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Why you need more vitamin C if you exercise regularly

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that your body can’t store, so you need to get a regular supply through the foods you eat. Elite athletes often consume higher amounts of vitamin C1 to help with recovery. But how exactly does vitamin C support them, and others who exercise regularly?

How does vitamin C support exercise?

Vitamin C has many functions within your body, many of which go hand-in-hand with post-exercise recovery. For example, vitamin C is needed for the absorption of iron, which helps boost energy. Vitamin C also helps form collagen, the abundant protein that builds your skin, tendons and muscles. This supports your body’s muscle growth and tissue repair, which is especially important after exercise.

Vitamin C is also has antioxidant properties, which means it could help to protect your cells from free radicals, which are by-products of chemical reactions, injury and stress within your body as well as external pollutants such as smoke and alcohol. Free radicals cause oxidative damage within the body, which are thought to increase the rate of ageing and increase the risk of disease.

Exercise itself actually causes increased oxidative stress because free radicals are made when your body converts food into energy, as well as when your muscles experience tiny micro tears due to the stress placed on them by movement. The benefits of exercise outweigh the harm caused by this free radical production, but it demonstrates how important it is to have the right nutrition in place to support your exercise regime with antioxidants. In physically unfit people, or those with insufficient antioxidant intake their body, are more at risk from free radical damage.2 

Because of its properties as an antioxidant, vitamin C can help people who exercise regularly avoid exercise-induced free radical damage, enhancing their ability to fight free radicals and reducing the effects of free radical production.3 Another benefit of vitamin C when you exercise is a possible reduction in muscle soreness post-workout. A study from 2006 showed that taking vitamin C for a period of two weeks before heavy exercise, then for four days afterwards, muscle soreness was significantly reduced compared to those participants that took a placebo.4 Vitamin C has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels after heavy physical exertion.

Cortisol is known as a ‘stress hormone’ which is released during exercise, but levels can stay elevated afterwards and interfere with testosterone levels and muscle growth.5 Another benefit of increased vitamin C intake in relation to exercise is that it helps with protein metabolism, so you’ll get the most out of that post-exercise protein-filled meal or shake.6

Does it help with colds & flu?

Vitamin C is commonly associated with helping to ward off colds and flu. Whereas there’s no evidence that vitamin C works as a preventative measure or a cure in the general population, studies have shown that it can help shorten the duration of colds in athletes. Athletes who take vitamin C benefit from fewer colds than athletes who don’t take vitamin C, and some research has suggested that vitamin C can reduce the frequency of colds in athletes by 50%.7

The latest scientific findings shows that whereas vitamin C isn’t generally advised for most people- it can have benefits for people engaging in periods of strenuous physical activity.8 So, the bottom line is that if you’re exercising strenuously and regularly, it’s a good idea to increase your intake of vitamin C. This means include plenty of vitamin C-rich foods in your diet such as peppers, strawberries, oranges, kale and broccoli.

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