Antioxidants have been long praised for their health benefits in our daily diet, but they seem to be popping up in a lot of supplements and ergogenic aids. So below I discusses their role in recovery for athletes.
Endurance athletes (those undertaking high volumes of aerobic training each week such as running, swimming, cycling etc.) rely on high amounts of oxygen to provide energy whilst performing these exercises. This training may increase the production of free radicals, leading to an increase in antioxidant defense to protect cells from free radical damage (2). This is described as oxidative stress and may result in an inflammatory response from the immune system to protect the athletes’ tissue.
Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stress, thereby preventing damage to cell structures. Antioxidants are obtained from the diet and include, but are not limited to, vitamin E, vitamin C, coenzyme q10 and carotenoids. These are found in large amounts in fruits and vegetables such as: blueberries, tart cherry juice, goji berries, pecans, boiled artichoke, kidney beans, cranberries and elderberries.
There is evidence to show that high amounts of antioxidants may improve strength loss with high volume training (1). In particularly, tart cherry juice appears to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, lipid and therefore aiding in the recovery of muscle function.
There is some evidence that increased dietary antioxidants modify the disease pattern in illnesses caused by inflammation. It is likely that diets that increase fruit and/or vegetable intake (and are therefore high in dietary antioxidants) have a number of unknown beneficial biological actions that cannot currently be identified or measured. More research is needed to determine whether dietary interventions will benefit disease groups, in the general community.
Mixed diets high in antioxidants may be safer than antioxidant supplementation and possibly confer greater benefits. Endurance athletes who undertake very high levels of training, either living and/or training at moderate to high altitudes, or who participate in ultra-endurance competitions, may benefit from antioxidant supplementation (3) when ingested multiple days before, during and post competition.
There is no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that high consumption of antioxidants can benefit non-endurance based sports.
In summary, use of dietary antioxidants;
- Beneficial for recovery and reducing strength loss with high volume endurance training.
- High dose antioxidant supplementation should be avoided in early stages of training to ensure it does not inhibit your bodies natural adaptation to training.
- A high antioxidant diet may have benefits for illness related inflammation.
- More research required for antioxidant use in the general population and non-endurance based athletes.
- Lisa J Elkington (et al.),CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2015. ‘Antioxidants in Sports Nutrition’, Chapter 11.
- Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chestnutt J. Efficacy of Montmorency tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010;7:17-22.
- Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, Carlson L, Sayers SP. Efficacy of a Montmorency tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2006;40:679-683.