Antioxidants, inflammation and adaptation

I learned recently that a lot of free radicals that can do cell damage result from electrons coming off the electron transport chain, which presumably is doing some of the cell damage associated with intense training. I have been including antioxidants (blueberries, turmeric and pomegranate extract) in my post-intensity recovery shake. But now I feel like the antioxidants should already be there before the exercise to mop up the electrons, so taking them before the workout would be more effective for this. Or do we not want to prevent cell damage if some level of inflammation is required for adaptation?

I do not have the reference at my finger tips but a from a basic point of view of human evolution, free radicals are part of the natural process of doing high intensity work. It is my belief, since I do not have the biochemical facts to support it, that these free radicals start an inflammation process that signals to your body that repairs are needed. So taking antioxidants is not consistent with human survival and evolution. It may actually blunt your recovery if this is correct. So I have nothing against eating lots of fruits and berries full of antioxidants as part of a health diet but to sop up free radicals by acute dosing near a training event may not be helpful. I think the best mantra is eat healthy.

Inflammation is a reaction to cell damage (in case of exercise induced muscle damage). It is a natural process to manage the effects of the damage.

ROS can form a risk for health and anti-oxidants help to mitigate that risk:

  • taking anti-oxidants is fine ‘before’ training to counteract non-exercise induced inflammation
  • health risks are limited if ‘not too much’ damage is done during exercise. One could say: recovery within 24 hours prevents chronic inflammation (which is bad).

some references

quote:" it has been shown that antioxidant supplements may delay healing and recovery from exercise (Teixeira et al., 2009) and hinder adaptations to training (Paulsen et al. 2014), and may even increase mortality (Bjelakovic et al., 2007)." as well :“for now at least, there appears to be no quick fix to easing muscle soreness after exercise. In fact, it seems muscle soreness is actually an important part of the recovery process, and helps to make your muscles stronger and bigger over time. And it’s this important recovery process that will ultimately help to make you fitter and stronger in the long run.”

So at this point I would suggest as above, good diet and reasonable recovery between bouts of extreme intensity would be a good prescription.

Thanks. Yes, it seems clear that artificial antioxidant supplements are detrimental, but regarding more natural sources of antioxidants it seems though that the literature is quite mixed on the subject, with some evidence indicating improved performance associated with pomegranate, turmeric, cherry juice etc., and the mechanism pointed to is antioxidant derived, for example:

Howatson G, McHugh MP, Hill JA, Brouner J, Jewell AP, van Someren KA, Shave RE, Howatson SA. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Dec;20(6):843-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01005.x. PMID: 19883392.

Torregrosa-García, A.; Ávila-Gandía, V.; Luque-Rubia, A.J.; Abellán-Ruiz, M.S.; Querol-Calderón, M.; López-Román, F.J. Pomegranate Extract Improves Maximal Performance of Trained Cyclists after an Exhausting Endurance Trial: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Nutrients 2019 , 11 , 721. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040721

yes I agree natural sources are good but best as part of a healthy diet not to take to dose prior to say a bout of intense exercise. It is my general belief that this would blunt the recovery process and not be beneficial, whereas stored antioxidants from diet would be a natural level and may have less impact against the exercised induces ROS. A 2021 paper published in the Journal Antioxidants that reviewed research suggest that there is still need for research in this area. (source: Taherkhani, S.; Valaei, K.;Arazi, H.; Suzuki, K. An Overview of
Physical Exercise and Antioxidant Supplementation Influences on Skeletal Muscle Oxidative Stress. Antioxidants 2021, 10, 1528. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10101528) as well a recent Cochrane review comes to a similar conclusion that the area needs to be more focussed (Ranchordas MK, Rogerson D, Soltani H, Costello JT. Antioxidants for preventing and reducing muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD009789. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009789.pub2)

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