Are antioxidant supplements necessary for individuals who exercise regularly?

Are antioxidant supplements necessary for individuals who exercise regularly

We do feel extremely exhausted post exercise and there are several reasons for it; but the oxidative stress generated due to exercise is one of the primary causes.Highly reactive chemical species, called free radicals, may increase during exercise

But do not worry, this kind of stress is temporary and is good for health!

The debate now is whether we need to curb this oxidative stress by supplementing with antioxidants or let it continue such that we get maximum benefits from exercise

So , let’s briefly understand what are antioxidants and where are they found.

Antioxidants are components that are able to neutralize the stress generated in the body due to various reasons including exercise, pollution, environmental stress, mental stress, etc. Antioxidant defenses naturally present in the body can lower the negative influence of free radicals and associated reactions and keep them in check

The two most important antioxidant are

Vitamin E: It protects against peroxidation by acting directly with a variety of oxygen radicals and is one of the most powerful antioxidant. Food sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, nuts and oilseeds. Basically, this is a fat soluble vitamin so is present in fatty foods such as avocados, almonds, etc

Vitamin C: Vitamin C acts in coordination with Vitamin E to curb the process of oxidation.  It is water soluble vitamin and is present abundantly in amla , citrus fruits, tomatoes, several vegetables such as cabbage, bell peppers, green leafy vegetables, etc

There is much research being done to see whether giving an antioxidant supplement to athletes improves their exercise output and insulin responses.

The improvement in insulin sensitivity (i.e. improved response of cell membranes to the circulating insulin) is one of the most important positive health outcome associated with exercise both for normal as well as individuals with diabetes.

The diagram below provides a simple explanation about what happens during exercise and where does the role of antioxidants come in:

Are antioxidant supplements necessary for individuals who exercise regularly?

So the existing theory is that if we supplement excessive antioxidants to an exercising individuals then we are rather hindering their chances of improving insulin sensitivity and thereby risk of diabetes.

Now again, the dosage and source of antioxidants matter.

It seems that studies showing negative impact of antioxidants on exercise have used a very high dose. So then just moderate use of antioxidants, at least to meet daily requirements, may not be as  harmful

Also, the source of the antioxidants matter such that natural foods rich in antioxidants such as fruits, vegetables and nuts provide sufficient and not excessive amount of antioxidants and have the additional benefit of providing a wide range of other vitamins and minerals needed by the body.

Our bottomline here is

If you are a normal healthy individual, then go ahead and consume the natural sources of antioxidants i.e. plenty of fruits and vegetables. If exercise routines are leaving you extremely tired for long periods then consider taking antioxidant supplements post exercise after consulting physician

If you are suffering from diabetes, then follow diet plan as recommended by dietitian and monitor insulin sensitivity. Once it is affirmed that exercise is improving your insulin response then you may introduce some antioxidants to see whether they are further helping or not, but please do all this under appropriate supervision.


Stay healthy with eKincare – your personal health manager!

Priscilla M Clarkson and Heather S Thompson Antioxidants: what role do they play in physical activity and health? Am J Clin Nutr August 2000 vol. 72 no. 2 637s-646s

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