and supports a “general health and wellness” approach to exercise. If your life combines exercise stress and regular psychological stress, Glutamine may be a great choice for supporting immunity and performance.
This is even better when it is combined with proper supplementation for glutathione levels. Proper intake of Glutamine and Cysteine (ideally as N-Acetylcysteine) can boost cell glutathione and thus improve overall, whole-body cell health.
As a strength, digestion, and immunity support supplement glutamine is necessary for some (vegetarians/vegans/low-protein diets) and useful for those with stressful life/training factors to work around!
Glutamine and BCAAs overlap in some of their benefits, but they also have clearly defined differences. These make it a little easier to say who should take what. Whichever you’re going for – or even both – requires quality to come first.
The Performance Lab ethos is what has drawn us to these products and why they’re our key recommendations. The BCAA supplement is a simple, high-quality nature-identical source of BCAAs, while the post-workout combines Glutamine with other key recovery aids to boost results and performance.
Our recommendations: BCAAs vs Glutamine
BCAAs are going to be more effective when they’re used as an intra-workout amine source during aerobic endurance exercise.
This means that pre- and intra-workout BCAAs are the most effective use – especially when combined with a fast-absorbing carbohydrate source. They’re the better choice for aerobic exercise, especially when it’s prolonged or you’re not well-fed going into training.
Glutamine, on the other hand, is a support supplement for better strength-recovery and health.
It’s got a benefit for strength training (especially during high-volume), as well as supporting digestive and immune health. Used as a building block for glutathione when combined with other supplements only compound these general health benefits.
You can add the Performance Lab Post-Workout supplement to maximize these recovery benefits and support long-term strength development.
You can combine the two and gain benefits to muscle sparing. This is the main similarity, and it can make a significant difference to the success of a weight-loss diet when combined with proper training.
The important part is to pay attention to which set of goals are most important to you and spend on the supplement most closely-aligned to those goals.