Supplemental Antioxidants are Essential for Those Who Train Hard

Antioxidants form a front line defense against cell damage caused by free radicals, which are involved in muscle, joint and tendon damage and inflammation, degenerative arthritis, even the aging process. The use of antioxidants can reduce free radical damage that occurs when we exercise1 and can also attenuate the ongoing damage to injured tissues caused by free radicals, thus accelerating the healing process. As well, antioxidants have been shown to enhance aerobic performance.2

Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, selenium, green tea, reduced glutathione and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) can play an important role in reducing inflammation and fatigue, decreasing tissue damage, and preventing as well as treating injuries.

Various antioxidants, such as vitamin E, have been found to be useful in the treatment of some forms of arthritis3 and in dealing with the oxidative stress of exercise.4 As well, oxidative damage has been shown to contribute to the pathogenesis of injuries and arthritis, and the use of antioxidants, such as NAC,5 shown to have therapeutic value for reducing endothelial dysfunction, inflammation, fibrosis, invasion and cartilage erosion.

One study found that a combination of 2 antioxidants, selenomethionine and epigallocatechin-gallate (the main antioxidant in green tea extract), had beneficial effects on catabolic and anabolic gene expression of articular chondrocytes.6 The authors of the study concluded that “Our data provide insights into the mechanisms whereby ECGg and selenium modulate chondrocyte metabolism. Despite their differential mechanisms of action, the 2 compounds may exert global beneficial effects on articular cartilage.”

Supplementing endogenous antioxidants with supplementation is especially important in intense exercise, which can overwhelm the intracellular antioxidant systems and result in damage to the musculoskeletal and other systems in the body. For example, oxidative stress, the result of the overwhelming of the endogenous antioxidant system, can lead to damage to the reproductive system and decrease sex hormone production over the long term.7,8

Supplemental exogenous antioxidants interact with endogenous antioxidant to provide protection from the increase in free radicals produced by exercise.

Who Should Use Antioxidant Supplements

Lately the use and usefulness of antioxidant supplements by athletes has become a controversial subject. A few studies published last year (2010) found that the use of supplemental antioxidants may be counterproductive because they can decrease the natural antioxidant response in the body and because they may decrease skeletal muscle adaptation to exercise.

If the exercise intensity is only mild to moderate then supplemental antioxidants may, by decreasing the stimulus to enhance the endogenous antioxidant system, be somewhat counter productive. However, excessive free radical production and oxidative damage secondary to intense/exhaustive exercise and/or overtraining can overwhelm the intracellular antioxidant systems and can result in irreparable oxidative damage.

So while it may be true for most people who exercise that supplemental antioxidants may decrease endogenous antioxidant production and thus be counterproductive, it is not true for elite athletes in which the intensity of training often overwhelms the endogenous antioxidant system. This in turn leads to negative effects on the cellular function and on the neuro-musculoskeletal and energy systems leading to detrimental changes in body composition, performance, recovery, and increasing the chance of injuries.9,10,11

While it is common knowledge that you have to stress muscle fibers for them to adapt and grow, excessive damage leads to cellular membranes and mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to less efficient metabolism and delivery of nutrients.

Also muscle cells can be damaged and undergo apoptosis (cellular death) that is repaired by collagen deposition (basically scar tissue) that is cumulative leading to decreased muscle strength and efficiency.12

Supplementing endogenous antioxidants with supplementation is especially important in intense exercise which can overwhelm. For example, oxidative stress, the result of the overwhelming of the endogenous antioxidant system, can lead to damage to the reproductive system and decrease sex hormone production over the long term.13,14

The bottom line is that in those who exercise intensely, supplementation with antioxidants, using as broad a base as possible, reduces exercise induced counter productive oxidative damage, without blocking the cellular adaptation to exercise, and without impacting on endogenous antioxidant production and efficacy.

In elite athletes I feel the use of a complex mixture of antioxidants is important for optimum performance and body composition. As such I formulated what I consider the ultimate antioxidant supplement.

References

  1. Vincent HK, Bourguignon CM, Vincent KR, Weltman AL, Bryant M, Taylor AG. Antioxidant supplementation lowers exercise-induced oxidative stress in young overweight adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Dec;14(12):2224-35.
  2. Aguilo A, Tauler P, Sureda A, Cases N, Tur J, Pons A. Antioxidant diet supplementation enhances aerobic performance in amateur sportsmen. J Sports Sci. 2007 Sep;25(11):1203-10.
  3. Sangha O, Stucki G. Vitamin E in the treatment of rheumatic diseases. Zeitschrift für Rheumatologie 1998;57(4):207-214.
  4. Sacheck JM, Blumberg JB. Role of vitamin E and oxidative stress in exercise. Nutrition 2001;(10):809-14.
  5. Zafarullah M, Li WQ, Sylvester J, Ahmad M. Molecular mechanisms of N-acetylcysteine actions. Cell Mol Life Sci 2003;60(1):6-20.
  6. Andriamanalijaona R, Kypriotou M, Bauge C, Renard E, Legendre F, Raoudi M, Boumediene K, Gatto H, Monginoux P, Pujol JP. Comparative effects of 2 antioxidants, selenomethionine and epigallocatechin-gallate, on catabolic and anabolic gene expression of articular chondrocytes. J Rheumatol. 2005;32(10):1958-67.
  7. Makker K, Agarwal A, Sharma R. Oxidative stress & male infertility. Indian J Med Res. 2009 Apr;129(4):357-67.
  8. Agarwal A, Gupta S, Sharma RK. Role of oxidative stress in female reproduction. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005 Jul 14;3:28.
  9. Palazzetti S, Richard MJ, Favier A, Margaritis I. Overloaded training increases exercise-induced oxidative stress and damage. Can J Appl Physiol. 2003;28:588–604.
  10. Powers SK, Jackson MJ. Exercise-induced oxidative stress: cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiol Rev. 2008;88:1243–1276.
  11. Dalle-Donne I, Rossi R, Colombo R, Giustarini D, Milzani A. Biomarkers of oxidative damage in human disease. Clin Chem. 2006;52:601–623.
  12. Grobler LA, Collins M, Lambert MI, Sinclair-Smith C, Derman W, St Clair Gibson A, Noakes TD. Skeletal muscle pathology in endurance athletes with acquired training intolerance. Br J Sports Med. 2004 Dec;38(6):697-703.
  13. Makker K, Agarwal A, Sharma R. Oxidative stress & male infertility. Indian J Med Res. 2009 Apr;129(4):357-67.
  14. Agarwal A, Gupta S, Sharma RK. Role of oxidative stress in female reproduction. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005 Jul 14;3:28.