Are Free Radicals Helping Us Get Fitter Faster?

Free Radicals are highly reactive molecules that are produced as a by-product of many cellular reactions. More than three decades ago, it was established that muscle activity also increases free radical production, a finding supported by subsequent studies.

Woman Running to increase endurance

What are free radicals?

Our bodies contain trillions of cells. Inside each of them are huge numbers of tiny, energy-producing power plants called “mitochondria”. Mitochondria convert the food we eat and the air we breathe into “ATP”, a special type of fuel that powers our cells, and in turn, us.

However, there is a battle raging inside our cells. One of the reasons mitochondrial function declines with age is because of free radicals, the by-product of the energy generation process. Because mitochondria are at the heart of this process, they're much more exposed to free radicals than the rest of the cell - so they stack themselves with the body's own antioxidant CoQ10 to protect themselves.

As we get older, the natural level of CoQ10 in our bodies declines. The free radicals start to damage the mitochondrial membrane where the energy process happens. Less energy is generated, the cells don't function as well - you can see the problem.


Free radicals left unchecked can inflict severe damage on whatever cellular component they encounter

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So, free radicals are detrimental?

Well, it depends, as Steinbacher and Eckl discuss in their review Impact of Oxidative Stress on Exercising Skeletal Muscle.

In people who exercise regularly at reasonable levels, free radicals actually promote the formation of natural antioxidants and help them become stronger and fitter.

Their bodies have adapted to exercise and consequently improved their resistance to oxidative stress. Further training:

  • enhances their antioxidant capacity,
  • encourages mitochondrial replication,
  • improves insulin sensitivity,
  • boosts cellular protection mechanisms 
  • lifts the aerobic capacity of skeletal muscle.

Conversely; single, inconsistent bouts of exhaustive exercise in untrained persons are likely to cause oxidative damage, as these people have low supplies of natural antioxidants. This can lead to complaints of muscle weakness and tiredness. Funnily enough, the same is true for people who over-train, as our natural supply of antioxidants is limited in capacity. 

+ Learn more about the heart benefits of aerobic fitness


What can be done?

The key is to build up exercise slowly over a period of time, and be cautious about overdoing it but that's not all.

We know now that free radicals are produced as a by-product of many cellular reactions. They are kept in check by our body’s natural supply of antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10.

However, if overproduction of free radicals occurs, or our antioxidant supply is suboptimal, they can inflict severe damage on the cell. Taking antioxidant supplements such as MitoQ, a revolutionary targeted form of CoQ10, boosts our own supply of antioxidants and reduces free radical damage.



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