MYTH: Using antioxidants post workout enhances recovery.
Here’s a myth that just makes sense: we work out, cause all kinds of damage to our bodies, then we use antioxidants to help clean up the mess. Simple and sweet. The reality? Neither simple or sweet. In fact, it may not surprise you to find that there is a clear lack of data on antioxidant supplementation following exercise.
Taking a step back to look at the basis for the theory, it’s been shown that damaging eccentric exercise didn’t change the normal levels of our body’s antioxidants (Child et al., 1999). In other words, our body has a natural antioxidant defense capability, and this was not stressed at all despite the exercise and the subsequent muscle damage.
This is contradicted by other data showing that there is an impact of exercise on natural antioxidant levels (Lee et al., 2002; Goldfarb et al., 2005), but clearly the case is not closed. With this conflicting research, you’d have to wonder if antioxidant supplementation would have any effect at all! Oh it does, my oxidized friend, but the effects are not what we’d expect!
Once again, here’s one of the most underrated research papers of the last 5 years—take note folks because this is one of those studies you need to know about. This groundbreaking research by Childs and buddies (2001) examined the impact of post workout antioxidant supplementation on subsequent muscle damage and healing.
You’ll be shocked to know they found that this practice actually increased muscle damage and delayed recovery! That’s right, the microtrauma experienced by the muscle cells was exacerbated by the antioxidants. With this, the greater the damage, the more time it takes to repair.
It seems that there are pro-oxidant effects happening here, meaning that the "antioxidants" actually started causing the damage they were meant to clean up! While this effect is thought to occur with excessive antioxidant use, it’s surprising that these effects were seen at a Vitamin C dosage of ~1100mg and ~900mg N-Acetyl Cysteine per day, for a 200 lb guy, neither of which are all that incredibly high. To my knowledge, this is the only study to investigate antioxidant supplementation after strength training. This makes the findings incredibly powerful because they are directly applicable to us! On a personal note, I was pretty blown away when I read this paper because I’d been using Vitamin C post workout for years. While these data aren’t strong enough to make me swear off antioxidants altogether, they clearly show that we can overdo it quite easily with these supplements. More importantly, these data help us rethink the post workout window dogma.