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What role do antioxidants play for elite athletes?

12 Jul 2019   ·   

Right after we are born, our bodies begin to oxidise. This is a natural process that results from our exposure to various elements such as pollution, an excess of solar radiation, stress and even physical exercise. All of these circumstances cause the emergence of new substances called free radicals, which accumulate in our body and can cause illnesses, burnout or fatigue.

In order to avoid this, we must eat antioxidants, which are found naturally in our diets or can be taken as a nutritional supplement.

As Toña Lizarraga, head of FC Barcelona’s nutrition department explains, sports causes inflammation and oxidisation. At the same time, however, the body also adapts: those who train regularly also produce something called “endogenous antioxidants” within their bodies, which offset the production of free radicals.

The debate is centred around whether it is at times necessary to take vitamins and antioxidants, or if the antioxidants that we produce naturally are enough. There is also a concern as to whether the supplements taken could affect how the body reacts, causing it to produce fewer endogenous antioxidants.

Which foods are high in antioxidants?

For people who engage in moderate exercise, the amount of antioxidants in their diet is enough. They can be found in intense-coloured vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, carrots or spinach. Other foods high in antioxidants are what are known as forest fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, cherries or blackberries,  which are especially recommended for muscles and the cognitive function.

Other nutritional elements that can be useful are virgin olive oil, green tea, resveratrol extract (found in the skin of black grapes), dried fruit and turmeric, which also has anti-inflammatory properties. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes are also high in antioxidants due to their high vitamin C content.

Supplements after training

However, adaptation can be difficult during elite competition when there is a high level of exertion or very little recovery time. In these cases, it may be advisable for athletes to take some sort of antioxidant supplement on top of the food that they eat. One example is cherry concentrate, available in both capsules and liquid form, which can be taken after demanding training sessions.

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