Exercise provides the body and mind with uncountable benefits, whether it’s a boost in energy or confidence to increased strength and speed. These rewards from hard work, however, come at a cost. The inevitable stress placed on the body during a workout produces oxidative stress, inflammation, and tissue damage. Rest assured though, these stressors are a necessity to improving our performance and health. Following a demanding workout, the main goal is to nourish the body properly with adequate hydration, nutrition, and sleep to minimize the negative effects and maximize our potential gains. The importance of hydration and sleep are well understood by most. Everyone has felt the immediate side effects of dehydration and getting a bad night’s rest. Conversely, the nutritional component to offsetting exercise induced stress is often overlooked. This article highlights antioxidants, their benefit to athletes, and how to easily include them into our diets.
During exercise, muscles require energy to contract and create force, allowing us to run, jump, and lift weights. The source of this energy, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), is created during a process called oxidative phosphorylation. In short, one of the major by-products, oxygen, promotes the formation of free radicals. These substances are believed to damage DNA and cells, as well as contribute to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Fortunately, antioxidants limit and may completely stop the potential damage from free radicals.
Antioxidants, thusly, represent a valuable tool for recovery and health for individuals completing vigorous bouts of exercise on a daily basis. Research has supported benefits of consuming antioxidants both prior to and post exercise. More commonly known antioxidants include Vitamins A, C, & E, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and selenium. Finding sources and incorporating them into a meal may be easier than you think. Most whole fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of antioxidants. A good rule of thumb is to choose foods with diverse colors. Dark green vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, & peas), orange/yellow fruits (cantaloupe, oranges, mangoes, apricots, & papayas), red/purple fruits (watermelon, tomatoes, pomegranate, & blueberries), orange vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin, & squash), plus quality animal sources (liver, butter, eggs, beef, fish, &poultry) provide an abundant array of antioxidant options.
Interestingly, how we acquire the best availability of antioxidants from the previously mentioned foods is different. How you cook and consume these foods can dictate the amount of antioxidants available. Some are best eaten raw, while others require some form of cooking, whether it be steaming, boiling, or sautéing to maximize antioxidant availability. For example, eating steamed vegetables compared to their raw form can provided ten-fold quantities of antioxidants. The heat applied from cooking helps break down the cell walls composed of cellulose found in plants. Humans, unlike ruminant animals, such as cows, do not have the capabilities to digest cellulose. Thusly, the process of cooking allows us to obtain all of the benefits provided from the plant, without needing four or five stomachs.
In order to gain the most out of antioxidants from whole food sources, it is recommended to eat a diversity of colorful fruits and vegetables both raw and cooked. In either case, the key is incorporating them into our diets more regularly to aid recovery and promote increased performance gains while training at Spartan Strength.
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