Does Taking Antioxidants During Your Workout Improve Exercise Recovery?
All athletes and fitness enthusiasts should be concerned with exercise recovery. If you don’t get in the nutrition and rest that you need to recover from each workout, this will negatively affect health and performance over time. One of common recommendation to assist with exercise recovery is consuming a diet rich in antioxidants to decrease inflammation and free radicals in the body. Free radicals are molecules that can cause damage to tissues in the body and are typically produced in the body in response to certain physiological or pathological conditions. Common initiators of free radical production include air pollution, radiation, fried foods… and exercise. This doesn’t paint exercise in a particularly positive light, but the free radicals produced during aerobic training and weightlifting actually serve a good purpose: they trigger the release of proteins and enzymes necessary to begin muscle repair and recovery. This process is actually what makes our muscles stronger and helps us adapt to repetitive strenuous activity.
… free radicals produced during aerobic exercise and weightlifting actually serve an important purpose.
When you take antioxidants during your workout (such as vitamin A, C, or E), this dampens this response and can actually limit improvements to performance and exercise recovery. Multiple studies have proven this to be true for both strength and endurance athletes(1)(2).
What this means is that you shouldn’t trust pre-workout or intra-workout supplements that contain high levels of antioxidants and purport that these nutrients will lengthen time to fatigue or increase strength. They will actually do the opposite! Keep in mind, however, that eating a moderate amount of antioxidant-rich foods (such as 1 cup of berries or a small handful of nuts) will not negatively affect your exercise performance; we are only talking about mega-doses that would be found in dietary supplements. If you do take a high-dose vitamin C supplement to support immune health or dietary insufficiency, try to avoid taking it immediately before or after your workout. High-dose vitamin E or A supplements should only be taken if recommended by a doctor or a dietitian to correct a nutrient deficiency.
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