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Athletes have higher pulmonary capacity than that of sedentary people. In fact, athletes consume between 12 to 20 times more oxygen per minute than someone who doesn't work out. Although this translates into a better athletic performance, it also means an increased production of free radicals.
Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that can destroy cells and cause degenerative diseases. They're formed during metabolism or due to exposure to environmental factors such as inhaling tobacco smoke.
Antioxidants are the body's first line of defense against free radicals. They're known as 'free radical scavengers' and protect cells from being destroyed by them. Under normal conditions, the body's internal defense system does a pretty good job protecting our cells.
But, as we have seen, athletes produce more free radicals than sedentary people and so are more exposed to their harmful effects. Several studies have shown that athletes who consume antioxidants are able to recover fast from workouts.
A scientific study published in the European Journal of Nutrition evaluated the relation between antioxidant consumption and levels of oxidative stress in basketball players. Some athletes were given 1 g of vitamin C, 600 mg of vitamin E and 32 mg of beta-carotene for a whole season.
Others were given a placebo instead. The supplemented group experienced a significant decrease in both lipid peroxidation and oxidative stress levels (*1).
The number of antioxidants you need to consume every day will depend on a handful of factors:
1 - Duration and intensity of the workout: the longer you workouts are, the more antioxidants you need;
2 - Body fat percentage: the higher your body fat percentage is, the more antioxidants you need.
3 - Age: people over 30 have higher antioxidants needs.
4 - Diet: The less vegetables and fruits you eat daily, the greater your antioxidant needs are. 5 - Environment: highly polluted areas and stressful workplaces increase antioxidant needs.