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essentially nonessential? a deeper look at amino acids: glutamine

Protein is essential for various bodily functions, including growth, immune system support, hormone regulation, and recovery. Insufficient protein intake or imbalance can lead to increased inflammation, heightened injury risk, soreness, and cramping, particularly among dancers + athletes who often push through fatigue. Amino acids serve as the building blocks of proteins, with some being synthesized by the body (nonessential) and others requiring consumption through diet (essential). Conditionally essential amino acids may be necessary during certain life stages when the body's production cannot meet demand. Read more about protein for performance nutrition here and find my protein bar review here.


We know that Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are vital to include in your diet, especially within 30-minutes post-dance/exercise. This is because adequate intake of BCAAs have shown to reduce muscle catabolism (or breakdown), ensuring that we’re not using our muscle as a fuel source. Besides these three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), there are at least 17 more that we can learn about!


Let’s start today with another amino acid: glutamine.


Despite what you might be thinking, glutamine is a nonessential amino acid - meaning that we are able to synthesize this amino acid ourselves. What’s important to note is that this only occurs when we’re eating an adequate amount of protein on a regular basis (wild, right!?). 


Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in our body. It’s an amino acid that is synthesized from skeletal muscle - so increasing production requires adequate intake of BCAAs. And so goes the circle of life! You can essentially consider the BCAAs a precursor of glutamine. 


Additionally, glutamine plays vital roles in:

  • Intestinal health

  • Ammonia removal (detoxing)

  • Immune health

  • Homeostatic pH balance


As is constantly discussed throughout Dr. Lyon’s book (which I’m almost finished reading, btw), it’s VITAL to understand that the Recommended Daily Allowance of many of our macro- and micronutrients is based on preventing symptoms of deficiency. This does not equate to adequate intake of these nutrients. I think this is such a fascinating and important mindset shift, especially for dancers. In the context of today’s blog, let me say this one more time…


Nonessential amino acids are only nonessential when the overall consumption and variety of protein intake is adequate and meets the daily, personalized needs of dancers.


So, what’s the best way to ensure you’re consuming an adequate amount of protein (specifically BCAAs) to maintain adequate production of glutamine?


  • Enjoy a whey-based protein shake within 30-minutes after dancing/exercise. (More on protein powders soon!) If you’re a fan of plant-based protein shakes, check the label to ensure BCAAs are present, and if they’re not listed, they’re most likely not present in the product.

  • Incorporate foods rich in BCAAs throughout your diet. Animal-based protein sources like beef, milk, chicken, fish, and eggs. There are also plant-based sources like: soy proteins, corn, beans, lentils, whole wheat, and brown rice.

  • Aim for a high protein breakfast to get your day started, some yummy examples: avocado toast with scrambled eggs; protein pancakes + scrambled eggs with roasted sweet potato; greek yogurt with flax seed, granola, and your favorite nut butter (I love adding fruit!); and more!


Share your favorite high protein breakfast in the comments! 👇


Curious if your protein intake is meeting your personal needs? Schedule your strategy session today.




References

Civil, R., Lamb, A., Loosmore, D., Ross, L., Livingstone, K., Strachan, F., Dick, J. R., Stevenson, E. J., Brown, M. A., & Witard, O. C. (2019). Assessment of Dietary Intake, Energy Status, and Factors Associated With RED-S in Vocational Female Ballet Students. Frontiers in nutrition, 5, 136. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00136. Access article.


Cruzat, V., Macedo Rogero, M., Noel Keane, K., Curi, R., & Newsholme, P. (2018). Glutamine: Metabolism and Immune Function, Supplementation and Clinical Translation. Nutrients, 10(11), 1564. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111564


Lyon, G. Forever Strong: A New, Science-Based Strategy for Aging Well. Atria Books: New York, NY; 2023.


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I'm a Nutrition Educator & Wellness Coach based in and serving Washington, DC and the DMV region. My lifestyle-focused method has successfully helped clients achieve personal results and enhance athletic ability, eMpowering performance in class, rehearsals, and on-stage. As professional dancer myself, I have gained nutritional balance and improved my own relationship with food through many years of practice and a Masters of Science in Nutrition from University of Bridgeport. I bring this depth of personal and academic experience to a variety of clients, particularly performance athletes and fitness enthusiasts. In my spare time, I teach yoga and manage Ballet Embody, a professional contemporary ballet company.
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