Multivitamins with high doses of antioxidants are often recommended as the best muscle building supplements with whey protein, creatine, etc. However, high doses of antioxidants, much like NSAIDS, can reduce training adaptions (i.e., less strength and aerobic capacity). Studies have shown that high doses of antioxidants can blunt muscle gains.
SUMMARY OF BODYBUILDING SUPPLEMENTS THAT CAN REDUCE MUSCLE GROWTH
- Multivitamins with high doses of antioxidants are often recommended as the best bodybuilding supplements with whey protein, creatine, etc. However, high doses of antioxidants, much like NSAIDS, can reduce training adaptions (i.e., less strength and aerobic capacity)
- Studies have shown that high doses of antioxidants can blunt muscle gains
- Any herbal extract, antioxidant, or vitamin in high dosages can potentially have negative consequences.
“Train. Say your prayers. Eat your vitamins. Believe in yourself.”
Everyone knows amino acids, vitamins, and minerals are essential for health and support immune health and athletic performance. You will see studies that are released saying that athletes deficient in certain vitamins and minerals perform worse than those with adequate levels.
For example, Vitamin E deficiency is a serious medical condition that leads to serious damage to the body, especially the muscles. Supplementation with Vitamin E administered to deficient athletes results in improved performance and recovery. (Ivanova et al., 2015)
Athletes deficient in vitamins and minerals will certainly see a performance improvement. This is certainly true for Vitamin D deficient athletes. Many older adults and athletes training in sheltered environments with no sun exposure are at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
VITAMINS AND ANTIOXIDANTS HELP YOU LIVE LONGER, RIGHT?
Anti-aging supplements (i.e., melatonin), powdered greens (i.e., a mixture of green vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, and other vegetables ground into a powder), ascorbic acid, vitamin C with rose hips, and vitamin E capsules are commonly consumed as a vitamin product described as the best bodybuilding supplements for muscle growth combined with whey protein, creatine, etc.
Contrary to the notion that vitamins help you live longer, most studies do not support supplements for anti-aging for a longer life or improved recovery from exercise. (Bjelakovic et al., 2007; Ristow et al., 2009; Teixeira et al., 2009)
A report for the American College of Sports Medicine found that 50% of elite athletes took doses of antioxidants that were higher than the RDA. (Rodriguez et al., 2009) The most common rationale for using antioxidants is to reduce muscle damage, fatigue, and free radicals. (MEDICA, 2017)
BODYBUILDING SUPPLEMENTS: FREE RADICALS AND CELL DAMAGE
Antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E are powerful substances that mostly come from our fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are like bouncers that protect the bar (i.e., your cells) from drunks (i.e., free radicals) that want to come into the bar and destroy the inside.
Free radical damage has been associated with some diseases that occur with the aging process, such as atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, asthma, diabetes, senile dementia, and degenerative eye disease. Excess free radicals are associated with cell death. (Simioni et al., 2018)
With the list of damage that free radicals cause, it seems like it would be best to eliminate free radicals. The appropriate balance of free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for performance enhancement. (Gomez-Cabrera et al., 2008; Makanae et al., 2013; Vargas-Mendoza et al., 2021) There are fine lines between sufficient levels and excess levels.
Meaning not too few or not too many antioxidants are needed for optimal performance. Excess free radicals are often documented in cases of overtraining and excess muscle damage and are associated with decreased performance. (Wang et al., 2021)
FREE RADICALS ARE NECESSARY FOR MUSCLE GROWTH
Studies have shown that it is natural for free radicals to occur during exercise, and this is part of the normal adaptations to exercise. For example, one study found that during aerobic exercise, those that had “high” and “moderate” levels of free radicals produced during exercise had greater improvements in oxygen consumption and performance compared to those that produced “lower” levels. (Margaritelis et al., 2018)
Many athletes think that doubling up on antioxidants is a good idea. If antioxidants reduce free radicals, I can reduce muscle damage, train harder, and gain muscle. These assumptions are, however, generally not supported in the scientific literature.
BODYBUILDING SUPPLEMENTS: EXCESS VITAMINS C AND E CAN REDUCE MUSCLE GROWTH
Vitamin C supplements (i.e., Vitamin C 1000 mg, Ester C Vitamins) and Vitamin E (i.e., Vitamin E pills, Vitamin E oil capsules, liquid vitamin E oil drops) are commonly found in bodybuilding vitamin mega packs. Foods rich in Vitamin C are citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, etc.) is noted for its effect on immune function by stimulating white blood cells. Vitamin E (i.e., foods rich in Vitamin E are wheat germ oil, canola oil, almonds, pumpkin, etc.) is essential for vision, reproduction, brain, skin, etc.
According to the latest research, taking too many antioxidants can hinder muscle growth. Here are a few studies to suggest that sometimes there is too much vitamin C and E can inhibit muscle growth:
A study published in The Journal of Physiology provided young, recreationally active men and women with either a vitamin C (i.e., Vitamin C 1000mg) and E (i.e., 400 IU) supplement or a placebo during ten weeks of heavy resistance exercise performed four times per week.
The antioxidant supplementation blunted anabolic cellular responses to resistance exercise and hindered strength outcomes following training. While the antioxidant supplement did not significantly blunt muscle growth following the ten weeks of training, the placebo group tended to have overall better gains.(Paulsen et al., 2014)
In a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, older adults were provided either a vitamin C and E supplement (1000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IUs of vitamin E) or a placebo during 12 weeks of resistance training performed three times per week.
Similarly, this high dosage of vitamins C and E curbed certain muscular adaptations to strength training. In this case, the group receiving the vitamins had less gains in muscle size compared to the group given the placebo. Maximal strength measures were not different between groups.(Bjørnsen et al., 2016)
OTHER STUDIES ON BODYBUILDING SUPPLEMENTS
A final series of studies by Dutra et al. found that 1 gram of Vitamin C and 400 IU per day of Vitamin E resulted in less gains in muscle mass compared to a placebo.(Dutra et al., 2018; Dutra et al., 2019)
Much like the research showing that excess use of NSAIDs blocks inflammation which is a natural part of the recuperation process and can hinder muscle growth, high-dose antioxidants prevent a normal part of the exercise recovery response.
At the cellular level, our cells are designed to sense, respond to, and mount the appropriate stress response. This causes us to adapt, becoming better able to overcome future exercise stresses and ensuring training adaptation. We are blocking the normal stress and recovery process by taking antioxidant bodybuilding supplements in and around training.
Does this mean that you should stop taking your multivitamin? It depends on your diet. If you are not eating a diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, then it would be advisable to keep taking your multivitamins.
On the other hand, if you consume a diet of fruits and vegetables, you probably don’t need to take a multivitamin. The concern is that excess herbal extracts, vitamins that have anti-inflammatory effects, could interfere with muscle gains and training adaptations.
The studies have been limited to Vitamin C and E, but I presume mega dosages of curcumin, polyphenols, resveratrol, herbal antioxidants, etc., can have similar effects. These compounds have been found to have potent anti-inflammatory effects. (Li et al., 2022)
Based on the research, try to get your antioxidants from natural food sources. Read any supplement’s nutrition facts to ensure the ingredients are not in excess.
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Bjørnsen, T., Salvesen, S., Berntsen, S., Hetlelid, K. J., Stea, T. H., Lohne-Seiler, H., Rohde, G., Haraldstad, K., Raastad, T., Køpp, U., Haugeberg, G., Mansoor, M. A., Bastani, N. E., Blomhoff, R., Stølevik, S. B., Seynnes, O. R., & Paulsen, G. (2016). Vitamin C and E supplementation blunts increases in total lean body mass in elderly men after strength training. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 26(7), 755-763. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12506
Dutra, M. T., Alex, S., Mota, M. R., Sales, N. B., Brown, L. E., & Bottaro, M. (2018). Effect of strength training combined with antioxidant supplementation on muscular performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 43(8), 775-781. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2017-0866
Dutra, M. T., Alex, S., Silva, A. F., Brown, L. E., & Bottaro, M. (2019). Antioxidant Supplementation Impairs Changes in Body Composition Induced by Strength Training in Young Women. Int J Exerc Sci, 12(2), 287-296.
Gomez-Cabrera, M.-C., Domenech, E., & Viña, J. (2008). Moderate exercise is an antioxidant: upregulation of antioxidant genes by training. Free radical biology and medicine, 44(2), 126-131.
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Li, S., Fasipe, B., & Laher, I. (2022). Potential harms of supplementation with high doses of antioxidants in athletes. J Exerc Sci Fit, 20(4), 269-275. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesf.2022.06.001
Makanae, Y., Kawada, S., Sasaki, K., Nakazato, K., & Ishii, N. (2013). Vitamin C administration attenuates overload-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy in rats. Acta Physiol (Oxf), 208(1), 57-65. https://doi.org/10.1111/apha.12042
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MEDICA, E. M. (2017). Oxidative stress, lipid peroxidation indexes and antioxidant vitamins in long and middle distance athletes during a sport season. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness.
Paulsen, G., Hamarsland, H., Cumming, K. T., Johansen, R. E., Hulmi, J. J., Børsheim, E., Wiig, H., Garthe, I., & Raastad, T. (2014). Vitamin C and E supplementation alters protein signalling after a strength training session, but not muscle growth during 10 weeks of training. The Journal of Physiology, 592(24), 5391-5408. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2014.279950
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Wang, F., Wang, X., Liu, Y., & Zhang, Z. (2021). Effects of exercise-induced ROS on the pathophysiological functions of skeletal muscle. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2021.