Vitamin C and Quercetin in Muscle Recovery
We all know the feeling—you got in a great workout yesterday, but today every move you make is painful. You can’t even walk down the stairs without holding back moans. What if there was a way to maintain your workout intensity, work toward your health and fitness goals, and still be able to walk up the stairs the next day? The good news is research is showing that there is more we can do for recovery than slurp down a protein shake post-workout.
What Happens When You Exercise?
As wonderful as exercise is for our bodies, it does produce oxidative stress. Studies show that muscle contraction produces reactive oxygen species (molecules that can cause damage if they are not sequestered by an antioxidant like vitamin C), and that intense or long bouts of exercise can cause oxidative damage to proteins and lipids in your muscle fibers (1). This is one of the reasons we feel pain after an intense workout. In fact, intense physical activity not only increases blood temperature, but it also decreases blood pH, and disrupts homeostasis in the blood, increasing the need for minerals to buffer the pH, and antioxidants to quench free radicals (2). The muscle injury induced with an intense workout is repaired using the body’s natural inflammatory response, sending macrophages and inflammatory cells to the rescue.
Now, of course some level of oxidative stress is necessary for muscle to contract. However, excessive levels of oxidative stress can cause fatigue, weakness, and problems with muscle contraction. This can occur with overtraining, long training periods, or simply just performing very strenuous exercise.
Because excess reactive oxygen species (oxidative stress) with unmet antioxidant repair can pose a problem for recovery, researchers have proposed increasing vitamin C intake, or supplementing vitamin C or ascorbate as a recovery strategy.
Vitamin C and Muscle Recovery
Vitamin C, especially fully buffered ascorbate, is one of the most potent antioxidants, and it is the most common antioxidant within cellular and extracellular fluid. Because of its great antioxidant capacity, researchers are studying vitamin C as a way to enhance and quicken muscle recovery. Here are a few highlights!
- 30 sedentary men and 30 male professional athletes supplemented with 2g of vitamin C for 14 days, following either their normal training routines (pro athlete group), or performing an exhaustive running test before and after the supplement protocol. After vitamin C supplementation, serum MDA (a marker of lipid peroxidation) significantly decreased (3).
- Another study had participants supplement with 400 mg of vitamin C per day for 2 weeks, and saw that those in the placebo group had higher perceived muscle soreness than those who supplemented with vitamin C (4).
- Jakeman and Maxwell found that just 400 mg of vitamin C per day combined with 400 mg/day of vitamin E was able to improve recovery of maximal muscle contraction function just 24 hours after eccentric exercise, a type of exercise known to induce muscle soreness and muscle damage (5).
- Elite Taekwondo athletes were randomly assigned to take either 2,000 mg vitamin C and 1,400 IU of vitamin E or a placebo for four days before a competition. After completing 4 consecutive Taekwondo matches in one day (long periods of strenuous exercise), two markers of muscle damage were significantly lower in the vitamin C & E group compared with the placebo (6)
Can Antioxidants Help You Build Muscle?
In three different studies, healthy older individuals who resistance trained for 6 months while supplementing with 600 mg/day of vitamin E, and 1,000mg/day of vitamin C gained significantly more lean body mass compared with their counterparts taking a placebo (7,8,9).
We find these studies particularly interesting; however, others have shown mixed results. While the literature is currently conflicting on whether antioxidants can help with muscle building, we will continue to watch for new research in the area as science advances.
How Can Quercetin Aid in Recovery?
Like vitamin C, quercetin is also highly regarded for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory impacts on the body. Several scientists have studied quercetin in both exercise performance and recovery. Here are some highlights:
- A study on 56 athletic, male, students found that those who supplemented with 500 mg quercetin saw greater gains in lean body mass over an 8-week period than those who received a placebo (10).
- In a randomized crossover trial, one group supplemented with two, 500 mg tablets of quercetin per day for 2 weeks (1,000 mg quercetin per day), then underwent an eccentric exercise protocol to induce muscle damage. Those who supplemented with quercetin saw improved redox status (less oxidative damage), and significantly less oxidative damage as measured by lipid peroxidation, compared with the placebo group (11).
- Male badminton players who supplemented with 1,000mg of quercetin per day for two months saw a 5.2% decrease in time to exhaustion on a cycling test (12).
Duranti et al. (11) expressed that high-dose quercetin supplementation has the potential to aid in exercise recovery because of its ability to prepare our red blood cells to deal with oxidative insults such as strenuous exercise. So, in other words, supplementing with quercetin provides our body with the antioxidants it needs to recover and repair itself following an intense workout.
What Does All This Mean?
As in other aspects of our health, arming our bodies with enough antioxidants may be key in exercise recovery as well! Of course, we can set ourselves up to help handle any excess oxidative stress from exercise by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices, but making sure we get plenty of vitamins C and E, and flavonoids like quercetin can also help when we exercise. If you do this, while making sure you consume adequate protein (at least 60 to 70g per day), you can rest assured that you’ve done as much as you can to set your body up for optimal recovery!
- Powers, S. K., and M. J. Jackson. 2008. Exercise-induced oxidative stress: Cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiological Reviews 88(4):1243–1276. doi:10.1152/physrev.00031.2007.
- Nikolaidis, M. G., and A. Z. Jamurtas. 2009. Blood as a reactive species generator and redox status regulator during exercise. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics 490(2):77–84. doi:10.1016/j.abb.2009.08.015.
- Popovic, L. M., et al. 2015. Influence of vitamin C supplementation on oxidative stress and neutrophil inflammatory response in acute and regular exercise. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2015:295497. doi:10.1155/2015/295497.
- Thompson, D., et al. 2001. Prolonged vitamin C supplementation and recovery from demanding exercise. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 11(4): 466–481. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.11.4.466.
- Jakeman, P., and S. Maxwell. 1993. Effect of antioxidant vitamin supplementation on muscle function after eccentric exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 67(5):426–430. doi:10.1007/BF00376459.
- Chou, C. C., et al. 2018. Short-term high-dose vitamin C and E supplementation attenuates muscle damage and inflammatory responses to repeated Taekwondo competitions: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. International Journal of Medical Sciences 15(11):1217–1226. doi:10.7150/ijms.26340.
- Bobeuf, F., et al. 2010. Effects of resistance training combined with antioxidant supplementation on fat-free mass and insulin sensitivity in healthy elderly subjects. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 87(1):e1-3. doi:10.1016/j.diabres.2009.10.001.
- Bobeuf, F., et al. 2011. Combined effect of antioxidant supplementation and resistance training on oxidative stress markers, muscle and body composition in an elderly population. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 15(10):883–889. doi:10.1007/s12603-011-0097-2.
- Labonté, M., et al. 2008. Effects of antioxidant supplements combined with resistance exercise on gains in fat-free mass in healthy elderly subjects: A pilot study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 56(9):1766–1768. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.01810.x.
- Askari, G., et al. 2013. The effects of quercetin supplementation on body composition, exercise performance and muscle damage indices in athletes. International Journal of Preventive Medicine 4(1):21–26.
- Duranti, G., et al. 2018. Chronic consumption of quercetin reduces erythrocytes oxidative damage: Evaluation at resting and after eccentric exercise in humans. Nutrition Research 50:73–81. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2017.12.002.
- Daneshvar, P., et al. 2013. Effect of eight weeks of quercetin supplementation on exercise performance, muscle damage and body muscle in male badminton players. International Journal of Preventive Medicine 4(suppl 1):S53–57.