For years, the medical community has been talking about antioxidants, and how good they are for us, and that we should eat foods that contain antioxidants – especially if we play sports or work out often.
Um… OK… But just what ARE antioxidants – and WHY are they so important?
Let me take you back to high school biology for a minute. As part of our body’s normal conversion of food into energy, “free radicals” are formed – and the more energy that is converted means more free radicals are formed. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause cellular and DNA damage, possibly leading to cancers and age-related diseases.
Tennis and other types of physical activities require more energy, increasing the rate of blood flow to muscles, and delivering more oxygen and other nutrients to the body. And as oxygen usage increases, so does the production of free radicals.
And that’s where antioxidants come in.
Antioxidants are an effective group of nutrients — vitamins, minerals and flavonoids — that neutralize these free radicals and prevent cellular damage, and at the same time, promote the healing and growth of muscle tissue.
But there’s something else you need to know. As you’re getting your game on, or doing your workout, or just walking a few laps, you’re actually sweating out antioxidants in the process. Yep. Exercise causes our bodies to lose the very things that protects them.
That’s why it’s so important to replace these microscopic bodyguards daily by eating antioxidant-rich foods, which are full of nutrients that neutralize the free radicals, preventing them from causing cell damage.
Antioxidants are naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as in nuts and grains. Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole fruits and vegetables will help you get a steady supply of antioxidants.
Some of the important antioxidants include:
- Vitamin E (nuts, vegetable oils, wheat germ oil, green leafy vegetables)
- Vitamin C (papaya, red bell peppers, oranges, strawberries, kiwi, Brussel sprouts, broccoli)
- Carotenoids (sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, pumpkin and other orange, red, yellow and dark green fruits and veggies)
- Glutathione (whey protein, asparagus, avocado, parsley)
- Polyphenols (nearly all fruits and vegetables, especially berries, grapes, and greens, along with cocoa, red wine and green and black tea)
- Selenium (Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry, oats, brown rice, sunflower seeds, wheat germ)
- Manganese (Hazel nuts, pumpkin seeds, whole wheat bread, tofu, lima beans, bass, mussels, spinach, kale)
- Zinc (Red meat, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, spinach)
In addition to eating foods rich in antioxidants, it’s a good idea to take a daily vitamin/supplement – especially if you exercise regularly. Supplements will complement your diet and keep your antioxidant levels steady during times when you can’t eat your usual balanced diet, such as when traveling.
Be sure and check out the Recipe Section for healthy vegetarian/vegan recipes that are loaded with antioxidants for us tennis players and athletes :-)