Wellness Feeling good: insights

Free radicals and antioxidants in sports

Free radicals and antioxidants in sports

by in Wellness - Feeling good: insights

last updated: April 13, 2016

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Many studies have highlighted the close correlation between intensity and duration of physical activity and the formation of free radicals or endogenous and exogenous antioxidants, as we know them.

Free radicals are molecules constituted by groupings of atoms rendered unstable by the lack of an electron in one of the outer sockets.

This instability makes the radical extremely reactive and, therefore, it is ready to react with a neighbouring molecule.

Oxidising or reducing behaviour

If the reaction constitutes accepting an electron, we can term it oxidising behaviour, while if the reaction involves donation of electrons, we can term it reducing behaviour. For this the free radicals, although they are produced by the body to protect itself from the etiological agents of bacterial nature mainly, excess amounts are potentially toxic and may cause damage to the body and, in particular, to DNA.

Free radicals and sports

Many studies have shown that vigorous physical activity, in proportion to its intensity and duration, can cause an increase of free radicals caused by several possible factors, including an increase in oxygen consumption, an increase of phenomena of ischemia - reperfusion of muscle tissue, autoxidation of catecholamines, release of metals and theactivation of neutrophils.
However, one must remember that workout and physical training causes an increase in level of free radicals on the one hand and on the other increases the levels of different antioxidant enzymes.

The body is in fact equipped with complex and efficient self protection systems with respect to free radicals: protective substances so activated are defined as antioxidants and, in turn, are divided into endogenous and exogenous.

Endogenous antioxidants

Endogenous antioxidants are mostly enzymes that work in conjunction with certain minerals such as selenium, copper, zinc, manganese and iron.

They act as antioxidants for other substances also such as, for example, uric acid, bilirubin, transferrin, albumin.

Exogenous antioxidants

Exogenous antioxidants, in addition to the said minerals to match enzymes, are vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, flavonoids, lycopene, resveratrol, alpha-lipoic acid and ubiquinone.


Vitamin E



Nuts and Seeds

Wheat germ, sunflower, soybean, rapeseed and corn

Spinach, broccoli

Peanuts, sunflower seeds, muesli

Vitamin C



Blueberries, strawberries, oranges, kiwi

Red peppers, brussel sprouts, potatoes, broccoli




Citrus fruits, melons, apricots, fish

Carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, lettuce, chicory




Spinach, mushrooms,

Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds




Onion, lettuce

Apples, oranges, grapes



Tomatoes, melons, papaya



dark-skinned grapes

Alpha-Lipoic Acid



Potatoes, carrots, beets

Red meat

Vitamin Q





Soybeans, wheat germ


Spinach, garlic, cabbage


  1. Commission for the Supervision and control of the Doping and the protection of health in sports, Dr. S. Donati
  2. Department of Drug Abuse, Drug Addiction and Doping Department - Istituto Superiore di Sanità, R. Pacifici, S. Pichini, I. Palmi, L. Mastrobattista, C. Mortali, P. Zuccaro

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