Interested in taking your performance, health, and sleep to the next level? Maybe you’ve experimented with multiple supplements and are now looking for something novel to enhance your output. One tiny amino acid—with not so tiny effects, may be able to give you a boost.
This awesome amino acid is glycine. We can’t live without it. And, while it’s in many of the foods we eat, you probably still aren’t getting as much as you need. The effects of glycine, while understudied, may also be of interest to those wishing to enhance cognitive and physical performance.
A Pretty Sweet Molecule
We usually think of amino acids as they relate to protein: the building blocks of muscle that bodybuilders take to get lean gains and increase mass. Besides muscle growth, dietary amino acids play a number of vital roles throughout the rest of the body, and glycine plays several particularly important parts.
Glycine is the simplest amino acid (in structure, at least). Its name comes from the Greek for “sweet” (glykys), since it has been described as being as sweet in taste–like glucose. Glycine is a non-essential amino acid. So, while we do ingest a certain amount of dietary glycine, our body can also can synthesize its own.
Glycine made in the body is used in collagen synthesis.
Let's pause for a moment to discuss the benefits of collagen. It's essential for maintaining the structure of tissues, joints and blood vessels. It also promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails. But you probably aren't getting enough collagen, and with age, the body's natural collagen production begins to decline.
A healthy body requires proper collagen synthesis and composition. It is, quite literally, what we’re made of. Without enough glycine, collagen production suffers.
Other activities of glycine include its important role in the production of heme (a protein found in blood), creatine, and several antioxidants. Glycine is also integrated into enzymes, giving them flexibility to bend, twist, and interact with energy-producing substrates in our body.
While technically “non-essential,” the amounts of glycine we synthesize plus dietary glycine may fall short of the amount we need for optimal metabolic function. 15 grams is about what we need each day for all of the above metabolic functions to occur. But, we make only around 2.5 grams per day! This leaves another 12 grams of glycine intake needed to function at our best, and studies indicate that other sources (like dietary glycine) probably don’t meet this need.
Maximum growth and collagen synthesis (at least in animals) can’t be achieved through the body’s own glycine synthesis pathways.
Health and Wellness Benefits of Glycine
Glycine deficiency isn’t life threatening, but low amounts of glycine intake will short-change synthesis of important enzymes and proteins–this could have detrimental effects on health.
Low glycine status means you’ll limit your ability to make collagen and connective tissue for bones, skin, hair, and nails. Glutathione synthesis proceeds glycine, so lower amounts of glycine (or its antioxidant product) could lead to down-regulation of antioxidants and a general state of immune system inflammation. The result? Oxidative stress, an environment associated with negative health problems like the metabolic syndrome.
Don’t worry about a glycine overdose. The safety of glycine supplementation has been confirmed at doses of 0.5g/Kg of body weight for eight weeks, 0.8g/Kg for six weeks, and even the same 0.8g/Kg dose for up to five years! Not only is it safe, but glycine supplementation has been shown to yield numerous health benefits.
Is your cortex in need of a little pick-me-up? Since glycine plays an important role in central nervous system neurotransmission (brain signalling), some believe that boosting glycine levels may actually lead to lower levels of negative mental states, improve cognition and positive mood, and perhaps be useful for memory loss.
While this hasn’t been formally tested in research studies of healthy people, it has been used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia, with promising results.
Your Heart Loves Glycine
Cardiovascular health benefits of glycine have also been observed. Having a higher plasma concentration of glycine is associated with favorable levels of blood fatty acids in men and women, lower blood pressure and risk of type 2 diabetes, and fewer risk factors for suffering a heart attack or ischemic stroke.
People who have higher levels of glycine have seem to have a certain level of protection against diseases of the heart.
Higher glycine and lower cardiovascular risk could be due to the known benefits of glycine on inflammation and lipid metabolism. It’s anti-atherogenic, meaning it protects against the narrowing of arteries and other disease-processes. Feeding a glycine-rich diet has been shown to reduce platelet aggregation—a mechanism involved in heart attacks and CVD risk. Treatment with glycine has even been shown to protect against the harmful vascular effects of a high sugar “western diet” (mice, meet McDonalds).
A Metabolic Boost
Glycine may also benefit metabolic health. Higher serum levels of glycine are associated with a lower amount of insulin resistance, better insulin sensitivity and less abdominal fat;
Studies show that consuming 5g of glycine in the morning enhances insulin secretion throughout the day in individuals predisposed to type 2 diabetes.
Better glucose regulation has profound health benefits for everyone, not just diabetics. An ability to better regulate blood sugar levels throughout the day can benefit your mental and physical performance. Avoid the sugar crash!
Down with Inflammation
Lowering inflammation and oxidative stress has numerous benefits including everything from disease prevention to increased mental health and performance. Here, glycine intake may help, since it has been shown to protect against oxidative stress-related damage caused by free radicals. Glycine inhibits the production of toxic inflammatory molecules like tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and oxygen free radicals in the lungs,
These profound benefits occur largely because glycine is a dietary precursor to a potent antioxidant molecule called glutathione. Glutathione neutralizes damage causing free radicals and lowers oxidative stress.
Boosting glycine levels will enhance glutathione synthesis. Just 20 days of supplementing with glycine reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression. The beneficial effects of glycine supplementation were shown by increased antioxidant levels of glutathione by 94.6%. Glycine also dramatically lowered inflammatory factors in aging individuals with high levels of oxidative stress (who were glycine-deficient).
Glycine for Athletes
Always looking to gain a competitive edge, certain athletes could potentially benefit from supplementing with glycine. Could you?
First, let’s talk about gains–muscle gains. Experiments have shown that taking a single bolus with a high dose (22.5 grams) of glycine caused a 60% surge in growth hormone release from the pituitary gland in under five minutes.
Smaller doses of four, eight, and, twelve grams also increases serum levels of growth hormones in a dose-dependent manner.
While yet to be confirmed in athletes, there may be a potential for glycine to augment adaptations to strength training.
What about anaerobic performance? On its own, glycine hasn’t been studied much in this area. However, a supplemental form of glycine known as glycine-propionyl-L-carnitine (GPLC) has been shown to enhance peak power production and reduce the amount of lactate build up during repeated, high-intensity sprints when taken just 90 minutes before exercise.
If you’re injured, it’s safe to say performance output won’t matter much. You have to stay healthy.
Interestingly, glycine and green tea has proven to be effective in recovery after injury–the combination could could get you back on the field or the track sooner. Mice with achilles tendinitis which were given a glycine and green tea cocktail had greater tissue recovery, more collagen synthesis, and lower inflammation.
Sweet Dreams: How Glycine Benefits Sleep
Everyone needs close to ideal sleep quality and quantity to perform at their best, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Without adequate restful sleep, good luck climbing to the top of the ladder at work, your rec basketball league, or your weekly pub trivia night.
Glycine can help get you the rest needed to achieve. Using the gold standard-measure of sleep, polysomnography (PSG), researcher shows 3g of glycine ingester before bed reduces time to fall asleep (known as sleep latency) and helps people get into restorative, growth-inducing, recovery-promoting slow-wave sleep (SWS) faster.
A good night of sleep means better performance the next day.
Objective measures of sleep quality–fatigue, liveliness, peppiness, and clear-headedness—all improve the next day following a glycine-induced slumber. Glycine even reduces daytime sleepiness and improves psychomotor performance when sleep restriction is forced to be 25% less than normal for up to three nights.
For athletes, sleep is a pillar of performance. Reduced endurance performance, lower strength, and poor psychomotor function–these are just a few impacts of inadequate sleep in athletes.
In times when you’re short on sleep, glycine could be protective against daytime sleepiness and keep you on your A game.
Sleep quality enhancing benefits of glycine can be easily obtained by using supplements, especially sleep aids containing 500mg of L-glycine along with melatonin, L-theanine, and magnesium glycinate. Together, these ingredients combine to help the body and the brain get into recharge mode and kick butt the next day. Clinical studies have shown that the supplements containing the aforementioned components can reduce the time to fall asleep by seven minutes and increase sleep efficiency by 3%.
No more counting sheep. Give supplemental glycine and nootropics a try to prioritize your sleep hygiene. As one of the pillars of physical and mental performance, this area of human health and optimization can’t be ignored. Dream on.
An All-Around Supplement
With a key role in so many bodily processes (from brain function to healthy skin and nails), glycine is one amino acid that, while “non-essential,” is truly “essential” take your body and mind to the next level. Even better, when reasonable amounts of glycine are used as a supplement, there seem to be few side effects, other than mild GI distress.
Adding this supplement to your diet might level up your game and help take performance to the next level.
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