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Glutathione Supplementations in Boosting Exercise Performance

  • , par SANUSq Research team
Glutathione in sports and exercise

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant naturally present in your cells. It plays a key role in keeping you overall healthy and supports healthy ageing. While its antioxidant powers are well-known, this article explores if glutathione boosts exercise performance.

What is the role of glutathione in sports and exercise?

Research suggests that supplementation with glutathione can boost sports performance when used before exercise and workouts.  
Studies reveal that low levels of glutathione can fast track ageing, impair immunity and put you at an increased risk of developing diseases. Low glutathione status is associated with the development of age-related diseases such as cataracts, muscular degeneration, heart disease, hearing impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

In this blog post, we will explore:

  • What is glutathione and its role in your overall health
  • Role of glutathione in exercise performance
  • How can you improve your glutathione levels?
  • Why you need glutathione supplements?

What is Glutathione?

Glutathione is an important endogenous antioxidant, meaning it is found within cells. It is a small protein molecule made up of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. In this sense, it is a tripeptide.

Though a small and simple molecule, glutathione is capable of incredible feats in the body. Almost every cell contains high amounts of glutathione. This tells us just how important this tiny molecule is to your general health. It fights free radicals, reduces inflammation, removes toxins and harmful molecules in the body, and helps your immune system to work at its optimum level.

Glutathione as a master-antioxidant

It is known as a master-antioxidant of the body and for a good reason.

  1. Since it is present within the cells, glutathione serves as one of the first responders and a front-line defence against oxidation and inflammation.
  2. Can neutralize a wide range of free radicals – protecting cells and its structures like mitochondria and DNA from oxidative damage. It also helps in DNA synthesis and repair.
  3. Improves your body’s capacity to use and recycle other antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10.

Glutathione in detoxification

Glutathione is a detox essential. It is indispensable to how your body removes toxins from the body and plays an important role in all phases of detoxification. Low levels interfere with your body’s ability to remove toxins effectively. Build-up of toxins can do a lot of damage to your tissues and cause fatigue. It also leads to a host of health problems such as muscle pain, joint pain, hormonal imbalances, infections, and allergies.

    1. Sulfur in glutathione sticks to toxins such as drugs, heavy metals, alcohol, and metabolic waste. This makes toxins water soluble and in this form toxins are easier to get rid of. 
    2. Protects the liver from the free radicals generated in the detox process.

    Glutathione in immunity

    Glutathione revs up your immunity through several ways.

    1. Stimulates the production and function of white blood cells
    2. Protects immune cells from damage caused by free radicals
    3. Activates T cells and helps T cells to fight pathogens more effectively [1]

    Glutathione in boosting exercise performance?

    Energy demands of your body shoot up during vigorous, intensive exercise. This means active tissues like your skeletal muscles experience increased formation of free radicals. These reactive molecules damage muscle cells and its mitochondria, causing muscle fatigue and decreased performance.

    Can anti-oxidant supplements like glutathione help in supressing muscle fatigue during exercise? Can glutathione boost sports performance?

    Glutathione Supplementation in Exercise and Sport Performance

    Healthy cells contain high amounts of glutathione and most of this is present in reduced form, also known as GSH. It is also known that high concentration of oxidized glutathione (GSSG) in a cell is a sign of oxidative stress and toxicity.

    Studies show that prolonged physical exercise lowers the reduced form of glutathione in cells – suggesting glutathione may a have role to play in how your body creates energy through aerobic metabolism.

    A 2015 study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that glutathione supplementation reduces muscle fatigue triggered by exercise – by improving aerobic metabolism.

    In this small double-blind, cross-over study, eight healthy men received either 1 gram of glutathione per day before exercise or placebo, for two weeks. It found that men who received glutathione supplements performed better and experienced less muscle fatigue in comparison to the placebo group. The group that received supplements also had lower lactic acid levels than the group given placebo.

    Before we discuss the findings of this study on how glutathione boosts exercise performance and reduces muscle fatigue, let’s do a quick run-down on how your body creates energy for daily functioning and survival.

    Aerobic versus anaerobic metabolism
    Your body breaks down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats from food to make energy. This is called metabolism and can happen through two ways: aerobic metabolism or anaerobic metabolism.

    Aerobic metabolism – when your body makes energy by burning carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the presence of oxygen.

      • Your body relies on aerobic metabolism to produce most of the energy it needs for basic functioning and sustained energy requirements. This includes exercises like walking, running and cycling.
      • It is a very efficient way of producing energy.
      • This is also how your body burns fat.

      Anaerobic metabolism – when your body burns carbohydrates to create energy in the absence of oxygen. This process takes place when you don’t have enough oxygen in circulation to fuel your muscles.

        • It is a far less efficient process of creating energy in the body. 
        • In this process, muscles produce lactic acid as a by-product. An excessive amount of lactic acid in your muscles causes muscle soreness and fatigue, slowing down contractions. This reduces muscle performance.
        • Your body falls back on this process when it needs sudden bursts of energy quickly. This happens during heavy weightlifting, sprinting and high-intensity interval training.

        Having said that, both processes are important. While aerobic metabolism is what you need for your daily functioning, the anaerobic process helps you function at your best during stressful situations when you need to make fast, maybe even lifesaving decisions. This is how your body meets sudden spike in energy demands.

        Coming back to how glutathione may help in improving sports or exercise performance, research suggests that “glutathione supplementation improves aerobic metabolism in skeletal muscle, leading to reduced exercise-induced muscle fatigue.” [2]

        Let us look at how glutathione may help achieve this.

        Liposomal Glutathione

        Glutathione improves muscle pH:
        When your muscle contracts during exercise, it produces lactic acid. This lowers pH levels in the skeletal muscles – resulting in soreness and slow muscle contractions.This research showed that glutathione supplementation reduces the significance of the pH drop that happens within muscles after exercise.  

        Improves lipid metabolism:
        The source of energy has a big role to play in how your muscles perform. When your muscles burn carbohydrates, more lactic acid is produced. This leads to reduced muscle contraction. On the other hand, when energy is created by burning fats or lipids, aerobic metabolism kicks in. In this way, your muscles get a large amount of energy through a more efficient route, leading to less lactic acid accumulation within the skeletal muscles. This, in turn, leads to an improved pH environment for the muscle to perform better.

        Research found that glutathione improves lipid metabolism in the muscle cells. Now, during exercise, muscle gets energy mainly from carbohydrates and lipids. Since glutathione stimulates muscle cells to burn more fat, energy creation from carbohydrates take a back seat. This leads to reduced production of lactic acid – suggesting a mechanism by which glutathione reduces exercise induced fatigue in muscle cells.

        Now, this energy creations takes place in the mitochondria of the muscle cells, which brings us to another important mechanism through which glutathione helps improve exercise performance.

        Increases the number of mitochondria
        Glutathione works in another way to improve athletic performance. It increases the number and activity of mitochondria, small structures within the cells that create energy for the cells to function. Mitochondria is where all the “energy-creating” action takes place. The researchers commented that increased levels of mitochondria fast-track aerobic metabolism – leading to reduced formation of lactic acid.

        Without getting into technical jargon, the researchers believe that glutathione may help in increasing the concentration of mitochondria within cells by activating PGC-1a. It is a protein that plays a key role in regulating how your cells burn fats and carbohydrates. PGC-1a stimulates production of mitochondria and is also associated with producing clean energy for the cells. Studies also show that this protein activates enzymes that remove damaging free radicals from the cell, thus minimizing oxidative damage in the muscle cells.

        The study made these observations and concluded that “glutathione induces aerobic metabolism and improves an acidic environment in skeletal muscle during exercise by elevating PGC-1a, which would prevent exercise-induced fatigue.” [2]

        Recent 2019 research also found that supplementing with glutathione supplements and its precursors improved the sport performance and physical condition of athletes. [3]

        Do you have low glutathione levels?

          • Your body makes less glutathione with age
          • Your body uses glutathione for various regular and critical functions, leading to low levels.
          • Many other factors deplete glutathione from the body, such as heavy metal exposure, lack of sleep, stress, disease, pollution, heavy smoking, heavy drinking and drug abuse.
          • Both inactivity and intensive exercise routines can cause low levels of this master antioxidant.

          How can you increase glutathione levels?

          You can get glutathione from food and supplements.

          Some foods containing glutathione such as okra, spinach, cucumber, avocados, almonds, and walnuts are naturally loaded with glutathione.

          However, glutathione from food is very poorly absorbed by the body. In addition, cooking can reduce glutathione present in these foods.

          Try to increase your intake of foods and nutritional supplements that provide raw materials that your body needs to make glutathione naturally. These include:

            1. Foods that are rich in sulphur, such as garlic, onions, leeks, chives, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, mustard greens, kale, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts
            2. Whey protein
            3. Selenium rich foods such as fish, organ meats, mushroom, seafood and dairy products.
            4. Magnesium supplements or foods that are rich in magnesium such as nuts, seeds and lentils
            5. Supplements like milk thistle, alpha lipoic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, and curcumin.
            6. Nutritional supplements like vitamin C, vitamin E and B vitamins

            You must also cut down your intake of processed food. Refined food products contain harmful ingredients such as added sugar, trans fats, flavoring, preservatives, and artificial food colors. When your body processes and removes these harmful substances, it falls back on its antioxidant support system, thus draining glutathione and other antioxidants from the body. The same goes for alcohol and smoking. In fact, studies show that heavy drinkers have reduced levels of glutathione in their lungs. [4]

            In addition, getting sound sleep of 8 hours at night and regular exercise also stimulate the body to make glutathione. Cardio and weight training may be especially helpful in improving glutathione levels.

            What about taking glutathione supplements?

            Experts believe that taking your run-of-the mill oral supplements has extraordinarily little effect on improving your levels of glutathione as these standard supplements offer extremely poor absorption and bioavailability. What happens is that glutathione in your average oral supplement is destroyed by the enzymes in the digestive tract. Nearly all the glutathione you take in this format is wasted, not ending up in the bloodstream.

            This is where liposomal glutathione supplements help. This form of supplements takes advantage of liposomal technology – that improves both absorption and bioavailability to exceptional levels.

            The studies mentioned in this article also suggest that supplementing with glutathione helps in reducing muscle fatigue and improving sports performance.   

            Other Health Benefits of Liposomal Glutathione Supplements

              1. Decreases inflammation in the body
              2. Helps in removing toxins
              3. Boosts immunity
              4. Reduces the risk of chronic diseases
              5. Protects body from radiation
              6. May improve insulin resistance
              7. Improves pain and mobility in people with peripheral artery disease
              8. Assists the body to maintain overall health


                1. T W Mak et al. Glutathione Primes T Cell Metabolism for Inflammation. Immunity. April 2017.
                2. Aoi et al. Glutathione supplementation suppresses muscle fatigue induced by prolonged exercise via improved aerobic metabolism. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015
                3. Grucza et al. Effects of Supplementation with Glutathione and its Precursors on Athlete Performance. Biomedical Journal of Scientific & Technical Research. 2019.
                4. Pratibha C Joshi and David M Guidot. The Alcoholic Lung: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Potential Therapies. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2007


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