Since I’ve started my contest prep, I’ve come across several articles that discuss the importance of antioxidants and the impact that they may have during this phase. Not only that, I have also seen many advertisements bragging about something that is loaded with antioxidants, but without any real explanation as to how this can actually benefit you. As with almost everything related to the health and fitness world, understanding antioxidants and the impact on health is unclear and confusing. So here we will look at what antioxidants actually are, how they impact health and whether or not they actually live up to all of their hype.
Antioxidants block the body’s chain reaction that can create free radicals which ultimately lead to damaged or destroyed cells. Why does this matter? Cells that are damaged by free radicals can create a lower immune system leading to a greater susceptibility to illness, disease, signs of aging, among other things. Oxidative stress and free radicals are caused by exposure to pretty much everything in our surroundings; pollution, medications, poor diet, excess sun exposure, etc. and are also the result of the body’s conversion of food to energy. The human body is capable of fighting off this potential cell damage though by extracting antioxidants from food along with its enzymes. There are countless antioxidants available from the diet including vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, lipoic acid, polyphenols, etc. So it’s not necessarily as scary as we may think, but now as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are plenty of products listed as superfoods with disease fighting properties. Many of in-depth studies have been conducted with the hopes of proving that antioxidants are the key to wellness, weight management and overall good health. The results though have not been very promising as there has been no direct link between antioxidants and fat loss, or the protection against heart disease and cancer, as what was initially thought. Big conglomerates are still going strong regardless, by adding antioxidants to everything from smoothies, cereal, protein bars and all kinds of other snack foods and meal replacements.
Although this does sound disappointing, it doesn’t mean that antioxidants aren’t beneficial, it’s more that these molecules aren’t the secret or the miracle cure that everyone’s been looking for, but more part of the bigger picture instead. The foods that contain antioxidants tend to be rich in fiber (to keep you regular), micronutrients (essential vitamins & minerals) and complex carbohydrates (muscle building and energy dense). So in general, their nourishing properties all play important roles in keeping us very healthy with good immune systems too. I have heard from many other competitors that during their prep they became sick or were more susceptible to colds which ended up slowing down their progress and for some, even derailing all of their hard work. This does happen as a result of the grueling workouts, added stress and lack of restful sleep which all can lead to lower immune system strength making it easier for one to get hit hard by a bad cold. I can definitely understand this as since I’ve started my prep, my schedule has been super intense; two-a-day workouts of cardio and weightlifting, meal prep, working full time, wedding planning, obligations outside normal work hours, along with family gatherings, household chores and then some. All of this has left me with almost no down-time (apart from the 5 minutes before I go to sleep) and feeling pretty tired most days. Had it not been for such a nourishing and well-planned diet, I probably would have burnt myself out weeks ago and gotten really sick as there was a pretty intense cold going around my office up until recently.
There’s not much else to say about antioxidants except that they really are helpful and necessary, but not the all-in-one solution to fat loss. Indirectly they do impact your energy, immune system and wellbeing which will help with fat loss (and in my case, contest prep) by being part of a well-balanced lifestyle, so supplementing is definitely not necessary (save your pennies on this one!). There is no need to buy into the hype of this or anything for that matter so long as you are taking care of yourself by exercising, eating right, getting lots of restful sleep and always following your doctor’s instructions.
Contest Prep Update: Like I mentioned, the last few weeks have been intense, busy and stressful, but I’m still going strong and making my prep work with my schedule instead of deviating from it or trying to alter the way I go about each day. I feel a big difference in strength as I’m able to lift heavier than ever during my workouts and even picking up heavy objects is less strenuous than before. Every week I’m seeing changes in my appearance and am getting one step closer to being ready. Hopefully the craziness of the last few weeks will slow down and I’ll be able to focus on getting more rest which will have an even bigger impact on my progress. It really is a lot of work, but it’s completely manageable and I am still so glad that I’ve decided to compete. The process is interesting and exciting and I continue to learn so much about the body’s reaction to different strategies. I no longer look at other thin women with envy and wish that I could look like that and I no longer feel that food is the enemy or that I have to eat that not so good for you meal because it’s there and then I feel guilty after. This has totally changed my outlook on physical appearance, self-confidence and health. So far, so good! Stay tuned for more progress updates…