Antioxidants and sport: how to combat stress

2 MIN 26 January 2024

Antioxidant substances are fundamental for a healthy body and are an essential constituent of any diet, particularly for people involved in sport at any level. But why are antioxidant foods so important in sports nutrition?

Our body is subjected to various kinds of stress on a daily basis, including ageing, pollution and inflammation of the tissues. The stress undergone by the muscle mass during physical activity also puts a strain on our body. All these factors generate free radicals and, consequently, oxidative stress, which can destroy cells. As a result there is less capacity to recover from tiredness and an increased risk of injury during physical activity.

When it is subjected to these stresses, the body produces antioxidants to protect itself, but these are insufficient to deal with free radicals, which must be offset by those introduced through diet. However, that is not all: Supplementing sports nutrition with an insufficient amount of antioxidant foods also leads to a lowering of the body’s immune defences, with a consequent risk of falling ill frequently.

Why are antioxidants important for people involved in sport?

When the body produces free radicals, these attack tissues and deteriorate molecules such as DNA, proteins and lipids, causing oxidative stress that accelerates the cell ageing process. As we have seen, free radicals are produced when the body, or rather the cells, consume a large amount of oxygen, which is what happens during sporting activity. This is why, especially when it comes to competitive sports, a sufficient intake of antioxidant substances is essential. High-intensity and long-lasting aerobic physical activities in particular (cycling, running, cross-country skiing) and some anaerobic sports, such as weight lifting and power sports, increase the production of free radicals.

Sports nutrition rich in antioxidants

In order to produce the energy required for movement, especially during sporting activity, the body burns carbohydrates, proteins and fats, i.e. the macronutrients introduced through diet. However, in the energy production process, free radicals are also formed which, in high quantities, trigger cellular reactions that are potentially harmful to the body.

As mentioned, antioxidants are indeed molecules produced by the body but they can also be introduced through diet. Antioxidants are present in foods in various forms:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin A
  • Omega-3
  • Zinc

The antioxidants contained in vitamin E and Omega-3 in particular help to reduce inflammatory states and attenuate some allergic reactions.

Oxidative stress and sport: some recommendations

Antioxidant foods are precious allies against free radicals and are an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet plan, especially if sport is an integral part of your habits.

To give some examples:

  • Foods rich in vitamin A are milk, eggs, liver, vegetables, red and yellow fruits.
  • Vitamin E is contained in olive oil, soy and green leafy vegetables.
  • Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, kiwis and tomatoes.
  • Foods rich in Omega-3, i.e. polyunsaturated fats, are fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, avocado, olive oil and walnuts.

In all of this, we must never forget that other precautions are needed to ensure the complete well-being of the body and avoid the overproduction of free radicals. To do this, it is best to limit smoking and alcoholic drinks and reduce the excessive use of medicines where possible. It is also a good idea to limit any long exposure to the sun’s rays and avoid places with high levels of pollution.

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