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Mitchell M. Kanter

Free radicals have been implicated in the development of diverse diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cataracts, and recent epidemic-logical data suggest an inverse relationship between antioxidant intake and cardiovascular disease risk. Data also suggest that antioxidants may delay aging, Research has indicated that free radical production and subsequent lipid peroxidation are normal sequelae to the rise in oxygen consumption with exercise. Consequently, antioxidant supplementation may detoxify the peroxides produced during exercise and diminish muscle damage and soreness. Vitamin E, beta carotene, and vitamin C have shown promise as protective antioxidants. Other ingestible products with antioxidant properties include selenium and coenzyme Q10. The role (if any) that free radicals play in the development of exercise-induced tissue damage, or the protective role that antioxidants may play, remains to be elucidated. Current methods used to assess exercise-induced lipid peroxidation are not extremely specific or sensitive; research that utilizes more sophisticated methodologies should help to answer many questions regarding dietary antioxidants.

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Mitchell M. Kanter and Melvin H. Williams

Three nutritional products that have very different mechanisms of action are antioxidant vitamins, carnitine, and choline. Antioxidant vitamins do not appear to have a direct effect on physical performance in well-fed people but have been touted for their ability to detoxify potentially damaging free radicals produced during exercise. Carnitine purportedly enhances lipid oxidation, increases VO2max, and decreases plasma lactate accumulation during exercise. However, studies of carnitine do not generally support its use for ergogenic purposes. Choline supplements have been advocated as a means of preventing the decline in acetylcholine production purported to occur during exercise; this decline may reduce the transmission of contraction-generating impulses across the skeletal muscle, an effect that could impair one’s ability to perform muscular work. However, there are no definitive studies in humans that justify choline supplementation. Much of the scientific data regarding the aforementioned nutrients are equivocal and contradictory. Their potential efficacy for improving physical performance remains largely theoretical.