BCAA vs Glutamine—A Comprehensive Guide

White powder around magnifier and dumbbell

There’s so much hype about amino acids in the health and fitness world, but what about BCAA vs glutamine and their fitness benefits?

One of the most critical functions of amino acids is their function as the building blocks of protein. Amino acids support muscle protein synthesis, prevent muscle breakdown, reduce muscle soreness, and promote healthy immune function. Using glutamine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) can productively enhance results to achieve your health and fitness goals. 

Learn more about the benefits and differences between BCAAs vs glutamine and how these amino acids can help you hit your goals in and out of the gym by reading this comprehensive guide! 

Defining Branched-Chain Amino Acids

So, is glutamine a BCAA, or is it different? This is an important question to differentiate between other amino acids and their classifications. 

The two basic classifications of amino acids are nonessential and essential amino acids (EAAs). From there, there are a few other classifications, including one that refers to three amino acids called branched-chain amino acids. These three specific amino acids are named after their chemical structure, contributing to how the human body utilizes them.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine 

Essential Amino Acids:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine 

Benefits of BCAAs

Empty dumbbell on gym floor

Supplements boasting the benefits of branched-chain amino acids have been scattered across social media, magazines, and stores. But what are these benefits, and which ones are true based on research? Find out what they are below! 

Supports Muscle Protein Synthesis

BCAAs are crucial for supporting muscle tissue and are necessary to support or increase muscle protein synthesis. As they are EAAs and cannot be naturally synthesized by the human body, they must be consumed through dietary means.

Studies have found that BCAAs, particularly leucine, are productive in boosting the rate of protein synthesis and reducing the rate of protein degradation in muscle tissue thanks to their anabolic effects on protein metabolism. 

Reduces Muscle Soreness

Another desirable quality of BCAAs is the decreased muscle soreness after workouts.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can significantly impact the recovery rate between workout sessions, affecting the consistency with which you can exercise and hit your health and fitness goals. With the help of BCAAs, muscle soreness can be reduced while instantaneously speeding up muscle tissue recovery to promote faster recovery times and more consistent training. 

If reducing soreness is what you’re after we have built a list of the best BCAA supplements out there which were tested for safety, effectiveness, taste and mixability by a registered dietitian.

Enhances Athletic Performance

A desirable quality many athletes seek for their sport and training regimen is improved athletic performance. One of the factors that can consistently contribute to poor athletic performance is a lack of energy to power the muscles to perform to the best of their ability. 

BCAAs are effective in enhancing exercise performance by reducing the rate of perceived exhaustion so athletes can perform with greater workloads. The amino acids promote cell proliferation, a process where a cell grows and divides, maintaining tissue and its development. This is important for supporting tissue during and after exercise in its maintenance, recovery, and growth. 

Boosts Muscle Growth

Though BCAAs are frequently advertised as a save-all for building muscle mass that no other supplement can hope to achieve, studies have revealed that there are factors that contribute to the efficacy of BCAA supplements on muscle growth. 

BCAA supplements are not as effective as a stand-alone tool to boost muscle growth. It was revealed through a study that BCAAs are more beneficial for promoting muscle growth when paired with all nine EAAs compared to just the three specific BCAAs. 

Prevents Muscle Wasting

If you’re going hard in the gym and committing yourself to reaching your health and fitness goals, preventing muscle loss and maintaining muscle mass is crucial. 

As amino acids are building blocks of protein, it’s no surprise that BCAAs would effectively prevent muscle protein breakdown. Through a study using subjects with sarcopenia, BCAAs were shown to positively prevent protein breakdown and muscle wasting.

Defining Glutamine

A nonessential amino acid, glutamine becomes a conditionally essential amino acid under specific circumstances such as adolescent growth and development, pregnancy, illness, injury, or stress. In glutamine vs amino acids, glutamine wins as the most abundant amino acid in the human body. 

This vital amino acid promotes a healthy immune system, stimulates wound healing, aids gut health, and removes excess ammonia from the body. As this amino acid supports many vital bodily functions of the immune and digestive systems, a deficiency would negatively impact the quality of life and damage DNA, resulting in apoptosis, which can lead to neurodegenerative diseases.  

Glutamine Benefits 

Chemical formula for Glutamine

There are many profound benefits of the amino acid glutamine. From supporting the immune system, promoting health in the gut, and removing excess ammonia from the human body, glutamine is a necessary component of our everyday lives. Here are some glutamine benefits that you need to know to boost your recovery, performance, and muscle growth for fitness! 

Speeds Up Recovery

A widely boasted benefit of glutamine is its capacity for speeding up muscle recovery. 

Amino acids are crucial for supporting the body’s functions. Some are vital for supporting the immune system, making them conditionally essential amino acids. This extends to its ability to reduce inflammation, decrease circulating muscle damage markers, and diminish stress placed on the body from exercise. 

These combined qualities contribute to glutamine’s benefit of demoting inflammation and muscle damage and stimulating muscle protein synthesis to promote a short recovery time between workout sessions.

Functions as the Anti-Fatigue Amino Acid

Widely used in sports nutrition for athletes, glutamine is known as the anti-fatigue amino acid. 

The capacity of this nonessential amino acid to reduce fatigue is beneficial for boosting exercise performance that could otherwise be affected by exhaustion and lack of energy. With glutamine supplementation, athletes can upgrade their workouts and performance by sustaining activities for longer due to decreased muscle fatigue and a boost in energy. 

Reduces Muscle Soreness

DOMS can hinder consistency in the gym. It can even affect the quality of life at home and work if you consistently suffer from exercise-induced muscle soreness that can impact and restrict everyday movements. 

Thanks to the functions of glutamine, muscle soreness is reduced, and recovery time is shorter, meaning less time suffering from aching muscles and more time savoring your progress in and out of the gym. 

Promotes Fat Loss

One of the biggest reasons people begin working out in the first place is for weight loss, and with the help of glutamine, the process of achieving this goal is made easier with glutamine’s benefits in supporting fat loss. 

It’s important to note that weight loss does not explicitly mean fat, which is what people mean when they say they want to lose weight. Weight loss can signify a combination of fat and muscle, which is not ideal as maintaining muscle improves quality of life in the long run. Fat loss better supports the goal of losing excess fat in the body to maintain lean muscle mass. 

Through research, glutamine has been proven to support reductions in fat, going so far as to reduce waist circumference. A study using subjects with type 2 diabetes taking glutamine supplementation revealed significant improvements in body composition and fewer cardiovascular risk factors. 

Encourages Muscle Growth

As one of the building blocks of protein, glutamine is vital for supporting muscle growth and maintenance. 

Glutamine supplementation can support the processes of muscle protein synthesis to encourage muscle growth and recovery. It is directly linked with muscle cell volume, promoting protein synthesis and influencing the increase of skeletal muscle mass.

The Differences—Glutamine vs BCAAs

There are some noteworthy differences between glutamine and BCAAs. The first is that BCAAs are EAAs, meaning the human body does not naturally synthesize them, and they must be consumed by dietary means. Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid, meaning the human body naturally synthesizes it and does not require consumption through food or supplements. 

Glutamine and BCAAs, whether nonessential or essential amino acids, are all incredibly important for supporting the functions of the human body. Deficiencies in any of the amino acids can cause serious health concerns, such as gastrointestinal disorders and neurological abnormalities.

BCAAs vs Glutamine—Which Is Better?

Between glutamine and BCAAs, you may wonder which is best for achieving your goals and promoting exercise recovery after an intense workout. Both are vital for promoting results, speeding up recovery, and stimulating muscle growth. 

Glutamine supplementation can be beneficial, but in the long-run, the body already synthesizes this amino acid, and it is consumed through everyday foods, so it isn’t necessary. BCAA supplements are a more productive purchase, as the human body does not produce the amino acids, and they must be consumed through dietary means. If you do not have a well-balanced and nutritious diet, then you may not get enough BCAAs, which is when purchasing BCAA supplements may be productive. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does glutamine build muscle?

Glutamine is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein responsible for promoting muscle protein synthesis. Because of these qualities, glutamine is productive in promoting muscle growth and recovery. 

Are BCAAs and glutamine necessary?

Both glutamine and BCAAS are necessary for everyday functions of the human body. They support the immune system, gut, liver, and muscles. BCAAs must be provided through supplementary means if they are not consumed through a balanced diet. 

What are BCAAs good for?

Leucine, isoleucine, and valine, the three BCAAs, support muscle tissue and liver health. Fitness enthusiasts often use them to promote recovery and encourage muscle growth to better achieve their progress goals.

Kaelyn Buzzo | ISSA CPT & Nutrition Coach

Kaelyn Buzzo | ISSA CPT & Nutrition Coach

I am an ISSA-certified CPT and Nutrition Coach with a BA in Creative Writing and a Minor in Nutrition.

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