Did you know that consuming vitamins to ease post-training soreness might be stifling your gains? Strength training has to be accompanied with proper nutrition to effectively reach physique goals, therefore strength and endurance athletes are always searching for nutrition strategies to improve performance and body composition. For this reason, most athletes take bodybuilding supplements in hopes of enhancing the effects of workout.
Recent research has questioned one of the most often used nutritional supplements: antioxidant vitamins. While antioxidant supplements have long been thought to bring benefits for muscular adaptation to exercise, the widely spread use has created an ongoing debate.
Antioxidants and workout
It’s no secret that regular workout brings numerous beneficial health outcomes; however, during exercise, normal cellular metabolism is elevated to meet the energy demand. This dramatic increase in oxidative metabolism is accompanied with the production of free-radical reactive oxygen species (ROS), which have the potential to inhibit immune responses. ROS also disrupt muscle homeostasis and damages proteins and cell membranes. Collectively, these consequences are sometimes called oxidative stress.
Antioxidants provide a protective effect by fighting the ROS produced during workout. Antioxidants limit the actions of ROS by eliminating their unpaired electron making them much less reactive. In other words, antioxidants work to reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing ROS, which in turn prevents cell damage.
Antioxidants in the diet
Many nutrients, including vitamin C and E, act as antioxidants by helping to protect body tissues against the potentially damaging effects of ROS. While minerals—including selenium, copper, zinc, and magnesium—also provide a great source of antioxidants, the interaction between vitamin C and E supplementation and exercise has recently received more attention. These potent antioxidants are naturally present in fruits and vegetables, especially those that are dark green, orange, red, and yellow.
Main sources of vitamin C include broccoli, peppers, and strawberries, potatoes, citrus fruits, while vitamin E is found in eggs, vegetable oils, whole-grain products, and butter. Both vitamins C and E are essential molecules that cannot be synthesized in the body and for this reason must be supplied from dietary sources. Vitamins are an essential part of an athlete’s diet, as deficiencies can inhibit body functions and health.
How much is enough?
The recommended dietary intake for vitamin C is 90 milligrams a day for men and 75 milligrams a day for women, and the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin E is 15 milligrams a day for both men and women. Diets rich in foods that are naturally high in antioxidants are connected to better health outcomes, so if a little is good, more must be better, right? Maybe not. Several research studies have recently examined this theory, and the findings may come as a surprise.
Too much of a good thing?
Supplements containing vitamins and antioxidants are widely used with the intention of boosting health and athletic performance. In contrast to common beliefs, recent research studies have suggested that antioxidant supplementation may actually interfere with muscle growth and exercise recovery. High dosages of vitamin C and E have been shown to blunt certain adaptations to training.
In a study published in The Journal Of Physiology, young, recreationally active men and women were given either a vitamin C and E supplement or a placebo during 10 weeks of heavy resistance training performed four times a week. The supplement contained 1,000mg of vitamin C and 235mg of vitamin E. The antioxidant supplementation blunted anabolic cellular responses to resistance workout and also interfered with strength outcomes after training. While the antioxidant supplement didn’t significantly blunt muscle hypertrophy following the 10 weeks of training, bicep-curl strength was lower in the group supplementing with the antioxidants as compared to the placebo group.
In another study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, elderly men were given either a vitamin C and E supplement (1,000mg of vitamin C and 235mg of vitamin E) or a placebo during 12 weeks of resistance training performed three times a week. Similarly, this elevated dosage of vitamin C and E curbed specific muscular adaptations to strength training. In this case, the group receiving the vitamins had less gains in muscle size in comparison to the group given the placebo. Maximal strength measures weren’t different between groups.
What is more, in a separate study published in The Journal Of Physiology, young, recreationally active men and women were also given either a vitamin C and E supplement (same dose as used before) or a placebo during an 11-week endurance training program. Vitamin C and E supplementation decreased cellular adaptations in the exercised muscles; however, no effect was observed on maximal aerobic capacity following training.
So the most recent research suggests that high-dose antioxidant supplementation may interfere with some training benefits, for both physique and endurance athletes.
Rules for antioxidants
Don’t pass on your nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables just yet. These studies provided doses of vitamin C and E way beyond the amounts one would consume through proper nutrition. As it goes for most vitamins, taking a supplement won’t improve performance if you aren’t nutritionally deficient. Physically active individuals usually ingest above-average amounts of micronutrients through diet alone.
Furthermore, dietary deficiencies of these vitamins are extremely rare, even in athletes. Therefore, regularly taking in large dosages of vitamin C and E seems to be unnecessary and may even be detrimental to your physique goals.
Increased intakes of antioxidants have been suggested to decrease the extent of muscle damage after training; yet by squelching the damage induced, you may be squelching a valuable part of the muscular repair process as well. This is a classic inverted-U function: As antioxidant levels increase, the repair process improves, but only to a point, beyond which increases in antioxidants may lead to a disruption in muscular adaptation. It’s unclear whether non-vitamin antioxidants that are commonly found in superfoods and supplements, such as coenzyme Q10, resveratrol, polyphenols, flavanols, or EGCG have the same effect.
Instead, focus on consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and if you find it necessary for your body take a daily multivitamin, but beyond that you may want to leave the vitamins on the shelf.