This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
I used to take large doses of antioxidant supplements daily. My supplement was a combination of Beta Carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. It was recommended to me by my doctor way back when I was in high school and I kept taking it until just a few years ago. I figured it might help and what’s the harm?
Did you notice that I stated I "used to" take these supplements? I’ve been following Steve Magness for quite some time and he, along with a few others, was pointing out studies (such as this and this) that said not only was antioxidant supplementation not beneficial but it might actually dampen the body’s response to training.
Now, a new study that again took up the topic of how antioxidants affect our training has come out. The results? Well, not a ringing endorsement for antioxidant supplementation. While running performance didn’t seem to be affected, there was clearly a difference between those taking the antioxidants and those who didn’t at a cellular level. There was evidence of an increase in mitochondria in those who were on the placebo, while there was not in those who were taking antioxidants. Remember, mitochondria are often referred to as the "power plants" of the muscle cells, where glucose and oxygen are processed to produce the form of energy the muscle cells can use. At the cellular level, more mitochondria is one of the key results we’re looking for when we do aerobic training.
It’s a little confusing that we would see a difference in mitochondria production but not a difference in running performance but the lesson here is that, however you look at the results of this study, antioxidant supplementation did not help the runners.
It’s not just the vitamins we know about that make our foods healthy. There is more going on and supplements that pump us full of this incomplete nutrition aren’t helpful and might even be harmful. Focus instead of eating whole foods. Nature has things pretty well figured out, don’t assume we can engineer things that will work better than nature. If you don’t know how the supplements might affect you, don’t assume like I falsely did some time ago that they couldn’t hurt. That could very well be a bad assumption, just as mounting evidence suggests my assumption was.