Antioxidants Improve Athletic Performance, Fight Aging & Reduce Disease

Antioxidants in Bodybuilding

Nuking the Enemy Within

fitFLEX Articles - Learn, Share and Discover

We've heard all the clich├ęs linking life and lifting to the horror called war. Life is a never-ending battle, they say serious lifting is like going to war, while overuse saps the might from these trite expressions, that doesn't mean they're wrong. Every breath we take produces free radicals in our bodies. Every tough set produces more. Every free radical is intent on one goal: waging war. We all know war is hell - especially when the enemy, free radicals, has nuclear capabilities.

We all fear nuclear war and for good reason. The "lucky" die instantly, vaporized by a blast that produces a temperature of tens of millions of degrees of centigrade; the unlucky suffer first from radiation poisoning. Exposure to just 150 rems scalds like steam, serves as the welcoming committee for serious infection, and turns your insides into a tumor-producing assembly line. One hundred fifty rems also accelerates the aging process so much that if you looked like a grape before the blast, you look like a raisin after.

Get 600 rems and forget it. Death comes after ten incessantly excruciatingly days of nausea, vomiting, and blood spewing from every orifice.

The radiation damage from free radicals is not nearly as fast or overt, but the pattern remains the same. Free radicals cross-link molecules, oxidize fatty acids, and damage blood vessels, DNA and RNA. They're everywhere. No bodypart is immune to their effects or a disease that does not in some way incorporate them. Ultimately, many experts believe, free-radical damage triggers the body's aging clocks, and eventually life can no longer be sustained. While the following information cannot change that inevitable end result, it can pleasurably delay it, allowing you to win the battles of living and lifting between now and then.

To do so, you need a battle plan, and this is it. Part one will introduce you to the enemy and track his path of attack. Part two will acquaint you with the National Guard - the vitamins and minerals known as the antioxidants - and illustrate the health benefits of supplementing your diet with them. Part three will introduce the relatively newfound foot soldiers - the phytochemicals - and explain how vital they are. Part four will explain how deploying both the National Guard and the foot soldiers will benefit your lifting or any type of serious workout. Part five will reveal our side's secret weapon - three enzymatic super troopers so powerfully restorative that open-minded doctors are now using them in conjunction with other antioxidants in lieu of drugs and surgery to fight heart disease. So ten hut and forward march. It's time for boot camp, soldier.


Just what exactly are free radicals? Say all your body's cells are cars - about 63 trillion incidentally - each with an engine that hums fats, sugar and oxygen as fuel to produce energy. Free radicals, then, are the emissions coming out of the 63 trillion tail pipes that magically transform into cars of their own, complete with drivers suffering from the severest sort of road rage. They purposefully crash into cells and cellular membranes. There is no such thing as a two-car pileup on your body's superhighway. Each crash works like tipping dominoes until thousands of once-healthy cells get caught in the chain reaction and - horror of horrors - become free radicals.' Why? Because free radicals steal electrons: what the energy process has taken from them, a vital part of these cellular cars. Without them the cells cross-link, die or mutate.

Cross-linking leads to almost everything we associate with aging: a decrease in flexibility, a hardening of the arteries, a wrinkling of the skin and a loss of its elasticity. Cell death ages the body by weakening organs and tissues, making them more susceptible to degenerative diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Cell mutations are even more serious than cell death. If mutations occur to both strands of DNA inside the cells at the same time, for example, they can produce cancer.

Obviously the goal is to remove the free radicals from your cellular superhighway. Free radicals are radicals, extremists, revolutionaries. It's time to call in the National Guard.


We've called the antioxidants the National Guard because they restore order by keeping your healthy cells intact, but the way they do it is really much more like the Japanese Kamikazes. They know free radicals are looking for electrons from cells and cellular membrane and that the theft does considerable damage. Like Kamikazes, the antioxidants seek out free radicals before they can find the cells and dive-bomb into them. In theory, if the right type of antioxidant were present every time a free radical was formulated, you would never get sick, feel lethargic after a workout, or age. You'd only die when your organs wore out, a process estimated to take 140 years.

Unfortunately your body's natural production of antioxidants can't keep pace with the production of free radicals, and the disparity can produce a myriad of male adjustments. A few of the minor ones are aches, injuries, wrinkled skin and gray hair. The major ones include hardening of the arteries, the formation of cholesterol, and the dreaded cancer. That's one of the reasons why we supplement our diets with vitamins and minerals. However, not all vitamins and minerals work as antioxidants.

Vitamins C, E, beta-carotene (technically a phytochemical which the body transforms into vitamin A and the mineral selenium are the four antioxidants most frequently found in vitamin supplements. Zinc, copper, manganese and iron also work at times as antioxidants. What happens if you supplement your diet by taking these minerals in capsule form? According to Dr. Bill Misner, Ph.D. and author of Nutrition for Endurance, your death rate drops by 50 percent.

o incidence of heart attack and stroke drops 50 percent

o cancer survival increases by 50 percent

o immunity levels increase by 50 percent

o chance of infection drops by 50 percent

o incidence of death from cancer drops 13 percent

Some experts worry that the antioxidants may work so well that they'll protect cancer from chemotherapy, which is nothing more than an intense type of free-radical damage. Other experts remain skeptical of the effectiveness of vitamin and mineral antioxidants, citing a Finnish study from 1994 that suggests supplementation with the antioxidants doesn't reduce the incidence of cancer. Antioxidant advocates know why these results occurred: one, the Finnish diet is notoriously low in vitamins; two, antioxidants can't help if the body is deficient in other vitamins and minerals; and three, the subjects received a marginal amount of beta-carotene, an insufficient amount of vitamin E, and no vitamin C. Furthermore, the best-known antioxidants, vitamins C, E, beta-carotene and selenium, are more effective working in conjunction with newly discovered chemicals in plants, phytochemicals, many of which function as antioxidants.


Evidence suggests that certain phytochemicals like the ones found in tomatoes, grape-seed extract, green tea and soybeans are even more effective than the four most famous antioxidants at negating free-radical damage. in fact, the April 25, 1994 issue of Newsweek devoted its cover story to phytochemicals and ran the headline "Better Than Vitamins."

Want proof? Beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A, is considered an especially potent antioxidant, yet Harvard University physician DL Walter Willet is on record as saying, "It is possible that constituents of green and yellow vegetables [phytochemicals] other than carotene actually reduce cancer incidence." Additionally, tomatoes contain a phytochemical called lycopene, an especially scrupulous free- radical scavenger that outperforms beta-carotene in this task.

Work with tomatoes has also shown the overwhelming number of phytochemicals. Scientists have estimated 10,000 in tomatoes alone. Complicating matters, according to Stephen Barnes, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama, is the synergistic quality of the phytochemicals. "Researchers like to take one phytochemical out of a food environment ... as a treatment for cancer. But when you take it out, you may lose the compounding effect." As a result scientists suggest that persons interested in fighting free radicals with the phytochemicals ingest them through natural food sources rather than supplements. Broccoli, cabbage, onions, garlic, turnips, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and apples are among the foods loaded with them.


For those interested in better general health, fighting free radicals with a combination of vitamins, minerals and the phytochemicals may be sufficient. For you, working out with weights is far more than a way to stay healthy and in shape. It's agony; it's ecstasy; it's your teacher; it's as true as a litmus test. You give your workouts your all and somehow you get even more in return. Yet such reward has a price. You - you animal - produce far more free radicals than the guy who barely breaks a sweat on the exercise bike.

All-out exercise causes an increase in free-radical production that's been measured in the laboratory at 26 percent. That guy on the stationary bike, working about 40 percent as hard as you because he's worried about dripping sweat on his magazine, actually produces 10 percent fewer free radicals than if he were sitting at a desk. Other workout factors that can cause the formation of free radicals to soar, according to Dr. Misner, include a workout that lasts more than 90 minutes (which can happen if you do your cardio work after your weight training), a workout using more than 80 percent of your maximum oxygen capacity, an age above 40, and a weight greater than 200 pounds.

What happens if your body doesn't negate the free radicals that intense exercise sets in motion? Stiffness, soreness and lethargy the next day. Injury and accelerated aging in the long term. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Never fear. Our side has secret weapons.


Your body doesn't rely solely on outside sources to fight free radicals. In response to the constant bombardment it produces superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and glutathione, enzymes that work up to four times as well as vitamins as antioxidants at battling free radicals. Recently these enzymes have been put in capsule form along with other antioxidants to provide the ultimate defense against free-radical damage. The early results have been so favorable that the Endurance Marketing Group, LP, the makers of E-Caps Super AO Formula, have been contacted by holistic-minded physicians to adapt the formula to provide heart-disease patients an alternative to bypass surgery, angioplasty or drugs.


Free radicals bombard you every day with radiation. Although they don't do it dramatically in mushroom-cloud-and-fire- storm fashion, the bit-by-bit style eventually leads to the same ending. Dr. Misner notes that, besides attacking you with every breath and every intense athletic effort, free radicals are also produced from air pollution, water pollution, herbicides, pesticides, food biodegradation, fatty food rancidity, and ultraviolet and electromagnetic radiation.

Treat this article like your blueprint for a bomb shelter. Instead of building a sanctuary of nine-centimeter slabs of concrete buried in your back lawn, however, use the proper vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and the enzymes SOD, catalase and glutathione to make your body impervious to the daily attack from free radicals.

Related Articles