What are they? How can they help me?
We all need antioxidants to help recover quickly from exercise, and to help keep our immune systems fully charged and prepared to fight other daily stressors.
Antioxidants include a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other natural compounds, including vitamins C and E, zinc, natural ingredients in green tea, and quercetin, in red wine. Antioxidants are found in fruits, vegetables, and other common, “healthy” foods.
Antioxidants help protect the body from free radicals that are produced naturally during energy metabolism. An accumulation of free radicals can cause damage to cells, and slow down cellular repair and the synthesis of new cells, such as muscle and immune cells.
Due to the high rates of energy metabolism, all types of exercise produce free radicals, especially intense exercise such as weight lifting and running. In fact, exercise primes your body’s defense system to be prepared to handle free radicals.
When do I use them?
You should be consuming antioxidants at every meal, and with between-meal snacks when possible.
There is current debate among sports nutrition experts as to whether high amounts of antioxidant supplements should be consumed in the immediate pre- or post-exercise period. Some believe antioxidant supplements may prevent negative maximal effects from exercise. However, it is also known that the presence of free radicals, to a certain degree, is necessary for the muscles to adapt to exercise. Thus, supplementation with antioxidants may interfere with this normal process. More research is needed—and being done—in this area.
How much do I need?
For vitamins A, C, and E, zinc, and selenium, athletes should consume at least 100% of the daily value (DV), as indicated on the Nutrition Facts label. This recommendation is based on the fact that athletes have increased energy metabolism compared to non-athletes.
More helpful information
Even with daily workouts, antioxidants will help keep your immune system strong. They have also shown other general health benefits such as delaying signs of aging, reducing the risk of heart disease, and reducing the risk of cancer.