Antioxidants are found naturally in food and come in the forms of vitamins, plant chemicals such as flavonoids and carotenoids, and minerals. The role that antioxidants play in the body is to protect cells from damage. The damage that occurs to the cells is from free radicals. Free radicals are produced during metabolism. Free radicals can also be caused from environmental factors such as pollution, smoking and chemicals. So with every breath we take, stress inducing moment, and exercise we complete we are producing free radicals in our body. For athletes who are engaging in strenuous training their levels of free radical damage is huge. The best way to counteract this damage is through diet.
By consuming antioxidant rich foods they counter balance the free radicals in the body. Antioxidants can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetable based oils, garlic and green tea. By in large fruits and vegetables are great sources of antioxidants. The Canada Food Guide recommends 4-6 servings of fruits and vegetables for children, 7-8 for teens and between 7-10 for adults. The Food Pyramid recommends 2-4 servings of fruits and 3-5 servings of vegetables. These recommendations are per day not per week, or for some people per month. Typically raw is better than cooked when dealing with fruits and vegetables but in some cases cooked is better. Spinach, kale and chard is better cooked as the cooking process releases more beta-carotene and lutein.
Of fruits and vegetables berries, broccoli, tomatoes, red grapes, spinach and artichokes are considered high in antioxidants. As each food is created differently it is important to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to get all the nutrients and minerals available. A good rule of thumb is fill your plate with the colors of the rainbow. For many people, especially athletes finding time to eat the variety and amount of is hard. If you are having difficulty achieving this level of consumption, you can consume a whole food based supplement made of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Providing your body with the proper nutrition it needs to grow and perform is essential. Knowing what you put in your body is key.