We all are aware that athletes often have better health than sedentary individuals. However, when training volume and intensity are increased, the cells of the body are at greater risk for the harmful damage produced by free radicals.
Studies have shown that both strength and endurance athletes produce more free radicals than untrained individuals!
Aerobic metabolism, in particular, can create a large amount of free radicals, especially in endurance athletes. In these athletes, the body's natural defenses against these harmful substances are also "up regulated," but still may not be able to counter their negative effects.
With this said, some recent research has investigated whether dietary antioxidants can help this situation by blocking the actions of free radicals in the cell.
Most of the research has focused on Vitamin C and Vitamin E—and although the data is mixed, it is pretty convincing that these two powerful antioxidants, when taken in moderate doses, can help to prevent cell damage in response to free radicals.
With the beneficial effects of antioxidants demonstrated in athletes, researchers have begun to examine other antioxidants for their protective effects.
What Does This Mean For Athletes?
This has lead to investigations of natural substances, such as Green Tea, Grapes, Red Wine, Pine Bark, and other "phytonutrients". Collectively, these foods tend to be high in polyphenols—namely flavonoids, tannins, and catechins.
These compounds may have antioxidant capabilities that may rival those of the conventional vitamins, but as opposed to the vitamins, may offer other benefits as well.
Green Tea, for example, not only can reduce oxidative damage and prevent some cancers, but can increase metabolic rate and fat burning(1,2,3).
In addition, Ginkgo Biloba can decrease oxidative damage, increase cognitive performance and mental focus in healthy adults, and in some instances, increase sexual performance(4,5,6).
Although few studies have been done to examine the use of these substances in athletes, products such as Green Tea and Ginkgo Biloba may prove valuable to the athlete for both their antioxidant benefits, as well as their numerous other functions.
Where Can I Get These?
I would suggest 500-1000mg of Vitamin C and 400IU of Vitamin E is a good first step in antioxidant protection.
In addition, the daily ingestion of 1-3 cups of Green Tea may provide both antioxidant benefits as well as cancer-fighting and thermogenic effects.
In addition, Ginkgo Biloba, Grape Seed Extract, and Pine Bark Extract may all promote similar antioxidant effects with a host of other health benefits.
- Vinson JA, et al. Effect of green and black tea supplementation on lipids, lipid oxidation and fibrinogen in the hamster: mechanisms for the epidemiological benefits of tea drinking. FEBS Lett. 1998;433(1-2):44-6.
- Dulloo AG, et al. Green tea and thermogenesis: interactions between catechin-polyphenols, caffeine and sympathetic activity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2000 Feb;24(2):252-8.
- Dulloo AG, et al. Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Dec;70(6):1040-5.
- Du G, et al. EGb 761 protects liver mitochondria against injury induced by in vitro anoxia/reoxygenation. Free Radic Biol Med. 1998;27(5-6):596-604.
- Mix JA, et al. An examination of the efficacy of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb761 on the neuropsychologic functioning of cognitively intact older adults. J Altern Complement Med. 2000 Jun;6(3):219-29.
- Ademoelja A. Phytochemicals and the breakthrough of traditional herbs in the management of sexual dysfunctions. Int J Androl. 2000;23 Suppl 2:82-4.