Free radicals are a disruptive force in our bodies. Left unmitigated by antioxidants, they cause all manner of oxidative stress and cell damage—including to important hormone-producing glands. For athletes and bodybuilders in particular, this is a real problem.
In something of a paradox, the exercise and strength training that’s meant to keep our bodies healthy actually creates an excess of free radicals. Managing them post-workout is an important step not only in exercise recovery, but for long-term health. Endurance athletes and bodybuilders rely heavily on growth hormones to develop and strengthen their muscles, and the free radicals produced during bouts of training can have lasting, negative impacts on development.
Here's what happens during workouts, and why managing free radicals post-workout needs to be a focus of any serious bodybuilder or endurance athlete.
Exercise produces an excess of free radicals
The most abundant types of free radicals in our bodies are Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). As their name implies, these stressors are radicalized oxygen molecules. They become more prevalent in our bodies after bouts of exercise due to the combination of heavy breathing and exertion. As we push our bodies harder and harder, we take in more oxygen and subject ourselves to physiological stressors. The result is a higher concentration of ROS.
How ROS affects our hormones
Even after a cooldown, athletes and bodybuilders still have an excess of ROS. While the body attempts to repair itself, ROS go to work causing cellular damage: oxidative stress. Part of this oxidative stress involves agitation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which inhibit key hormone-producing glands.
Specifically, ROS and the resulting creation of pro-inflammatory cytokines disrupt the pituitary gland, impeding its ability to produce Human Growth Hormone (HGH). It also affects Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1) pathways. For athletes and bodybuilders in particular, this can have regressive effects.
HGH and IGF-1 disruptions inhibit muscle growth
HGH and IGF-1 both contribute to muscle growth. They’re both essential hormones that the body naturally produces, but are too often impeded by free radicals.
- HGH is essential for repairing muscle, boosting metabolism and burning fat.
- IGF-1 stimulates hypertrophy to grow bone, muscle and other tissues in the body.
Without the body’s ability to produce adequate levels of HGH and IGF-1, athletes will struggle to build and sustain muscle mass. This can cause a number of problems—specifically, longer recovery times, diminishing returns on workouts and problems bulking.
Post-workout, athletes and bodybuilders rely on HGH and IGF-1 to aid in muscle repair and strengthening. Unfortunately, due to an elevated presence of free radicals—namely ROS—these hormones aren’t prevalent at the levels they need to be.
Using Vitamin E to alleviate free radical stress
Supplementation is an integral part of any endurance athlete or bodybuilder’s post-workout regimen. In many cases, it’s as simple as replacing lost electrolytes and supporting muscle rebuilding with creatine. In other cases, it involves a full stack of supplements aimed at taking the benefits of the workout further. Regardless of what a stack looks like, it needs to include Vitamin E.
Vitamin E—specifically a blend of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols—is one of the most powerful antioxidants. Vitamin E specifically targets free radicals post-workout and, through electron donation, stabilizes them to prevent oxidative stress. Vitamin E limits ROS, which enables HGH and IGF-1 production, which in turn enables healthy muscle growth.
Even more important, Vitamin E is a lipid-soluble vitamin. The body stores it in fat until it’s necessary, which means it’s not excreted through urine like water-soluble vitamins. As a result, athletes and bodybuilders can actually take Vitamin E before a workout and not risk reduced levels through frequent urination.
The importance of natural supplementation
Hardcore athletes and bodybuilders already know the importance of natural supplementation. Vitamin E supplements are no different. In looking at Vitamin E supplements, be sure to distinguish between the following:
- dl-alpha tocopherol is the synthetic form of Vitamin E
- d-alpha tocopherol is the natural form of Vitamin E
It’s also important to look at where natural sources are derived from. Cheaper Vitamin E supplements will derive tocopherols from vegetable oils, while high-end supplements will derive them from whole foods, like soybeans. Natural supplements will offer optimal bioavailability, which is crucial in ensuring both adequate supplementation and maximum effectiveness in fighting against excessive free radicals.
Hormone production is key in athletics
For all the work endurance athletes and bodybuilders put in at the gym and while training, it’s equally important to aid the body in recovery. And while sleep and diet are critical, supplementation is also vital. The addition of a natural Vitamin E supplement to a workout stack can protect against elevated levels of free radicals and ensure proper hormone production, for the betterment of bones, muscles and tissues. Without appropriate levels of HGH and IGF-1, all that hard work could be for naught.