Be careful with the supplementation with antioxidants!

Miguel Ángel Martínez

25 February, 2015

One of the doubts that arise among many athletes is whether supplementation with antioxidants is necessary. What may seem like a good option is not so much if we carefully analyze the conclusions of studies done on the subject.

When we exercise, the demand for oxygen increases by increasing the metabolism. It has been observed that this increase also causes significant changes in the production of free radicals, to the point that it surpasses the capacity of antioxidant defense and oxidative stress occurs. These molecules are related to the appearance of muscle damage after effort, affecting protein structures such as muscle, membrane lipids and DNA.

Our body has antioxidant defenses that can be enzymatic (superoxide-dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase ...) or non-enzymatic (vitamins C and E, for example). These defenses act in a coordinated manner with those that are ingested through the diet.

That is why it was speculated that supplementation with antioxidants could be positive, as it would prevent oxidative stress and muscle damage caused by exercise (Faff 2001). Some studies suggested that it could have effects on post-exercise recovery and injury recovery (Atalay, Lappalainen and Sen 2006), and others found improvements in signs and symptoms of the muscle damage produced by the effort (but not about the injury itself) in untrained people (Bloomer 2007).

Debate open
However, reactive oxygen substances, or otherwise known as ROS (Reactive Oxidative Species), act as mediators of important physiological processes in the body, such as vasodilatation. An antioxidant overload could affect health or even harm the adaptations to effort (Sen 2001, Peternelj and Coombes 2011).

Thus, the controversy is served. Is the supplementation necessary to control the undesirable effects of the ROS or is it counterproductive because it can alter the natural adaptation of the cell to exercise? The reviews carried out on this subject point to the complexity of establishing appropriate supplementation recommendations, since it is unknown what substance or substance composition is most appropriate for the sport practiced and the individual needs of each athlete. Even so, the results seem to indicate that supplementation, far from achieving improvements in performance and health, could have adverse effects.

Authors such as Margaritis or Rousseau (2008) warn that the beneficial effects of supplementation are only found in individuals who have an inadequate food intake. Therefore, diet and nutrition control is more important than the design of supplements. We must follow a balanced and varied diet that meets the energy requirements and avoids the nutritionally poor products.

Supplementation is very complex, since it is extremely difficult to guess the right mix of substances that is favorable for the athlete, the nutritional status and the sport practiced.

Conclusion: It is better to follow a varied diet
Antioxidant supplementation does not improve performance in athletes with a correct nutritional input; It seems more accurate to follow a strict dietary control that meets the energy and micronutrient needs and to avoid foods of low nutritional quality.

A high concentration of antioxidants in the tissues could be counterproductive, as it would interfere with the processes in which ROS act as mediators. All of this can affect the health, ability to adapt the cell and sports performance.

the author

Miguel Ángel Martínez

Master in Physiology. Bachelor's Degree in Physical Activity and Sports Sciences. Superior Technician in Animation of Physical-Sports Activities

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