Could Vitamins Undo Your Exercise Efforts?

exerciseNew research suggests taking vitamins after exercise may undo some of the beneficial effects of your workout.

Some advocate taking antioxidants like vitamin C and E to help protect your body from harmful chemical by-products it creates in breaking into a sweat. But some scientists now believe these "free radicals" may actually be good for you and even buffer against diabetes -- which means that mopping them up with antioxidants may do more harm than good.

It is thought that antioxidant vitamins prevent oxidative stress damage to your body's tissues by eliminating the free radicals that cause it. Oxidative stress has been implicated in several major diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

But a research team has claimed that free radicals may have a positive effect on your body by increasing its sensitivity to insulin, something that is lost in type 2 diabetes; this effect is blocked by antioxidant vitamins.

Reacting to the study, antioxidant expert Dr. Alexander Schauss said that the title of the study (Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans) was misleading. He said:
“The primary objective of this study was to study the effect of a 4-week intensive 5-days a week exercise program on insulin sensitivity. Yet the title of the paper leads one to believe otherwise.
This is a small gender-biased study of 40 male subjects, 25 to 35 years of age. When I read through the study for the first time I had to wonder, how could the authors have come up with such a title for their paper?”
In addition to questioning the study design, particularly with respect to both trained and untrained people being assigned to an intensive exercise program, Dr. Schauss also questioned the conclusions drawn from the data. Dr. Schauss said:
“Skeletal muscle biopsies were obtained from the right vastus lateralis muscle of study subjects. But some of the data is missing for a number of subjects, and reported as such by the authors.”
Dr. Schauss also noted that the authors presented no evidence of adverse effects by any of the individuals from vitamin C and E supplementation.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:
In my view exercise is easily one of the best ways to improve your health. But by its very nature, exercise is a form of stress to your body, one that generates free radicals and contributes to oxidative stress, which in turn has been linked to many chronic diseases and accelerated aging.

One way to combat these exercise-induced free radicals is by taking antioxidants like coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid,  and vitamins C and E. But according to this new study, doing so may actually negate one of exercise’s biggest positives: increasing insulin sensitivity.

In short, after four weeks of intense exercise, men who took the antioxidant supplements had no changes in their free radical levels, while those who did not had increased levels of free radicals and oxidative stress. However, the men who took the supplements did not show improvements in insulin sensitivity the way men who took no supplements did.

The researchers therefore suggest that “mopping up” free radicals with antioxidant supplements may do more harm than good.

Meanwhile, antioxidant expert Dr. Alexander Schauss has criticized the study, questioning the study design and conclusions, and calling its title misleading.

So is it beneficial to take antioxidants after you exercise or not?

This study really doesn’t provide a definitive answer one way or the other, but personally I still believe they can be beneficial, especially if you exercise frequently and strenuously.

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), in particular, can be a potent aid when you exercise vigorously.

In my expert interview with Dr. Burt Berkson, he gives an anecdotal story about a friend -- an international weight lifting champion -- who regularly uses ALA prior to meets. Aside from helping to temper oxidative stress, ALA also enhances insulin sensitivity, so it may be an even superior choice to vitamins C and E.
Your Diet is Also Important
Food, particularly raw organic vegetables and fruits , are sources of powerful antioxidants, so if you exercise regularly you’ll want to make sure your diet includes plenty of them.

Some of the best natural sources of ALA, meanwhile, include grass-fed red meat and organ meats.

Post exercise, meanwhile, your body is nitrogen-poor and your muscles have been broken down. That's why you need amino acids from animal proteins like chicken, beef and eggs, as well as vegetable carbohydrates, to help rebuild and repair, along with plenty of pure water to stay hydrated.

I personally take our Multivitamin with Minerals, ubiquinol and Purple Defense every day. So I am not convinced by this data.  

But I regularly measure my fasting insulin levels and the last time I had mine measured it was <2, which is the lowest possible value, so it is clear these antioxidants are not adversely affecting my insulin receptor sensitivity or insulin levels.
Exercise Ultimately Helps Fight Oxidative Stress
Some of you may be wondering whether exercise is worth it, given the stress it puts on your body. I just want to reassure you the answer is a resounding YES.

Exercise even fights oxidative stress in the long run, as demonstrated by at least one study on rats. In the study, the animals were not forced to run; they only did as much exercise as they found enjoyable -- what would translate to a daily 30-minute walk or a light 1-mile run in a human.

At the end of the experiment, the brains of the rats were examined. The more active rats were found to have fewer byproducts of oxidative stress in their brains. In fact, the DNA for those animals, after two years, looked much like those of their younger counterparts of only about 6 months of age.

So try not to get too bogged down with worries about exercise-induced stress. As long as you are eating a healthy diet, your body should be able to more than compensate.

I strongly believe that without fitness, it is virtually impossible to achieve optimal health. It is one of the few tools at your disposal that can positively impact nearly every aspect of health and wellness, from your brain to your waistline.

For some tips on how to use exercise to your greatest advantage, take a few minutes to watch my recent video on the Primary Principles of Exercise.