As good as it is for you, exercise also creates harmful free radicals that can damage or kill otherwise healthy cells. This not only affects your health in the long term, but it also may undermine your body’s ability to respond to training. Fortunately, there’s a treatment — vitamins. Many vitamins function as antioxidants, neutralizing or destroying free radicals. Taking them as supplements (yes, even in addition to your daily multi) guarantees that your body has beneficial concentrations of these powerful healers. Here are our favorite vitamin sources of antioxidants to reduce stress damage from exercise.
Vitamin C Ascorbic acid — C’s more technical name — is not only among the most powerful weapons against the harmful oxidizing effects of free radicals, but it also has additional muscle-building properties. For one, it protects nitric-oxide synthase, the enzyme that converts arginine into nitric oxide, thereby helping you maintain higher NO levels. Emphasize foods such as citrus, red sweet peppers and strawberries, and take 500 to 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C (in divided doses) per day.
Vitamin E This vitamin is so critical to muscle recovery that a recent study found that muscles didn’t heal properly after developing microtears (such as occurs during weight training) unless there was adequate vitamin E in the muscle membrane. It also keeps red blood cells healthy and is required by muscles to use oxygen properly. Take 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E with a whole-food meal that includes dietary fats — breakfast is a good choice.
Beta-Carotene This precursor to vitamin A is a better choice than the vitamin itself because it has no risk of toxicity. Beta-carotene supports vision health, has been shown in recent research to be critical to energy production, assists with recovery from exercise and, of course, fights those nasty free radicals. Take a beta-carotene supplement that provides 5,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin A activity per day.