Exercising increases how much oxygen you take in, leading to what is called “oxidative stress.” Oxidative stress damages cells and turns them into free radicals (free radicals also damage healthy cells as well as prevent the repair process). In addition, oxidative stress produces inflammation and speeds up the aging process.
Our body needs nutrients like B vitamins for energy, vitamin D to boost/maintain energy, and vitamin C to reduce inflammation. Another critical nutrient your body needs is glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s major antioxidant, sometimes called “the mother of all antioxidants.” Glutathione is a tripeptide (meaning it contains three amino acids: in this case cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid) found in high levels in almost all cells.
Below are glutathione’s key benefits for athletes:
- Increases energy
- Slows the aging process
- Reduces muscle and joint discomfort
- Detoxifies the liver and cells
- Improves mental focus and clarity
- Improves quality of sleep
- Reduces the effects of stress
- Aids athletic performance and recovery
Glutathione is the primary anti-oxidant in almost every cell of your body. It is the primary anti-inflammatory molecule of every single cell in your body. It is the primary detoxifier of the cells in your body. It supports the production of ATP which are the energy packets that every cell in your body uses.
What is ATP and how is glutathione involved?
ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate. ATP is the source of energy that keeps your muscles, your heart, and every cell in your body functioning. ATP is the biochemical way we store and use energy.
ATP is required for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. As the work of the muscle increases, more ATP gets consumed and needs to be replaced in order for the muscle to keep moving.
Strenuous exercise depletes antioxidants from the muscles and, sometimes, other organs. Exercise increases the body’s oxidative burden by calling on tissues to create more energy. Making more energy requires making more ATP, which requires more oxygen, which in turn results in a greater production of free radicals.
ATP utilizes glutathione in creating energy. As a result, glutathione is especially important for athletes. Glutathione is depleted by exercise, so replenishing glutathione is a wise choice. Whether you’re running, lifting weights or taking part in any other type of exercise, the job of your cells is to produce ATP. Glutathione is critical to maintaining ATP production. Think of it this way: the lower your levels of glutathione, the less ATP that will be produced, the less endurance you will have.
Glutathione also acts as a detoxifying agent by removing unwanted materials (e.g. free radicals) and repairing and protecting mitochondrial DNA. Glutathione also helps regenerate the antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E in your body. Research has shown that high glutathione levels increase strength and endurance, shift metabolism from fat production to muscle development, decrease muscle damage, and reduce recovery time.
How does glutathione help recovery?
After exercise, the body is focused on decreasing inflammation and cleaning up debris created in the cells. The body also undergoes muscle remodeling and strengthening. This is where recovery begins.
During recovery, when the cells are resting, glutathione starts ‘cleaning up.’ It starts by cleaning up reactive oxygen species along with other antioxidants found in the cell. Hydration is critical during recovery because you’re trying to flush toxins in the cells from your body as well as acids that have built up during athletic activity.
How do we maintain glutathione levels?
Although the body does make its own glutathione, aging, poor food quality, pollution, toxic environments, stress, infections, and radiation deplete it. Below are some tips to increase glutathione levels in your body:
- Decrease toxin exposure, including alcohol (glutathione is used to detoxify toxins)
- Consume sulfur-rich foods. The main ones are garlic, onions, and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, etc.)
- Take bioactive whey protein, which contains cysteine or NAC (the whey protein must be bioactive and made from non-denatured proteins)
- Exercise to boost your glutathione levels
- Take glutathione supporting supplements: N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, vitamins A, C, and E
Glutathione levels can increase energy, provide your cells with what they need to function optimally, and decrease how much recovery you need. If you are an athlete and care about performance and the health of your body, make sure you are eating and supplementing properly.
As always, if you have any questions about this or any other nutritional topics, please contact me.
1. Aoi W, Ogaya Y, Takami M, et al. Glutathione supplementation suppresses muscle fatigue induced by prolonged exercise via improved aerobic metabolism. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2015;12:7. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0067-x.
2. Allen J, Bradley RD. Effects of Oral Glutathione Supplementation on Systemic Oxidative Stress Biomarkers in Human Volunteers. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2011;17(9):827-833. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0716.
3. Pizzorno J. Glutathione! Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2014;13(1):8-12.
4. Kerksick C, Willoughby D. The antioxidant role of glutathione and N-acetyl-cysteine supplements and exercise-induced oxidative stress. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005;2:38-44.