Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, belongs to the class of water-soluble vitamins. The human body is incapable of synthesizing it so it must be daily brought in the diet. Participating in, among other things, to the formation of red blood cells (necessary for the transport of oxygen in the body), to better absorption of iron contained in food of vegetable origin.
I invite you to analyze the interest of vitamin C supplementation in the sportsman diet regarding first of all his positive relationship with the immunity within the organism and its central intervention to fight against oxidative stress.
Vitamin C : its role regarding infections
While moderate exercise stimulates immune functions, a period of intense sports activity (intensive training, marathon, physical preparation, ultra trails ) causes a « temporary » weakness of the organism against infectious agents which can last for several weeks after the training block or the competitive test.
Other parameters such as the lack of sleep, exposure to cold temperatures, nervous fatigue, a weak nutritional intake or weight loss can help to reduce immune defenses.
Taking vitamin C supplements (along with other vitamins like vitamin E) coupled with carbohydrate ingestion before, during and after a challenging workout can boost immune mechanisms to fight infectious phenomena.
The relationship between the intake of certain nutrients and the response of the immune system is what is called the concept of « immunonutrition ».
A second aspect of vitamin C : an antioxidant role !
« Free radicals », « Antioxidants » are terms that more and more people talk about, health or sport professionals, but also sports amateurs or regular! But what do these expressions mean? What effects do they have on our health?
Free radicals are oxygen derivatives that attack all of the body’s cells. The human body is well made and has very powerful defense means: « antioxidants » that neutralize their action. However, the balance can be broken by various factors: intense physical exercising, using tobacco, pollution, a disorganized diet quantitatively and / or qualitatively, too « refined » …
« Oxidative stress » is the result of an imbalance between the production of free radicals and our antioxidant defenses in favor of the production of free radicals.
However, oxidative stress has advantages and disadvantages for the individual in general, and runners in particular. First of all, it is vital for life and constitutes in our organism a true chemical messenger not to be underestimated. However, found in too large quantities, these free radicals participate in some way in the « destruction » of our organism, a form of mismatch of the human body to stress through exhaustion.
For example, when a runner prepares his marathon, he exposes his body to an oxidative stress that causes adaptation mechanisms, corresponding to « a sum of physical, physiological and psychic adaptations » to the effort. In this case, it is benefic and allows us to progress, even if it is associated with tissue damage, especially muscular (associated or not with pain). The sine qua non condition is that the recovery phases should be respected qualitatively between intense workouts in order to create a positive adaptation to the effort via the oxidation phenomena.
Conversely, during periods of intense competition, when adaptations are no longer sought after, oxidative stress can lead to damage (generally associated in this case with muscular pains) which are detrimental to achieving quality performance!
As a conclusion ….
Since vitamin C has antioxidant and immune stimulatory properties, a diet of quality associated or not with a « natural » micro nutritional supplementation (vitamin C from Acerola, for example) may prove interesting in the weeks before the beginning of the competition, thus serving as a « protective shield »! The same is true for preparing a particularly high training program , for example on intense weekends !
This vitamin is strongly present in fresh fruits and vegetables such as red and green pepper, cabbages, papaya, vegetable and fruit juices, strawberry, kiwi, orange, guava, grapefruit, mango…
Sports Dietitian Nutritionnist