It has been shown that women tend to suffer with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, particularly athletic women. These deficiencies can be the result of loss through metabolic processes, menstruation and even simply through sweat loss. Loss of vitamins can affect our ability to perform, but also prevent a proper muscle recovery. Including adequate sources of vitamin C, E and D in your diet— via proper diet and supplementation— can help maximize recovery and performance.
This important vitamin works as an antioxidant in the body, helping decrease muscle damage that can come from oxidative stress brought on by an intense workout. In one study, it was shown that supplementing with 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily reduced protein carbonyls— a marker of protein oxidation or muscle damage. This suggests that vitamin C supplementation can attenuate exercise-induced protein breakdown.
In another study, it was shown that vitamin C supplementation can even help reduce cortisol— a catabolic hormone— as well as anti-inflammatory compounds in runners post-race. In those supplementing with 1,500 mg of vitamin C, cortisol was significantly lower than in the placebo group and those receiving just 500 mg. It is suggested that vitamin C may blunt the adaptive mobilization of ascorbic acid from the adrenal glands during exercise-induced oxidative stress, and therefore stimulate protein response and attenuate cortisol levels. Essentially, vitamin C may work as an anti-catabolic agent by protecting against cortisol release, and reducing muscle damage brought on by lifting.
Supplement with 1,000 to 1,500 mg of vitamin C daily for best results, daily or pre-workout. Also, include vitamin C-rich foods in your diet like citrus fruit, peppers or cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Just one orange can provide 100 percent of your daily value— 82 mg.
One of the biggest sources of storage of vitamin E is within the mitochondria— or the powerhouse of the muscle cells. The mitochondria is where ATP is generated, the major energy source that drives muscle function. Deficiencies in vitamin E can cause increased free radical damage and lead to pre-mature exhaustion or endurance capacity during exercise. Supplementing with vitamin E can prevent oxidative damage and even reduce muscle damage.
In a recent study, it was shown that supplementing with 800 IU of vitamin E significantly reduced specific markers of oxidative damage in muscle cells but didn’t reduce the natural inflammatory response that helps with muscle healing that occurs post-workout.
Vitamin E is particularly high in foods such as almonds— 7.3 mg per 1 oz serving, and even sweet potato— 4.2 mg per spoonful. In addition to ensuring these foods are part of your diet, you can also supplement with alpha-tocopherol— natural vitamin E. The recommend dietary allowance for vitamin E is 15 mg or about 20 IU, however the upper tolerable limit is consider 1,000 IU or approximately 670 mg. Most studies showing vitamin E’s effectiveness against oxidative damage occurs between 400 and 800 IU, or around 250 to 500 mg.
Vitamin D is commonly found to be deficient in athletic women, leading to muscle weakness and suboptimal muscle function. It has been suggested that muscle has receptors for growth factors including IGF that are tightly regulated by vitamin D. Binding IGF results in muscle growth and re-generation via stimulation of protein synthesis pathways.
In a recent study, it was shown that athletes deficient in vitamin D, who supplemented with 2,200 IU per day raised their vitamin D status to sufficient levels within three months. Clinical studies have also shown that supplementing with vitamin D is positively associated with muscle mass gains and improvements in performance indicators including power and strength.
Vitamin D is also a critical factor in bone health. Vitamin D can be found in whole eggs and fatty fish such as salmon, but can also be made naturally by the body when you expose your skin to sunlight. It can also be found added to many foods including milk, since it works in tandem with calcium. The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU, but the upper limit for intake is thought to be 10,000 IU.
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