When you exercise – especially as part of a training program – changes occur in your muscles that can ultimately make you faster, stronger, and fitter. Did you know that those changes actually happen within the cells of your muscles? In a new clinical study, MitoQ has been shown to help this process and improve athletic performance.
In a gold-standard clinical trial (i.e., randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled) run by the University of Auckland in New Zealand, a group of 23 middle-aged men with no regular training activity were given either MitoQ or a placebo for ten days before completing a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout on an exercise bike. Blood samples and thigh muscle tissue were collected from the study participants before they began their workout, directly afterward, and then three hours later.
Researchers found that after HIIT exercise, the participants given MitoQ had higher increases in levels of a co-activator called PGC1α than those given a placebo. PGC1α is a protein or protein complex that activates genetic changes and has been found in other studies to increase after exercise1.
What do these findings mean for MitoQ and athletic performance?
After a training period of three weeks of HIIT exercise, participants that received MitoQ showed higher increases in peak power (measured by a VO2peak test and a cycling time trial) compared to those in the placebo group. The researchers theorize that this power increase is linked to the higher levels of PGC1α in muscles - which is also involved in producing new mitochondria4 (discover more about these cell powerhouses below). An alternative theory is that MitoQ enhances blood delivery in muscles, and/or that MitoQ directly enhances energy production within the mitochondria, resulting in increased power output and improved time to exhaustion.
Overall, the researchers concluded that the results with MitoQ were better than those that could be expected from regular antioxidants.
What happens within your cells when you exercise?
As you may know, your cells are empowered by your mitochondria (the “powerhouses” of cells). When they do their amazing work, mitochondria also produce a potentially damaging by-product: free radicals. If produced in excess quantities, free radicals can build up and cause cell stress, which compromises cell health and performance. But when they’re produced in healthy amounts, free radicals have a vital role to play in cell-to-cell communication, known as “cell signaling.” Maintaining this delicate balance is important for cell health, and therefore muscle performance.
Exercise training can increase the production of free radicals, so athletes commonly take antioxidant supplements (antioxidants alleviate free radicals) to prevent this build-up from having damaging effects. However, regular antioxidant supplements like vitamin C or E - which aren’t targeted to the mitochondria - can be too indiscriminate and therefore upset the delicate balance of ideal versus harmful levels of free radicals in cells. It’s thought that non-targeted antioxidants may even reduce some of the beneficial effects of exercise2.
Because MitoQ is a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant (it's one of the world’s first to be able to get into mitochondria, to better help equalize the ratio of antioxidants to free radicals and combat cell stress), it is more able to help cells maintain this delicate but vital balance of good versus harmful levels of free radicals within cells.
How MitoQ helps athletes
In addition to previous studies showing MitoQ’s benefits in athletic performance and recovery (including one that showed MitoQ improved 8km time trial performance in trained cyclists3), this latest study by the University of Auckland demonstrates the beneficial effect of MitoQ on cellular responses within muscles.
Because the co-activator PGC1α is involved in producing new mitochondria4 and helps with creating a healthy balance of free radicals within cells5, MitoQ’s ability to increase its levels is a breakthrough in sports science.
What these findings tell us is that including MitoQ within an athlete’s training program can help to increase peak power more than would be possible without MitoQ. These exciting findings attest to MitoQ’s functional benefits when it comes to exercise.
Without a doubt, it’s a study that will be of huge interest to athletes and consumers alike who are looking to enhance their overall physical performance.
Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor γ Coactivator 1 Coactivators, Energy Homeostasis, and Metabolism | Endocrine Reviews | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans | PNAS
Mitochondria-targeted antioxidant supplementation improves 8 km time trial performance in middle-aged trained male cyclists - PubMed (nih.gov)
Mechanisms Controlling Mitochondrial Biogenesis and Respiration through the Thermogenic Coactivator PGC-1: Cell
Suppression of Reactive Oxygen Species and Neurodegeneration by the PGC-1 Transcriptional Coactivators - ScienceDirect
Professor Doug Seals on MitoQ and heart health
MitoQ so far: a 2022 recap