Creatine vs. Glutamine (Which Is Better?)

January 30, 2024

While creatine is one of the most extensively researched and effective supplements available, many athletes consider incorporating glutamine into their supplement regimen. Given that both are marketed for comparable purposes, such as muscle building, the question arises: creatine vs glutamine – which one should you choose?

Among athletes, creatine is superior for enhancing performance and promoting muscle gains. Its effectiveness has been well-established across diverse populations. On the other hand, glutamine proves more impactful in therapeutic contexts, such as promoting gut health, aiding recovery post-surgeries, and supporting individuals with immunocompromised conditions like cancer or HIV, and has not been shown to improve muscle mass or performance in athletes.

If so, why is glutamine such a popular supplement amongst athletes? Let’s dissect the differences between creatine and glutamine and the science behind the two to get some context behind the claims.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is also known as methyl guanidine-acetic acid. It is a nonprotein amino acid naturally produced within the body through reactions in the kidneys and liver involving the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine [1].

Externally, creatine is mainly obtained through meat consumption or as a dietary supplement. PubMed, the biomedical and life sciences journal literature archive at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, features more than 500 peer-reviewed publications covering diverse aspects of creatine supplementation [2].

Creatine can serve as a “backup” for energy production – in other words, it helps to keep energy available by quickly restoring ATP (the body’s energy currency) during short, intense bursts of exercise.

This ensures a steady supply of energy, leading you to be able to train for longer and harder [3].

What Is Glutamine?

Glutamine, the most prevalent amino acid in the body, is a key player in essential physiological functions.

While generally considered non-essential, it becomes conditionally essential during times of trauma or specific clinical conditions [4].

This shift indicates that under certain stressors, the body requires more glutamine than it can naturally produce.

While it is beneficial in a clinical or hospital-based context, research on its benefits in a sports context is unclear.

Nonetheless, glutamine also fulfills various other biological functions, including but not limited to cell proliferation, energy production, glycogenesis, ammonia buffering, and the maintenance of acid-base balance [5].

Benefits Of Creatine

Glutamine vs Creatine

Improved Performance And Increased Muscle Mass

Creatine supplementation increases muscle creatine stores, allowing the ability to train harder and longer [10].

Creatine can influence type II muscle fibers’ composition and size, enhance recovery, and increase strength and muscle mass [6, 7].

Improved Recovery

The supplementation of creatine can aid athletes in recovering from rigorous training. For instance, one study [10] observed that simultaneous intake of creatine (5 g) with substantial glucose (95 g) boosted the storage of creatine and carbohydrates in the muscles.

A study on runners who completed a 30km race found that creatine loading before the race can reduce inflammation and muscle soreness [8].

In a review of all the literature on creatine, the International Society of Sports Nutrition identified numerous studies indicating enhancements in recovery with creatine supplementation.

The consensus statement derived from the collective research confirms the effectiveness of creatine in improving recovery [3].

Creatine can also enhance recovery from injury [9].

Improved Heat Tolerance

Although many believe that creatine can cause dehydration, the opposite is true.

Many studies [10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15] have found that creatine supplementation can lead to increased intracellular water levels (water inside cells) and less extreme thermoregulatory and cardiovascular responses during extended exercise (like heart rate, rectal temperature, sweat rate).

This can lead to “hyper-hydration” and better response to heat, particularly during prolonged exercise in hot conditions.

Improved Recovery From Injury

Evidence shows that creatine can limit muscle loss during time off due to injury and can help with rehab [16, 17, 18]

Clinical Benefits

Research has shown significant clinical benefits of creatine across various conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases (like muscular dystrophies [19, 20, 21], Huntington’s disease [22, 23, 24]; Parkinson’s disease [25, 26]; mitochondria-related diseases [27, 28 29]; and, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease [23, 30, 31], ischemic heart diseases [32, 33, 34], aging [35, 36, 37], and pregnancy [38, 39, 40].

Benefits Of L-Glutamine

Is Creatine Better Than Glutamine

Gut Health And Clinical Benefits

Glutamine is a critical fuel source for rapidly dividing cells such as lymphocytes, enterocytes, and intestinal epithelial cells (the cells of the gut) [41].

It plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the gut barrier (keeping your gut lining healthy and whole) and helps to produce the antioxidant glutathione [42].

In times of severe metabolic stress, like trauma or major surgery, the body’s stores of glutamine can be depleted [43].

This is significant because glutamine is essential for immunity and the well-being of the gut lining [43, 44].

Supplementing with glutamine during such stressful periods has been shown to enhance gut barrier function [45], improve healing [46],  and preserve lean body mass [46].

Glutamine supplementation can help prevent septic shock in the ICU [47].

Talking about “stress” here does not mean your normal, day-to-day stress or intense emotional stress. We are talking about stress on the body, like an accident, burn wounds, operations, etc.

Glutamine then benefits the gut, immunity, and muscle mass because it becomes depleted.

It is very unlikely that exercise will put that amount of stress on the body, which is why, under normal circumstances, your body makes enough glutamine to perform its role in the body.

It can be that in extreme endurance events, like very long ultras, you might deplete glutamine – but research in that area still is very sparse and not enough to indicate glutamine in a sporting context [48].

As a dietitian, I see many people make the mistake of conducting research, like the research on healing and preservation of lean body mass, that is done in clinical contexts like the ICU and trying to extrapolate the findings to sport.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Context and the type of person that the research is done on is so important when you interpret the results of a study.

Regarding the gut, research indicates that glutamine supplementation can slightly improve gut permeability (how your gut absorbs nutrients) in individuals with Crohn’s disease [45].


Glutamine plays a vital role in immunity. Immune cells, especially rapidly dividing ones like lymphocytes, require significant energy.

Glutamine provides a crucial energy source for these cells during their active processes [49, 50].

It contributes to the production and activity of immune cells, aiding in a more robust and effective immune response.

In times of increased breakdown of bodily substances, called catabolism, glutamine becomes crucial for metabolic functions.

However, its availability can be affected due to disruptions in the balance of amino acids between tissues.

That’s why glutamine is now included in nutritional supplements for clinical use and is recommended for individuals with weakened immune systems, like HIV and AIDS [43, 44, 51].

For athletes, there is no evidence that taking glutamine will improve your immune system, although marketing campaigns and internet articles claim that it will.

Once again, we need to look at the research and see what the population for the studies are – critically ill patients in the ICU, burns patients, and patients with diseases like cancer.

You simply cannot translate this information and say that glutamine will improve your immunity as an athlete because what is happening in your body is fundamentally different.

For athletes, you most likely are creating enough glutamine to meet your body’s needs, so taking it as a supplement will not be effective.

Creatine vs. Glutamine Main Differences

Difference Between Creatine And Glutamine

Use Case

Both supplements are useful, but for different purposes and in different contexts. Creatine is a much better option for athletes aiming to enhance performance and muscle mass and has many therapeutic and clinical benefits.

Glutamine, on the other hand, has benefits for the gut and gut lining and can be beneficial for people who are undergoing surgery or going through a major immunosuppressive illness like cancer or HIV.

Adding supplemental glutamine will not be beneficial for most athletes because enough glutamine will already be produced in their bodies.

Efficacy: Muscle Building And Performance


Creatine has been widely researched and proven to improve muscle mass in a variety of populations, including adolescents [50, 51, 52], younger adults [53, 54, 55], and older individuals [36, 55, 56, 57].

This can help you to increase your intensity and/or duration of exercise, resulting in increased gains in strength, muscle mass, and performance.

This improvement in training quality contributes to enhanced overall outcomes [3, 48].

Primarily, creatine is a supplement that can help power and strength athletes enhance training adaptations.

It is also beneficial for athletes engaged in intermittent sprinting and requiring quick recovery during competitions, such as those in American football, soccer, basketball, tennis, etc.

Following creatine loading, there is typically a performance improvement of 10–20% in high-intensity and/or repetitive exercises, depending on the extent of the increase in muscle phosphocreatine [58].


One of the reasons why glutamine is being marketed as a sports nutrition product, and often one that aids in building muscle, is because there is a strong theoretical argument for glutamine’s ability to help your body handle stress, like exercise, and enhance strength and muscle gains when we look at animal studies.

However, when we look at human research, the evidence in this area has not been as consistent, and we cannot say for sure that it has any impact  [48].

It has been said that glutamine can enhance cell volume and stimulate protein and glycogen synthesis [59, 60, 61, 62].

However, despite its significant role in various physiological processes, there isn’t substantial evidence supporting the use of glutamine supplementation for increasing lean body mass [48].

A 2008 review by Gleeson concluded that minimal evidence exists to support glutamine’s suggested role in exercise and sports training [63].

Initial research [64] reported that subjects who supplemented their diet with glutamine (5 g) and BCAA (3 g) enriched whey protein (40 g) during resistance training promoted about a two-pound greater gain in muscle mass and greater gains in strength than ingesting whey protein alone.

In contrast, another study [65] reported no additional impact on strength, endurance, body composition, and anaerobic power of combining 5 g of glutamine and 3 g of BCAAs to 40 g of whey protein in healthy men and women who resistance trained for 10 weeks.

Additionally, a separate study reported that high-dose glutamine ingestion (0.3 g/kg) did not yield significant effects on various performance parameters.

In a meticulously conducted study, researchers investigated the impact of oral glutamine supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults [66].

Thirty-one participants were randomly assigned to receive either glutamine (0.9 g/kg of lean tissue mass) or a maltodextrin placebo (0.9 g/kg of lean tissue mass) over 6 weeks of total body resistance training.

The study’s findings indicated that glutamine supplementation during resistance training did not have a notable effect on muscle performance, body composition, or muscle protein degradation in young and healthy adults.

Creatine vs. Glutamine: Which Should You Take?

Your choice of creatine vs glutamine depends on what you wish to achieve by taking it.

In the context of sport, muscle building, and sports performance, creatine is by far the most effective and well-researched supplement.

Because a typical diet only supplies about 1 – 2g creatine per day and will saturate your stores to approximately 60% of its capacity [3], adding a supplement will help to boost muscle creatine stores to 100%.

On the other hand, most athletes will be able to produce enough glutamine for day-to-day training and performance.

There is no evidence that glutamine can enhance muscle building in athletes. Only in extreme cases of surgery, illness, or inflammatory gut diseases like Crohn’s disease or IBS will glutamine become a nutrient that must be supplemented.


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About the Author

Hanli is a Registered Dietitian with a special interest in sports nutrition. She has a Master's degree and is currently a PhD candidate focusing on adolescent athlete nutrition. She has published research in the Obesity Reviews journal and is a research coordinator at the Sport Science Institute of South Africa.

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