Antioxidants: You know them and you know you should love them. After all, they can help you live a longer, healthier life. The main way that they work is by quenching free radicals, which are produced when the body burns fuel, similar to the exhaust fumes that are created when an engine burns fuel. Both have negative consequences to our health. Free radicals can wreak havoc on the body and damage cells, including muscle cells, and even DNA. By quenching these free radicals, antioxidants help limit the damage they cause to the body.
While antioxidants are great for protecting us from free-radical damage, the five here are not only potent antioxidants but also perform other critical functions in the body, including helping with performance, muscle growth and even fat loss. Add them to your supplement regimen for a bigger, leaner, stronger, fitter and healthier you.
Beta-carotene is basically a form of vitamin A or retinol. Vitamin A plays an important role in eyesight and is involved in maintaining the health of skin, teeth, bones and the respiratory tract. It can help fight off infection and assist in the growth and repair of body tissues like muscle.
Newer research from the Institute for Cancer Research shows that vitamin A is critical for energy production. Researchers found that when vitamin A levels were deficient, the amount of ATP produced by the mitochondria (cells’ power plants) was significantly reduced. So if you find yourself fatigued, either during workouts or just during the day, consider your body’s vitamin A status. You also should be sure your vitamin A levels are up to par if you want to maximize energy levels during workouts. But hold up before you go megadosing.
Because vitamin A can be stored in fat cells, its levels in the body can build up to toxic amounts. That’s why you should supplement with beta-carotene instead of straight vitamin A. Beta-carotene is basically two vitamin A molecules attached end-to-end, which renders the vitamin A inactive and makes beta-carotene a nontoxic source of vitamin A. When the body determines it needs more of the vitamin, it converts beta-carotene into active vitamin A by cleaving the two molecules.
Dose: Take 5,000 to 25,000 IUs of beta-carotene per day with fat-containing meals.
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that’s involved in the synthesis of hormones, amino acids and collagen. It also protects immune-system cells from damage, allowing them to work more efficiently. In fact, research has shown that increasing vitamin C uptake can help prevent the common cold and can lessen the duration when you do catch it.
Vitamin C also strengthens capillaries and other blood vessels and plays a role in healing injuries. And of course, as an antioxidant, it scavenges free radicals. But the latest news on vitamin C is that it can enhance nitric-oxide production and even fat loss. One study from Athens University Medical School in Greece reported that vitamin C, taken in conjunction with L-arginine, led to significantly greater levels of NO in subjects than arginine alone. The researchers concluded that vitamin C’s antioxidant effects protect NO by preventing its degradation from the action of free radicals. Arizona State University researchers reported that levels of vitamin C in the body were correlated with body fat and fat oxidation. Those receiving vitamin C supplements while following a low-fat diet that was deficient in vitamin C lost more body fat than those taking a placebo. The placebo group also exhibited a greater than 10 percent reduction in fat burning during the study. The scientists believe that the mechanism behind the effect on fat oxidation is linked to the essential role vitamin C plays in the synthesis of carnitine, which helps carry fat into the mitochondria of cells so it can be burned for fuel.
Dose: Take 500 to 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C twice a day with food. Because the body cannot store vitamin C, it’s better to take it at least twice throughout the day to keep levels up.
You probably know that vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that also happens to be a powerful antioxidant. But few of you probably know what vitamin E actually is. Vitamin E is the generic name for a group of compounds known as tocopherols and the lesser-known tocotrienols. Each has four different structures, or isomers, that are designated as alpha, beta, gamma and delta. You also probably don’t know that vitamin E is absolutely critical for muscle recovery. Researchers from Georgia Health Sciences University discovered that tears in muscle membranes would not heal unless the muscle cells were treated with vitamin E. Free radicals can prevent muscle tears from healing, and vitamin E’s free-radical-fighting antioxidant properties prevent further damage to cells, including muscle cells. Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, and the membrane of a muscle cell is essentially made of fats, the vitamin actually can insert itself into the membrane, protecting it from free-radical attack and therefore allowing the tears to heal. That’s why getting adequate vitamin E is absolutely critical for recovery after intense workouts.
Dose: Take 400 to 800 IUs of vitamin E per day, and consider taking it with your preworkout shake on workout days. Also, be sure that the vitamin E you choose provides at least all four forms of tocopherols: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. If it also contains some tocotrienols, even better. Also, be sure that it contains the natural form of vitamin E, which is more than two times more bioactive than the synthetic form. If a vitamin E lists dl-alpha tocopherol, it’s synthetic. But if it lists d-alpha tocopherol (no “l” after the “d”), then it’s the natural form.
N-acetyl-cysteine, a derivative of the amino acid cysteine, is a powerful antioxidant that protects muscle cells from damage and aids in their recovery. It not only works directly as an antioxidant to scavenge muscle-damaging free radicals, but it also boost levels of one of the body’s most critical antioxidants, glutathione. NAC has also been shown in clinical studies to fight fatigue and improve muscle endurance, as well as enhance fat loss.
If that weren’t enough, research also has discovered that N-acetyl-cysteine works to boost nitric-oxide levels. It appears to do this by increasing the activity of the enzyme nitric-oxide synthase, which catalyzes the reaction that converts arginine into nitric oxide. It also maintains higher nitric-oxide levels by preventing the oxidative breakdown of the NO molecule by free radicals.
Dose: Take 600 to 1,200 milligrams of NAC with your preworkout shake or with another meal.
“The main way that antioxidants work is by quenching free radicals, which are produced when the body burns fuel, similar to the exhaust fumes that are created when an engine burns fuel.”
This trace mineral is a powerful antioxidant that combats the damage that free radicals can cause the body and that also can improve cardiovascular health and fight cancer. It’s also implicated in thyroid health, assisting with the metabolism of iodine and the production of critical thyroid hormones. Because the thyroid controls the body’s metabolism, keeping it in good working order is essential to maintaining a lean physique. Like NAC, selenium is involved with glutathione levels — it’s one of glutathione’s key components. Selenium also helps limit damage to muscle and other tissues and helps speed recovery.
But selenium can impact lean physiques in another way, by increasing strength. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers measured hip flexion, leg extension and grip strength in 891 subjects and found that those who had high selenium levels were more likely to be stronger than those with lower selenium levels.
Dose: Take 200 to 400 micrograms of selenium per day with food. While taking supplemental selenium is the best way to ensure you’re consuming adequate amounts, eating Brazil nuts is a convenient way to get your daily dose. One Brazil nut can contain as much as 100 micrograms of the mineral, and New Zealand researchers found that eating Brazil nuts was just as effective at raising selenium levels as taking a selenium supplement was.