The Neuroscience Behind Motivation – Got Glutamine?

Latest Discovery of Motivation!

Have you ever wondered how you are so motivated some of the days and on the others, you don’t feel like getting out of the bed?

Why is it that some people are driven by ambition and succeed more while others struggle repeatedly and fail?

Well, your answer lies in the science of motivation.

Whether it is passing an exam or building the house of your dreams, motivation is what leads you to success. It is one of the key factors for success, yet it is the hardest to maintain. Only if we knew a way to keep the level of motivation up for the longest time.

Don’t worry, science has got your back!


The Neuroscience of Motivation — The Inner workings of our Brain


Motivation originates in our brain and if only we knew how it works, we will have the ultimate key to success. This hope has led many scientists to spend their lives understanding the workings of our brains. A team of such scientists from EPFL and the University of Edinburgh’s embarked on this journey to understand motivated behavior. The article was published in the July issue of the renowned scientific journal, “Nature Neuropsychopharmacology”.

They targeted a small region in the brain called the nucleus accumbens or NAcc. Located on the basal forebrain, NAcc is known to play an important role in functions like reinforcement, reward, aversion, and motivation.

The scientists at EPLP applied neuromarketing techniques to find out how accumbal (related to NAcc) metabolite levels affect the motivation to perform. They designed a force task with a monetary incentive. Basically, the participants were supposed to squeeze a dynamometer — a force measuring device. Depending on the effort they make to squeeze, the participants would be rewarded with different monetary sums.  The process was to be repeated 120 times consecutively, making it hard to keep up with the performance. The experiment was done under two conditions: isolation and competition, to see if the competition had a greater impact on performance.

The scientist studied the levels of glutamine (Gln), glutamate (Glu), Gaba, and their ratio to see how they affect the motivation to perform an effort based task.  Glutamine is a precursor to the glutamate and Gaba amino acids. Glutamate and Gaba are neurotransmitters responsible for excitation and inhibition of chemical signals in the brain, respectively. These neurotransmitters affect concentration, focus, mood, alertness, and consequently, motivation.

Their findings of the study done by the teams from EPLP and University of Edinburgh are listed below:

  •  Our motivation to perform a certain task is positively linked to the ratio of Gln-to-Glu in the NAcc.  Gln to Glu ratio is also linked to stamina needed to perform a task. The higher ratio has a positive effect on stamina.


  •  Competition boosts our initial performance, particularly if we have low Gln-to-Glu levels.


  •  In simpler words, you tend to perform better and stay motivated for a longer time if the accumbal glutamine to glutamate ratio is higher.


The role of Glutamine in Motivation


Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid that also acts as the main precursor to produce neurotransmitter glutamate and GABA in the brain. It is the most abundant amino acid in our body, whereas in the brain glutamate is found in higher concentration.

The balance between glutamine and glutamate holds the key to optimized brain activity. It is essential for healthy brain activity.

A study done on mice, in Korea, revealed that a decrease in levels of glutamate and glutamine led to immobility and reduced fondness for sugar. A clear sign of reduced motivation and depression.

As soon as the glutamine levels were increased through direct infusion, the mice were back to normal. High glutamine levels fill you with energy. You become more energetic and motivated.

 When your glutamine level is lower, you may be filled with fear, worry, and anxiety leading to loss of motivation, and drive to accomplish your goals. 

People with lower glutamine levels usually try to find peace in alcohol, carb-rich foods, and drugs. That is why whenever you are feeling low you gulp down an entire box of cookies and ice cream!


How to increase your motivation, naturally!

By now, it is established high glutamine levels and high Gln-to-Glu ratio play a vital role in improving your motivation level. Here are some tips to increase glutamine and hence Gln-to-Glu ratio in your brain.


  1. Eat food containing glutamine:

Food containing a higher amount of protein is also abundant in glutamine. Meat and fish are considered to be the richest sources of glutamine. Milk and eggs also contain glutamine.  

Whey protein and energy drinks are also important sources to get your glutamine from!

 If you are a vegetarian or vegan: Nuts, cabbage (especially red cabbage), and beans are all great sources of glutamine.


  1. Glutamine supplements:

Usually, we don’t get enough glutamine from the food we consume. Adding nootropic stack can boost your cognition and mental state. Experts recommend 2 to 5 grams of glutamine dosage per day.


Of course there are other factors and neurotransmitters that contribute to motivation, however, for this discussion we wanted to put the spotlight on the role that glutamine and glutamate plays in regulating motivation.