Antioxidants – Why they are important in exercise and bodybuilding

Exercise creates free radicals which cause cell damaging, oxidative stress. Taking supplement with antioxidants will prevent cellular damage while strengthening your body’s defenses.

There’s no such thing as “pure” energy. Whether you’re talking about the engine in your Honda or the machinery inside your body’s cells, there’s always waste. An unfortunate by-product of normal metabolism is something called oxidative stress. Cells in your body generate trillions of biochemical reac­tions daily. In the process, they also generate free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules that have lost an electron. These volatile molecules cruise through your body, trying to stabilize themselves by stealing electrons from other molecules. When they succeed, they create still more free radicals—and healthy tis­sues are damaged in the process.

Anything that increases metabolism, whether it’s pumping iron or running on the treadmill, increases free radical production. This oxidative stress diverts energy from muscle building to muscle repairing. It also slows the rate of recovery after hard workouts. The only way to slow the process is with antioxi­dants—substances in foods or supplements that block the free-radical cascade.

Antioxidant Rich Foods

Antioxidant Rich Foods

Scientists have identified thousands of antioxi­dants. They still aren’t sure which are most effec­tive for combating oxidative stress. Nor are there any simple tests you can take to determine precisely which antioxidants are low in the blood and need to be replenished. That’s why it makes sense to take multi-antioxidants—either individually or in a com­bination supplement.

Plan to eat, or plan to fail. The best source of an­tioxidants is a well-balanced diet. Especially when you’re doing serious training, eat at least five serv­ings of fruits and vegetables daily. They contain every one of the antioxidants your body needs, in a form that’s probably more effective than what’s available from supplements.

foods high in antioxidants

foods high in antioxidants

For extra insurance, take the following supple­ments with breakfast, and again with the last meal of the day.

antioxidant supplements

antioxidant supplements

  • Vitamin C: 250 to 500 milligrams
  • Vitamin E with mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols: 400 IU
  • Alpha lipoic acid: 300 milligrams
  • Coenzyme Q10: 30 to 45 milligrams

You’ll notice that we aren’t recommending beta-carotene, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), or selenium. These are superb antioxidants, but they’re much easier to get in the diet than from supplements. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and other orange or yellow vegetables supply all of the beta-carotene and other carotenoids that you could possibly need. If you are taking at least one scoop of whey protein (espe­cially Immunocal) daily, then you don’t need to supplement with NAC. Selenium is easy to obtain as long as you eat nuts, vegetables, fish, and dairy foods. An ounce of Brazil nuts, for example, dishes up 840 micrograms of selenium. That’s a very healthy dose.


  • Beckman KB, Ames BN. The free radical theory of aging matures. Physiol Rev. 1998 Apr;78(2):547-81.
  • Eberlein-Konig B, Placzek M, Przybilla B. Protective effect against sunburn of combined systemic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and d-alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998 Jan;38(1):45-8.
  • Steck-Scott S, Arab L, Craft NE, Samet JM. Plasma and lung macrophage responsiveness to carotenoid supplementation and ozone exposure in humans. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004 Dec;58(12):1571-9.

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