As a personal trainer in London, I’m often asked by clients: “What are antioxidants?” The simple answer is that they are nutritional substances which kill free radicals. Free radicals are molecules which are naturally produced in your body which contribute to disease (particularly cancer), ageing and stress. Another problem with free radicals is that they sabotage muscle growth. Ironically, free radicals are produced when you exercise intensively, so you need good nutrition to kill these gremlins.
A free radical is biochemically unstable because it has a ‘free’ or unpaired electron. Chemicals are stable when their electrons are paired-up, and unpaired electrons in the body cause the problems listed above. Free radicals actually damage your DNA, which causes disease and accelerates ageing. Free radicals also damage your RNA, and RNA is responsible for converting amino acids into muscle.
The antioxidant vitamins are A, C and E. Vitamin A, or more precisely the precursor of vitamin A called beta-carotene, is found in broccoli, carrots and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C (as you probably already know) is found mainly in citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, and also berries such as blackberries and blueberries. Vitamin E is found in wholegrain bread, particularly in the wheatgerm.
Antioxidants are found in many plants. Plant antioxidants are known as phytonutrients, such as polyphenols and catechins (found in green tea), flavonoids (found in grapefruit), lycopene (found in tomatoes), and selenium (found in wholegrains and seafood).
When you include plenty of foods rich in antioxidants, you will minimise free radical damage and thereby minimise your risk of disease and premature ageing, and maximise your muscle growth.
(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer and nutrition coach in London)