You’ve probably heard about antioxidants in the realm of health and nutrition. But do you know what they actually do?
Not only do they play a vital role in your whole body health, they could be especially beneficial for athletes too.
Here’s why you need to start thinking about antioxidants if you’re an athlete, an aspiring athlete, or just a human.
First off, what’s oxidation?
Oxidation occurs naturally in the body. It’s a natural reaction to common stressors like:
- mental stress
- and yes, intensive exercise too 
Some of these stressors directly expose the body to free radicals, and some cause the body to release them. They’re constantly being formed by the body, and, in the right quantities, free radicals are great. For example:
- they help to combat pathogens,
- your immune system needs them to fight infections,
- they keep the blood flowing through our bodies,
- and they keep our brains sharp .
So despite their reputation, free radicals are not all bad.
Let’s get sciencey for a sec—how do free radicals work?
Free radicals are basically molecules with one or more unpaired electrons. They’re produced from sources from inside and outside the body, and are an uncharged, normally highly reactive electron.
Electrons like to be in pairs, so when left unpaired, they can easily react with other molecules (which is how they help with the immune system etc), but also how they can cause damage.
These reactions in the body cause oxidation. Think about rust forming on a metal surface, or an apple turning brown when exposed to the air—those are both examples of naturally occurring oxidation too, only obviously we can’t see it happening within ourselves. Damn skin, always in the way.
Within the body, oxidation can either be beneficial (like fighting pathogens, and keeping our thinking caps on straight), or in large quantities, can be harmful. That’s when it makes the transition from oxidation (good, normal), to oxidative stress (potentially pretty harmful).
Ok, so what’s oxidative stress?
The body loves balance. And oxidative stress occurs when the balance of free radicals and antioxidants is off.
So, if your body is exposed to excess free radicals through chronic stress, lots of intense exercise, diet, alcohol, or pollution—you need antioxidants to help fight them off.
When there aren’t enough antioxidants to keep the free radicals at bay and they are able to accumulate in the body, it causes oxidative stress. This is responsible for damaging cells, fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins, along with a whole host of other nasty things.
More stressors = more free radicals
More free radicals = oxidative stress
Oxidative stress = bad news
Oxidative stress has been studied extensively to explore its relationship with the development of diseases, autoimmune disorders, and increased susceptibility to viruses, bacteria, and parasites .
Best avoid that then. Enter: antioxidants.
How do antioxidants help?
The body produces some antioxidants, and also consumes them through antioxidant-rich foods like fruit, veg, and truly excellent coffee. These are called endogenous, and exogenous antioxidants, and their role is to act as “free radical scavengers”. They work by attaching themselves to the lone electron free radicals, to prevent and repair damage caused by free radicals.
As a knock-on effect this helps the immune system to function properly and lessens the risk of cell-degeneration and illness .
There are lots of different antioxidants though, and they work best together. So it’s important to make sure you’re mixing up your sources.
Why do athletes need antioxidants?
Well, intensive or prolonged exercise places a great deal of oxidative and inflammatory stress on the body.
The production of energy by muscle cells during exercise generates an excess of one of the most powerful and damaging known oxidants: the superoxide radicals.
The harder you exercise, the more oxygen you consume, the more superoxide radicals are formed. This can slow recovery, increase the risk of injury and decrease the intensity or duration of exercise.
So, it stands to reason that if you’re going to be training hard, it just makes sense to up your antioxidant game.
Some of the best antioxidant sources are:
- red cabbage
- dark chocolate
- coffee (seriously)
Antioxidant coffee? You bet.
Ready to have your mind blown? Coffee is actually the single biggest source of our daily antioxidant intake. Yep, even more than fruit and veg. It contributes up to 66%  of the total antioxidant intake in the Western diet.
We love this fact. So, we figured out a way to roast and source exhale to provide even more antioxidants than any other coffee.
Sound too good to be true? We thought so too.
We’re huge believers in the antioxidant power of coffee. It’s bonkers to us that more people don’t know about it. We bang on about it to anyone who’ll listen, but, we thought we’d better get a lab involved to back us up.
So, we tested exhale coffee. And found that, in terms of antioxidants, 1 cup = 12 punnets of blueberries, 55 oranges or 1.2kg of kale!!
Read the results of our test for antioxidants in our coffee.
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