Don't waste your time taking antioxidant supplements after exercise

January 22, 2018 by Mayur Ranchordas, The Conversation
Credit: Pexels

The antioxidant market is big business and millions of pounds are spent every year on antioxidant supplements – such as vitamin A, C and E – as well as fruit and vegetable extracts and juices.

Antioxidants are so popular – particularly among people who do a lot of exercise – because it is believed they help to reduce soreness after exercise. It is thought that by taking in doses much higher than the recommended amounts, muscles recover quicker by reducing some of the harmful effects of exercise. And this is why so many people swear by antioxidants – such as cherry juice or pomegranate juice – after a workout.

Some people also take antioxidant supplements to improve their general health or protect against certain cancers but the scientific evidence for this is poor. And similarly, our recent analysis of the existing scientific literature found similar results.

We recently published a Cochrane review which included 50 studies looking at the link between antioxidant use and reduced muscle soreness. And we discovered that there is no solid evidence that antioxidants works.

Aching muscles

Muscle soreness typically occurs following unaccustomed or intense exercise and usually peaks two days afterwards. This can obviously impair future athletic performance, so it's not surprising that various interventions have been put forward to reduce exercise related muscle aches and pains.

These range from a number of different techniques, including whole body cryotherapy – which involves getting exposure to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes in a special chamber where temperatures can range from -110 to -140°C. Then there is also the use of compression garments and massage, as well as antioxidant supplementation.

Some athletes also strategically take antioxidant supplements to accelerate recovery during periods of intense competition rather than taking them every day. In professional football for example, when there can often be periods of fixture congestion (a team may play three matches in an eight day period), dietary antioxidants are used to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. The belief is this will allow the players to recover more quickly in preparation for the next match.

Similarly, in professional cycling, a Tour de France rider may take antioxidant supplements to accelerate recovery after each stage. The belief is this will help them to recover more quickly for the following day's riding.

Antioxidants debunked

Our recent review compared high-dose antioxidant supplementation with a placebo (a dummy pill or drink with no antioxidant). Various antioxidants were used in the studies ranging from single vitamins to extracts and juices. These included , , vitamins C and E, black tea extract and others in various doses.

The review included 1,089 participants, nearly nine out of ten of these were male and most participants were recreationally active or moderately trained. The age range of the participants varied from 16 to 55 years.

Although we found antioxidant supplementation may very slightly reduce muscle soreness in the first three days after exercise, these reductions were so small, it was unlikely they made any difference at all.

So ultimately, we found that high dose antioxidant supplementation – in excess of the normal recommended daily dose for antioxidants – does not appear to reduce muscle soreness after exercise.

More harm than good?

Of the studies we looked at, only nine reported on adverse effects. Two of these found some people who took antioxidants experienced gastrointestinal distress – such as diarrhoea, indigestion and bloating.

On top of our findings, more recently, there has been an emergence of studies showing that chronic antioxidant supplementation may actually be counterproductive. For instance, it has been shown that antioxidant supplements may delay healing and recovery from exercise, hinder adaptations to training, and may even increase mortality.

Taking all of this into consideration, the main take home message is to steer clear of supplements and save your money. Instead, just try and move more, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet that includes at least five or more portions of rainbow coloured fruits and vegetables. Because for now at least, there is no quick fix to easing muscle soreness after .

In fact, it seems is an important part of the recovery process and can help to make your muscles stronger and bigger over time. And that will ultimately help to make you fitter and stronger in the long run.

Explore further: Antioxidant supplements have little effect on muscle soreness

Related Stories

Antioxidant supplements have little effect on muscle soreness

December 19, 2017
Taking antioxidant supplements to reduce muscles soreness after exercise could have almost no effect, according to new research.

New study shows taurine supplements may improve performance recovery

November 13, 2017
New research recently published in the Antioxidants journal, suggests taurine supplementation taken after exercise, may help improve the rate of muscle recovery.

Tips and techniques for reducing muscle soreness

July 3, 2017
When you try a new exercise, lift heavier weights or run steeper hills, muscles experience strain and micro-tearing at the cellular level. This leaves your muscles sore. Foam rolling, stretching and foods with anti-inflammatory ...

Watermelon juice relieves post-exercise muscle soreness

August 14, 2013
Watermelon juice's reputation among athletes is getting scientific support in a new study, which found that juice from the summer favorite fruit can relieve post-exercise muscle soreness. The report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural ...

Which sports supplements actually work?

November 8, 2017
Whether your goal is to increase strength, decrease body fat or improve overall performance, adding supplements to your daily regimen can give you that extra edge. But with thousands of products on the market, choosing the ...

Do antioxidants improve a woman's chances of conceiving?

August 4, 2013
There is no high quality evidence that antioxidant supplements help to increase a woman's chances of having a baby, according to the results of a new systematic review. The review, published in The Cochrane Library, found ...

Recommended for you

Sleep better, parent better: Study shows link between maternal sleep and permissive parenting

May 21, 2018
Research has shown that consistently not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, can put you at risk for a number of health conditions. But how does sleep, or the lack of it, affect how you parent?

Insufficient sleep, even without extended wakefulness, leads to performance impairments

May 21, 2018
Millions of individuals obtain insufficient sleep on a daily basis, which can lead to impaired performance and other adverse physiological outcomes. To what extent these impairments are caused by the short sleep duration ...

Mediterranean diet may blunt air pollution's ill health effects

May 21, 2018
Eating a Mediterranean diet may protect people from some of the harm of long-term exposure to air pollution, and reduce their risk of dying from heart attacks, stroke and other causes of death, according to new research presented ...

Autism is not linked to eating fish in pregnacy

May 21, 2018
A major study examining the fish-eating habits of pregnant women has found that they are not linked to autism or autistic traits in their children.

Improving heart health could prevent frailty in old age

May 21, 2018
New research has shown that older people with very low heart disease risks also have very little frailty, raising the possibility that frailty could be prevented.

One in 10 parents say their child has gotten sick from spoiled or contaminated food

May 21, 2018
No parent wants to come home from a picnic or restaurant with a little one whose stomachache turns into much worse.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.