We all have known forever that exercise is good for us. It keeps us fit and strong, keeps our blood pressure at bay and prolongs our life. What many of us do not know is that apart from injuries and over-exercising there is another dark side of it – heavy or intense exercise routines create oxidative stress in the body, and this is not so good.

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress happens when our body produces more free radicals than it can dispose of. The excess free radicals overload the body, preventing it from further detoxification, thus creating an imbalance. This imbalance is called oxidative stress.

To get this straight, let’s define free radicals. Free radicals are cells that have lost one of their electrons and become unstable. They move around the body and damage other cells, including DNA, in an attempt to find the missing electron – by robbing the other cells of that electron. Free radicals are majorly responsible for a big number of serious illnesses and diseases, including cancers.

Does it mean exercising is bad?

NO. Exercise is not the only thing that produces free radicals. It is also the food that we eat (think of those fries and a burger), it is the polluted air we inhale, the chemicals from our cleaning agents, exhaust fumes. But while the majority of those things are avoidable or can be minimized to an extent, there is something that we cannot avoid or minimize. Breathing. Breathing also creates free radicals – this is a normal process.

What is a good exercise? And what is bad?

Regular moderate exercise is actually good for detoxification as it boosts the defense mechanisms in the body. So exercise is essential for health, no argument.

But there are forms of exercise that are so strenuous on the body that they can shut down the defense system and overwhelm it, leading to excess oxidation. These are endurance exercises, like running long distances for prolonged periods of time, or heavy exercises, like weight lifting and body building. It doesn’t mean we have to stop doing them, but it definitely means we have to be extra careful.

How do we make it better?

When we are engaged in these sorts of exercises, we usually make it even worse. We know that running breaks down muscle so we try to protect it from the damage by taking proteins, usually of animal origin. If we are engaged in muscle building regimes, we take proteins to repair the muscles and make them grow. While it is absolutely necessary to make sure we take some form of protein post-workout, taking animal proteins also creates extra free radicals in the body.

From here, our options are either swap our proteins for plant-based proteins or take extra precaution in form of antioxidants. While I’d personally recommend getting a good plant-based protein powder or take plant-based proteins in their natural form (eating a meal with beans – those carbs will serve you good too, or adding peanut butter to your smoothie), there is something else we can do, no matter which protein we choose. Add antioxidants to your post-workout meal or shake.

Green Tea with Lemon

Green tea, and white tea too, by the way, is the source of a very potent antioxidant epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). The presence of this antioxidant makes green and white teas probably the healthiest drinks of all. But there is one problem though – only about 20% of catechins are absorbed in the body after digestion. This is where the lemon comes in. The studies show that adding lemon or lime juice to the tea increases the amount of antioxidants absorbed, as well as also give you extra antioxidants they possess together with Vitamin C. Lemon juice (and the green tea too) also aids weight loss, lowers blood pressure and helps with detoxification. Sounds like a win-win.

Bottom Line

No matter what our exercise level is, we all could benefit from antioxidants in our diets, given the world we live in. But if you are engaged in any strenuous activities, it is better to add even more antioxidants to our diets by eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lightly cooked vegetables (sometime cooking boosts their properties too). Try to eat from every colour of the rainbow, have a good exercise routine and drink your health teas.

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