Antioxidants: what role do they play in physical activity and health?

Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Aug;72(2 Suppl):637S-46S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/72.2.637S.


Exercise appears to increase reactive oxygen species, which can result in damage to cells. Exercise results in increased amounts of malondialdehyde in blood and pentane in breath; both serve as indirect indicators of lipid peroxidation. However, not all studies report increases; these equivocal results may be due to the large intersubject variability in response or the nonspecificity of the assays. Some studies have reported that supplementation with vitamins C and E, other antioxidants, or antioxidant mixtures can reduce symptoms or indicators of oxidative stress as a result of exercise. However, these supplements appear to have no beneficial effect on performance. Exercise training seems to reduce the oxidative stress of exercise, such that trained athletes show less evidence of lipid peroxidation for a given bout of exercise and an enhanced defense system in relation to untrained subjects. Whether the body's natural antioxidant defense system is sufficient to counteract the increase in reactive oxygen species with exercise or whether additional exogenous supplements are needed is not known, although trained athletes who received antioxidant supplements show evidence of reduced oxidative stress. Until research fully substantiates that the long-term use of antioxidants is safe and effective, the prudent recommendation for physically active individuals is to ingest a diet rich in antioxidants.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Antioxidants / standards*
  • Ascorbic Acid / metabolism
  • Ascorbic Acid / standards
  • Dietary Supplements / standards*
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Glutathione / blood
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Malondialdehyde / blood
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Pentanes / analysis
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / physiology*
  • Selenium / metabolism
  • Selenium / standards
  • Vitamin E / metabolism
  • Vitamin E / standards


  • Antioxidants
  • Estrogens
  • Pentanes
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Vitamin E
  • pentane
  • Malondialdehyde
  • Glutathione
  • Selenium
  • Ascorbic Acid