The topic of ‘antioxidants for bodybuilding’ seems naturally beneficial for discussion. After all, exercise of any kind introduces additional oxidative stress to the body. Oxidative stress could potentially slow down recuperation between workouts. Since a bodybuilder’s rate of muscle building progress is heavily dependent on the speed and thoroughness of that recuperation, a means of countering excessive oxidative stress would seem an expedient thing to pursue. Thus, antioxidants for bodybuilding, whether from vitamins or more exotic sources, seem like an obvious way to enhance muscle building gains.
Nevertheless, antioxidants for bodybuilding are a nutritional topic many bodybuilders fail to consider. This should hardly be surprising given how much we’re bombarded by advertising for more purportedly ‘anabolic’ bodybuilding supplements. Why pay attention to wimpy ‘health-nut supplements’, like vitamin C, when we’ve got bigger fish to fry in the form of testing the latest creatine powder or cortisol blocker? How much difference can adding some fruit and vegetables to a diet make when we’re expecting the latest whey isolate product to miraculously accelerate muscle growth? Why would ‘antioxidants for bodybuilding’ make a difference when we just might be short of those all-important BCAAs?
But much of muscle building and fitness success depends on the overall health and efficient workings of the participant’s body. In turn, bodily health and efficient recuperation are reliant on getting at least adequate amounts of specific oxidant-countering vitamins, minerals, and (possibly) other nutraceuticals.
So let’s go over some ‘antioxidants for bodybuilding’ right now, while simultaneously acknowledging some unanswered questions regarding ‘free radicals’ and antioxidants.
‘Antioxidants for Bodybuilding’: How antioxidants work
Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize chain-reactions caused by ‘free radicals.’ These free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage bodily cells and are triggered, literally, by every breath we take. The havoc-producing chain reactions of free radicals are primarily a by-product of oxygen. Many of the neutralizing antioxidants that protect our cells from free radicals come from certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and nutrients in our diets. Other protective antioxidants are produced within the body itself.
It works like this: Oxygen is an essential element for life. It creates energy through cellular respiration and metabolism with every lung-filling inhalation we take. However, that intake of oxygen simultaneously creates a by-product of unstable atoms that are missing a single electron and forcefully seek a replacement. These unstable atoms are referred to as ‘free radicals.’ When free radicals obtain replacement electrons from atoms of adjacent molecules, they create even more unstable atoms. The resulting chain reaction is bodily ‘oxidation.’ It’s not much unlike the oxidation we see creating rust on metallic surfaces. This oxidative process can potentially result in a lot of unnecessarily damaged cells and is suspected to be one major cause of bodily disease.
Antioxidants are the body’s defense against otherwise unchecked free radical damage. They work by being molecularly designed to “absorb” the atoms that are missing electrons before those atoms can create a chain reaction of cascading free radicals.
‘Antioxidants for Bodybuilding’: Growing muscles need a healthy environment
With the above explanation of free radical damage and antioxidant defense, ‘antioxidants for bodybuilding’ would be beneficial for obvious reasons. The increased oxygen uptake by the body during exercise might create greater oxidative stress than that created by a sedentary body. Combine this with the fact that bodybuilding is an attempt to ‘build more tissue’ while cellular oxidation might be antagonistic to the anabolic environment required for doing that. Given these two opposing factors, it makes sense that bodybuilders and athletes should seek to get a healthy and well-rounded intake of antioxidants each day.
Of course, the key words here are “healthy” and “well-rounded.” What’s often not realized by those who get overly enthusiastic about high doses of supplemental antioxidants is that a certain degree of oxidative activity is both necessary and healthy for the body. While too much bodily oxidation can cause damage to cellular DNA, proteins, and lipids – some of this oxidative activity is needed for defending the body against viruses and bacteria. In addition, oxidative free radicals are needed for proper cell functioning in a process called ‘redox signaling’ – such as is needed for the formation of scar tissue.
This ‘not enough/too much’ dichotomy raises some pertinent questions: What quantity of antioxidants do we need in our bodies to be healthy? How much is too much? If an exercising body needs more – how much more does it need? How many additional antioxidants do we need to compensate for aging and/or exposure to pollution?
Even hardcore proponents of antioxidant supplementation seem unprepared to answer such questions. But this is unsurprising given that nobody’s (yet) devised a method or device for measuring endogenous oxidative activity and the ratio of antioxidants present or needed to optimize it.
‘Antioxidants for Bodybuilding’: Go for ‘breadth’ – not high dosages of few
Personally, I think the “anti-antioxidant” crowd has formed their opinions against antioxidant supplementation due to evidence of negative effects of mega-dosing with one or two antioxidant vitamins or minerals. For example, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, but it can have toxic effects on the body at too high of dosages. Since vitamin E is fat soluble and can easily accumulate in the body at dosages above 1000 mg. per day, it’s best to keep supplementation of this vitamin in tight check. But that doesn’t mean supplementation isn’t needed, especially if you don’t get enough vitamin E-rich food in your daily diet by eating items such as almonds, sunflower seeds, and cooked spinach.
But due to possible risks associated with high dosages of any one nutrient, my recommendation on the subject of ‘antioxidants for bodybuilding’ is to get a hefty breadth of antioxidants. This means consuming a wide array of fruits and vegetables and supplementing for what you’re likely not getting from food sources.
With that in mind, it’s first important to understand that antioxidants fall under three broad categories:
- Water Soluble (examples are vitamin C and glutathione)
- Fat Soluble (examples are vitamin A and vitamin E)
- Biopolymers (an example is L-Carnosine)
It’s best to get both water and fat soluble antioxidants into one’s diet on a daily basis as oxidative free radicals form in both water-based and fatty-based tissue.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some sources of some of the more powerful antioxidants for bodybuilding.
‘Antioxidants for Bodybuilding’: Powerful food sources
The following are some terrific food sources of some of the more important antioxidants for bodybuilding.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Sweet Potato
- Collard Greens
- Sunflower Seed Kernels
- Pine Nuts
- Turnip Greens
- Tomato Paste
- Peanut Butter
- Fortified Cereals
- Brazil Nuts
- Sunflower Seeds
- Oat Bran
L-Carnosine (combination of amino acids beta-alanine and histidine)
- Dairy Products
‘Antioxidants for Bodybuilding’: Other recommendations
Here are some additional antioxidants for bodybuilding that I’ve personally found effective for better recovery and wellbeing. Of course, don’t use any supplement suggestions until first conferring with your personal physician or medical practitioner.
Wild Blueberries: These North American-native berries contain a powerful, water-based flavonoid antioxidant called ‘anthocyanins.’ They’re what give blueberries (and blackberries) their dark pigment. These antioxidants have been shown to be particularly protective against oxidative degeneration of the brain and nervous system. Any blueberries are beneficial for this, but the wild growing types seem to possess greater concentrations of these anthocyanins than the farm cultivated variety.
'Antioxidants for Bodybuilding': Can the high flavonoid content of foods such as blueberries help accelerate inter-workout recuperation?
Note: A study has shown that the absorption of antioxidants in blueberries might be blunted by milk products. “Oh, hell… isn’t that what berries taste good with – some friggin’ dairy products?” I find myself questioning this study and need to look at it more closely. After all, doesn’t casein slow down (but not necessarily stop) the digestion of everything eaten with it?
Grape Seed Extract: If you don’t get your anthocyanins through eating blueberries, you could always get them from a ‘grape seed extract’ supplement. Grape seed extract contains concentrated amounts of polyphenols – the organic chemicals that are suspected of making the moderate daily drinking of wine a healthy habit.
Grape seed extract appears to be a powerful antioxidant containing high amounts of vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid, and oligomeric proanthocyanidins. In addition to the direct antioxidant benefits of these compounds, it’s been shown to extend the antioxidant activity of vitamin C.
I’ve personally used grape seed extract on and off for years and have noticed improved recuperation from its use while combining it with healthy dietary habits.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR): This is an ‘acetylated’ form of L-Carnitine, which is a combination of the amino acids L-lysine and methionine. By acetylating the L-Carnitine, or replacing the hydrogen atom of a hydroxyl group with an acetyl atom, the L-Carnitine becomes more capable of passing the blood-brain barrier. This makes it a good antioxidant for helping protect the nervous system against free radicals.
Similar to L-Carnitine, ALCAR is produced by the body and is used in the production of the water-soluble antioxidant ‘glutathione.’ It can increase energy production in the mitochondria, which makes it especially interesting as possibly one of few effective bodybuilding supplements as well as a good mental energy enhancer.
As of this writing, I’ve not personally tested a supplemental ALCAR, but it’s definitely on my radar.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA): This is another antioxidant that’s already present in the body and is derived in moderate amounts from food. It’s present in a bit higher quantities in liver, spinach, broccoli, peas, and brewer’s yeast. It’s both water and fat soluble and is somewhat unique in its ability to enter all parts of the nerve cell walls in order to provide its antioxidant protection. It also appears to help extend or “recycle” the antioxidant activities of vitamin C and glutathione.
This is one antioxidant I’ve personally used in supplemental form and didn’t notice any distinctive effects between use and non-use of the supplement. I’d love to get feedback in the comment section from others who’ve tried this product or other supplemental antioxidants.
‘Antioxidants for Bodybuilding’: Don’t build ‘oxidation’ instead of muscle
Any discussion of ‘antioxidants for bodybuilding’ wouldn’t be complete without mention of prevention of the biggest pro-oxidative practice of all – overtraining. Excessive free radical formation and their oxidative activity occur in the body when we cross the threshold between a healthy training/recuperation ratio and destructive one.
As is my advice for use of any bodybuilding supplement, the addition of supplemental antioxidants for bodybuilding would seem a futile practice without first using one of a handful of effective bodybuilding routines. A good workout strategy needs to be used before nutritional practices can have optimal effect.