Several recent studies show that taking antioxidant pills limits the improvement gains in endurance and strength in exercisers. To increase strength and endurance through exercise, you have to exercise vigorously enough to damage muscles. When muscles heal, they are stronger. Recent data show that healing of muscles (and thus gains in strength and endurance) are delayed by taking antioxidant pills. Muscle healing is also delayed by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
Antioxidant Pills Reduce Gains in Strength
Mechanism of Antioxidant Pills Limiting Gains in Strength
Antioxidant Pills Limit Gains in Endurance
Every muscle cell has hundreds or even thousands of mitochondria. Mitochondria convert food to energy by moving electrons from one molecule to another, causing extra electrons to accumulate in tissues. If the extra electrons attach to hydrogen, they are converted to water which is harmless. However, if the electrons attach to oxygen, they become reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage cells and during exercise, worsen muscle burning, soreness and fatigue. The human body produces antioxidants that help protect a person from cell damage from these oxidants (ROS).
Contracting muscles markedly increase their conversion of food to energy, so they produce lots of extra electrons to make more ROS. However, exercising muscles produce far more antioxidants to rid themselves of the extra ROS, and muscles of regular exercisers produce more antioxidants than those of non exercisers and therefore remove ROS more rapidly from their cells. Giving large doses of vitamin C to people before they exercise appears to block antioxidant production by the exercising muscles, increases levels of ROS, and tires people earlier during exercise.
Antioxidants Limit Production of Mitochondria
* Glycolysis, inside cells but outside mitochondria, that does not require oxygen.
Antioxidant Pills May Delay Muscle Healing
A review of the scientific literature concluded that taking large doses of vitamins C and E neither prevents nor treats muscle damage caused by intense exercise. However, taking one gram of vitamin C per day for 8 weeks tired male athletes earlier during long- term exercise. Similar doses per body weight reduced the distance Wistar rats could run. The authors showed that taking vitamin C pills prevents the growth of new mitochondria that are necessary for a training exercise program to increase endurance by blocking the expected exercise-induced increase in key factors that make new mitochondria: peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor co-activator 1, nuclear respiratory factor 1, and mitochondrial transcription factor A, and also prevented exercise-induced increase of cytochrome C (a marker of mitochondrial content) and of the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase.
What Does this Mean for You?
These studies and many others suggest that antioxidant pills such as vitamins A, C and E interfere with exercise gains in strength and endurance. Other studies show that these antioxidant pills also do not prevent heart attacks, diabetes, or cancers unless a person suffers a deficiency of these vitamins.
*Image of “torso” via Shutterstock