It’s commonly accepted that exercise is advantageous to our health, but what impact does exercise, at the intensive level of a committed and highly trained athlete, have on our bodies? While there are a myriad of benefits from intense exercise, it is technically a physiological stressor, as it creates oxidation, aka chemical stress, within the body systems. Most well-trained athletes, including those who are not “professionals”, but strive to continuously improve their physical performance by training, practicing, and performing regularly, would likely agree that the stress of their intensive workouts and practices can be felt through their physical body. Be it in the form of fatigue, muscle soreness, a lowered immune system, or other manifestations, intense exercise – despite its abundant fun and beneficial effects – does take a physiological toll.
Moreover, intense exercise, as experienced by athletes and those committed to their physical craft, takes a biochemical toll as well. Research demonstrates that along with oxidative stress, intense activity decreases levels of glutathione, our body’s homemade antioxidant. Because glutathione quells oxidation, as it is an electrolyte donor (aka antioxidant), it donates electrons to the oxidized compounds that are missing an electron (oxidants), which are made during intense exercise.
This give-and-take of electrons is the process of antioxidants (such as glutathione) stabilizing the unstable, and potentially harmful oxidants. When it comes to exhaustive exercise, the occurrence of oxidative stress is associated with muscle fatigue and damage, as well as reduced physical performance. While the stress of exercise typically does not harm humans, it can impact their ability to perform.
The benefits of physical exertion, improved fitness, and the mental application that accompany being an athlete likely outweigh the temporary oxidative stress, and related risks of decreased skeletal muscle glutathione after your gruesome training. Yet, the increase in reactive oxygen species, and resulting, lowered glutathione may acutely impact your physical performance. Research demonstrates that if your muscles and body could maintain higher levels of glutathione, or at least have ample amino-acid building blocks, and glutathione precursors to make the glutathione, one might improve post-training or post-activity recovery.
So, what if you could buffer this decrease in glutathione with dietary supplementation and nutrient timing? And, if you could improve glutathione levels after intensive training session of performance activities, what would be the benefit?
Research suggests that a dose-dependent, and consistent intake of cysteine-rich proteins such as those that occur in whey protein, support the body’s endogenous production of glutathione. Another study, monitoring trained and untrained adults, noted that whey protein, consumed regularly over a six-week period offset the stressful impacts of “arduous aerobic training”, which decreases the body’s glutathione content. The study noted that regular supplementation of whey protein mitigated the decrease of glutathione that is correlated with intense physical activity. Though, the study did note that a one-time supplementation of whey protein did not have any impact on serum levels of glutathione.
These findings reinforce that to offset the decreases of glutathione post-workout , whey protein, and of cysteine-rich proteins (such as whey protein) should be consumed regularly, and consistently over time. The best way to maximize the antioxidant-supporting function of whey protein is to use it daily, as part of a meal, and/or as a post-workout recovery drink. Those who are active or are athletes, might already consume whey protein regularly as part of a regimen to improve blood glucose levels, increase muscle mass, and improve satiety signaling. Knowing that regular consumption can also support the production of the body’s naturally made antioxidant is just another reason to incorporate whey protein into a healthy, whole-food-rich diet; as, the benefits of whey protein extend beyond its most well-known, aforementioned functions.