Antioxidant pills may reduce gains from exercise
Antioxidant Pills May Reduce Gains from Exercise

December 07, 2014
 by Gabe Mirkin, MD

 Several recent studies show that taking
 antioxidant pills limit 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 a
 ibuprofen.

 
Antioxidant Pills Reduce Gains in Strength

 Researchers assigned 32 experienced male and
 female weight lifters to two groups: one group
 that took daily 1,000 mg of Vitamin C and 235
 milligrams of Vitamin E, and another group that
 was given placebos (The Journal of Physiology,
 published online November 2014;592(22)). All
 participants took the same rigorous progressive
 weight-training program four times a week for 10
 weeks. An example of their workout is four times
 a set of eight Repetitions Maximum (8RM) of leg
 presses and knee-extensions. Both groups grew
 larger muscles, but the lifters who took the
 placebos gained more strength. Furthermore, the
 subjects who took the antioxidant pills had
 lower levels of the enzymes that synthesize
 proteins. This is important because muscle
 growth requires muscle damage and the growth
 occurs only with healing. That is why you have
 to lift weights “to the burn” to grow larger
 muscles. Antioxidants vitamin pills reduced the
 levels of enzymes that heal muscles to make them
 stronger.

 
Mechanism of Antioxidant Pills Limiting Gains in
Strength

 When muscles are damaged, they release
 tremendous amounts of free radicals into the
 surrounding tissue. The free radicals do not
 cause the damage; they are released by damaged
 tissue to start and accelerate the healing and
 growth process called inflammation. Blocking
 free radicals blocks inflammation, which blocks
 the start of the healing process, and retards
 muscle growth gains from exercise. We know from
 other studies that non-steroidals such as
 ibuprofen, that are taken to block pain, also
 delay healing from exercise in athletes.

 
Antioxidant Pills Limit Gains in Endurance

 Taking the antioxidants, 1000 mg vitamin C and
 235 mg vitamin E, daily prevented improvements
 in fitness and endurance that would normally
 occur from an 11-week intense running program
 (The Journal of Physiology, February 3, 2014).
 54 young, healthy men and women received either
 vitamin C and E pills or placebo. They ran hard
 intense intervals three or four times a week for
 11 weeks. After the program, they were tested
 for proteins that increase the size and number
 of mitochondira in cells, a measure of
 endurance. Those who took placebos had a rise in
 these proteins, while those who took the
 antioxidants did not.
 

 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

 The limiting factor to how fast an endurance
 athlete can move is the time it takes to move
 oxygen into muscles. You have two major sources
 of energy for your muscles during exercise:

 * The Krebs Cycle, inside mitochondria, that
 uses oxygen, and

 * Glycolysis, inside cells but outside
 mitochondria, that does not require oxygen.

 The Krebs Cycle provides far more energy than
 glycolysis. Training for sports increases the
 size and number of mitochondria inside cells to
 make you stronger, faster and have greater
 endurance. Taking antioxidant supplements for 11
 weeks did not limit the measured maximal ability
 to take in and use oxygen, but it did limit
 production of new mitochondria. This would be
 expected to hinder performance over an extended
 period of time.

 
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 (Sports Medicine, Dec 1,
 2009;39(12):1011-1032). 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 American
 Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2008).
 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. See my
 report: Excess Antioxidants May Increase Risk
 for Cancer and Diabetes

 Cooling muscles after vigorous exercise can
 also delay healing and muscle growth; see Why
 Ice Delays Recovery