When you think about fuel for your run, you probably think protein and carbohydrates… but what about oxygen? Oxygen helps the body release energy from glucose and fat, and it helps power muscle activity.
The truth about free radicals
Although essential to life, oxygen is highly volatile and often creates free radicals. Free radicals get a bad rap, but the negativity is somewhat understandable. These chemicals can wreak havoc inside the body, causing oxidative stress that may lead to chronic disease over time.
The more oxygen you consume, the more free radicals you’ll create. So how can something so good also be so bad? The answer is that it’s not as bad as it seems. Although free radicals have a downside, they are also as essential as oxygen itself.
Oxidative stress is connected to the normal functioning of every cell in your body.
As with most things in life, moderation is key. If you have too many free radicals in your body, you may be exposed to premature aging and chronic disease. But don’t wage a war on them entirely.
The role of antioxidants
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and limit their effects. There are two types of antioxidants: endogenous and exogenous. The body manufactures endogenous antioxidants to protect itself against oxidative damage. Exogenous antioxidants come from food.
Many studies have shown that antioxidant-rich diets can counteract oxidative stress.
Antioxidant supplements and running
The body consumes about 15 times more oxygen during a run than during a rest, so it produces about as many free radicals. These free radicals may contribute to muscle fatigue and increase inflammation.
You can get antioxidant vitamins from food and antioxidant supplements, but there’s a thing or two you should know before you start on supplements.
Although supplements offer an easy way to get antioxidants into your body, it’s not necessarily the best way. Being that there are more than 5,000 antioxidants available, it would be easy to shortchange yourself with a supplement.
Another consideration is the old saying about too much of a good thing. A 2008 study found that vitamin C supplementation prevented the body from creating mitochondria, which are essential for endurance. Another study found that resveratrol supplementation countered the effects of exercise in older men.
The best antioxidants for runners
As previously mentioned, there are over 5,000 types of antioxidants available in our food supply. So food is a great natural source. It is also more difficult to consume too many antioxidants when you get them from food.
When planning your diet, try to include five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables. Choose fruits and veggies in a wide array of colors to ensure you’re getting the full spectrum of antioxidants. Since berries are a great free-radical-fighting food, try keeping a bag in your freezer to add to smoothies, cereal or yogurt. Green tea is also rich in antioxidants and offers a great way to start your morning.
The key to packing your diet with antioxidants isn’t to focus on one over another. Try to eat a variety of foods to help your body fight the natural oxidative stress that will surely be accelerated when you run.