Vitamin E offers good news for athletes—it can help prevent muscle damage

Can Vitamin E Help Prevent Muscle Damage?

Can Vitamin E Help Prevent Muscle Damage?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Undoubtedly, exercise is good for us. It benefits many different aspects of our health, including improving muscle strength and resilience. Hitting the gym regularly also helps manage your weight and even improves your cardiovascular and neural health.

But excessive exercise can also make you more susceptible to fatigue, oxidative stress, even injury—including muscle damage.

Fortunately, according to a recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials conducted by a team in Korea, intake of vitamin E may be your "E"-asy answer when it comes to keeping your muscles strong and protected from damage. The researchers analyzed 17 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of participants ranging from ages 18 to 40 taking between 300-1300 IU of vitamin E per day. Through this data, they concluded that vitamin E has a protective effect against muscle damage, with a greater reduction in overall muscle damage if the subjects were athletes.

This research offers a promising way to mitigate the effects of exercise-induced muscle damage and support overall sports performance, especially in endurance athletes, through regular intake of this vitamin.

How does vitamin E help fight muscle damage?

To better understand how vitamin E fights damage to the muscles, let's first take a look at how muscular damage occurs, especially in athletes.

Exercise and other stressors generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), byproducts of cellular metabolism. Generally speaking, we have a negative association when we think of ROS and oxidative stress. But, in the right amounts, ROS can help our bodies become more resilient. ROS generated by exercise help upregulate the body's endogenous antioxidant enzymes—these help fight off fatigue as well as activate certain genes that help repair muscles. To put it simply, the ROS generated from healthy amounts of exercise teach your body to adapt, to be resilient and to repair itself.

However, too much ROS can cause a host of problems—including chronic oxidative stress, a state that can wreak havoc on the body. When you've generated an excess of ROS, it can be harder for your body to repair the muscles, especially post-exercise. (Those sore muscles aren't just due to ROS, though: inflammation as a result of oxidative stress from free radicals is also among the culprits.)

Here's where vitamin E comes in. One of our first lines of defense when it comes to oxidative stress are antioxidant nutrients. (Hence the name: anti-oxidants!) When it comes to antioxidants, vitamin E is one of the best at fighting free radicals and oxidative stress. So, the question researchers in Korea strove to answer was: can vitamin E help prevent the oxidative damage caused by too much ROS from exercise?

More vitamin E, better muscle recovery?

The researchers aimed to understand just how much this antioxidant can prevent and reduce damage to the muscles, including our skeletal muscles. The meta-analysis investigated the effects of vitamin E on exercise-induced muscle damage by studying concentrations of creatine kinase and lactase dehydrogenase in the subjects. Indeed, there did appear to be a correlation between vitamin E and recovery: those who took vitamin E daily had a significant impact on their muscle damage, with doses at or below 500 IU daily offering the greatest effect. The beneficial effects of vitamin E were most strongly seen in athletes.

What exactly is an antioxidant?

You may have heard the word antioxidant before, but have you ever stopped to wonder what it really means and why exactly it gets a lot of buzz for being important?

The body does a great job of keeping itself healthy, even more so with the help of various dietary vitamins and nutrients. But the business of living comes with some byproducts we would rather avoid. Throughout our day-to-day life, the body generates chemicals called free radicals (including reactive oxygen species, a type of free radical). Free radicals can be produced in various ways—from exposure to air pollution or smoke, after exercise (including endurance exercise) and even via sunlight exposure. As we previously mentioned, free radicals and reactive oxygen species are fine in small concentrations. But chronic exposure to higher amounts can contribute to other threats in the body—states of chronic oxidative stress that lead to oxidative damage of tissue and organs.

Oxidative stress can damage cells and lead to other health effects if left unchecked. While the body plays its part in defending us against these free radicals with antioxidant enzymes, sometimes it needs a little help. Fortunately, that's where antioxidant nutrients come in.

There's a non-exhaustive list of foods and dietary nutrients that you can eat and take that contain different antioxidant properties to help fight oxidative damage. Some of the most well-known include vitamins C and E, carotenoids like beta-carotene, and minerals like selenium and manganese.

Should athletes take vitamins?

Almost anyone could benefit from taking vitamins regularly, whether you're an athlete, non-athlete or anywhere in between. Making sure you have enough vitamins, be it through a multivitamin or specific targeted vitamins, is a fundamental part of maintaining optimal health. However, athletes might want to keep a closer eye on it than most.

Though there are many benefits of strenuous exercise—including higher endurance, sports performance and increased strength—but due to the amount of energy athletes expend, replenishing the body's stores of essential nutrients is crucial. And since overtraining and the negative impacts that come with it is a legitimate concern for most athletes, it is important to ensure that your recovery period comes with the right choices, including proper nutrition in the form of vitamins.

Why is vitamin E important for athletes?

Like we covered, making sure you have all the vitamins you need is vital to all the processes in your body! Vitamin E is especially important for athletes. Because they expend a lot more of their energy and produce more reactive oxygen species than non-athletes, they have an increased need to replenish certain nutrients—including antioxidants like vitamin E—to help quench some of the free radicals and fight the oxidative damage that come with high-intensity physical activity.

Additionally, because athletes are often exposed to stressors that can leave the immune system vulnerable, vitamin E can even help support immune cell function and potentially help fight the risk of illness in athletes.

Is vitamin E a good anti-inflammatory vitamin?

Yes, vitamin E has some anti-inflammatory benefits. As we established, this superstar antioxidant is known for being able to promote a higher level of free radical quenching activity in the body—and reactive oxygen species regulate inflammatory signaling in the body. So, by quenching ROS, vitamin E may also help limit inflammation.

Does vitamin E help with muscle pain?

The jury is still out on whether vitamin E can help you with pain. Since vitamin E has been studied for its ability to prevent muscle damage, maybe you're wondering if it helps with general muscle pain. Although one study of hemodialysis patients taking 400 IU of vitamin E showed eased muscle cramping in the subjects, and other studies have suggested some similar benefits for pain, generally speaking, using vitamin E alone for muscle pain has found mixed results.

However, while vitamin E on its own might not be enough to fight muscle pain, using it in conjunction with other nutrients and pain relief strategies might be a helpful addition.

Other health benefits of vitamin E

Vitamin E does more than just fight post-exercise muscle damage! This fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant play several other health-promoting roles. There are actually 8 forms of vitamin E—tocopherols and tocotrienols and each of their alpha, beta, delta and gamma forms. Alpha-tocopherol, (or α-tocopherol) is the most well-known form. The full spectrum of vitamin E forms have been shown to offer significant health benefits.

These benefits include:

  • Heart health
  • Cellular health
  • Eye health
  • Healthy cognition
  • Healthy immune function
  • Skin health (The synthetic form of α-tocopherol, dl-alpha, is even used in some skin care products)

It's important to make sure you have enough dietary intake of this essential vitamin to ensure you're avoiding a vitamin E deficiency and getting the nutrition you need for your best health.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.