Exercise and Antioxidants: What’s the Connection?
While you’re probably aware that antioxidants protect your body from free radical damage, did you know that dangerous free radicals are impossible to avoid? The cellular damage they create is linked to numerous health issues–including cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune–system decline, brain dysfunction, and cataracts.1
Free radicals are generated not only through your exposure to stress, pollution, pesticides, chemicals, cigarette smoke, medications, and sun exposure, but also by something else that may surprise you: exercise.
A growing body of evidence suggests that free radicals are associated with skeletal muscle damage and inflammation after strenuous exercise. However, you do have an invaluable shield at hand–antioxidants. These valiant soldiers can detoxify the free–radical "peroxides" produced during exercise, protecting against the dangerous lipid peroxidation and muscle damage that might otherwise occur.2
It makes sense, since exercise may be associated with a 10 to 20–fold increase in oxygen uptake over your resting state, which promotes free radicals, and in turn, oxidative stress. Here’s the key though. The magnitude of the stress–related damage depends on your level of antioxidant defense.
The good news is that antioxidants produced by the body act in concert with those you consume through food and supplements to combat the ravages of free–radicals. In short, antioxidant supplementation can provide beneficial effects against exercise–induced oxidative tissue damage.3
Fortunately, if you’re living a healthy lifestyle, this information won’t complicate your life at all, as you’re already exercising–which, needless to say, is vital for optimal health–and consuming rich levels of antioxidants through food and supplements. Therefore, you might simply consider this "a word to the wise."
2 Sports Med. 1996 Mar;21(3):213-38
3 Sports Med. 2001;31(13):891-908