During a workout, the body's overall oxygen level increases 10 to 20 fold, and as much as 100 to 200 fold in some individual muscle groups. As oxygen molecules are metabolized, they either partner up with other molecules in the body or remain unpaired. The unpaired loners are free radicals--free because they're not bonded to other molecules, radicals because their chemical structure makes them unstable and prone to react with other substances.

Free radicals can damage muscle protein, fats, and DNA within cells, producing both immediate and long-term effects. In the short term, free radical oxygen molecules can reduce muscle power and endurance during activity, contribute to fatigue, and initiate muscle soreness and even injury. In the long term, free radicals can weaken the immune system and play a role in the development of everything from heart disease and cancer to cataracts, arthritis, and several other chronic conditions. In addition to the free radicals created as a byproduct of exercise, the body can also be bombarded by unhealthy oxidizing compounds from outside sources. Radiation, pollution, sunlight, food additives, alcohol, and caffeine can all contribute to free radical proliferation in the body. Taken together, these factors lead to oxidative stress--which for our purposes can be defined as physical damage and decreased performance caused by free radicals.

While exercise inevitably leads to some degree of free radical production, the extent of it is determined by numerous factors. Short exercise sessions produce fewer free radicals than long ones, and intense work performed in hot weather or at high altitude leads to greater free radical production. Studies suggest that training experience matters as well--over time, a well-conditioned body builds up its own defenses against free radical damage, particularly by "learning" how to protect muscle tissue.

Let me ask you a simple question: Where's An ANTIOXIDANT When You Need One..??

You need to know more about the benefits of antioxidants because they are the primary chemical line of defense against the negative impact of free radicals. These compounds also help to repair cells already impacted by free radical damage. The body produces some antioxidants on its own in the form of certain enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase, which change the structure of free radicals and break them down. These enzymes essentially scavenge for and destroy free radicals throughout the body. To support the endogenous antioxidants, we also consume them through diet. Exogenous antioxidants include vitamins A (carotenoids), C, and E, selenium, and various flavonoids. All these substances can help prevent free radical damage, and together with the body's natural antioxidants, they are the main source of protection for muscles and other tissue.