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C: The Master Recovery Agent

Vitamin C is important to human health and plays a key role in regulating wound healing, immune function, liver detoxification and collagen formation. New data indicate that vitamin C also plays a key role in preventing heart disease, regulating blood pressure and lowering cholesterol, as well as reducing inflammatory changes that encourage malignant-cell growth. Emerging research indicates that vitamin C lessens and in some cases reverses exercise-induced muscle damage, thus enhancing recovery.

To stimulate muscle growth and increase strength, you must train hard. When you place stress on the muscles, they adapt and will to some degree begin to increase the uptake of protein. That will eventually contribute to the development of larger and stronger muscles. There is, however, a dark side to that physiological phenomenon: muscle damage and delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

There are two critical phases that damage muscle tissue. The first, immediate mechanical damage, occurs because of the wear and tear those intense workouts cause. The second phase is more pronounced, causing biological changes within muscle tissue, muscle soreness, weakness, pain, swelling and stiffness as a direct result of inflammation. Other factors associated with this phase are increased oxidative damage to muscle tissue by free radicals and protein carbonyls and elevation of the enzyme creatine phosphokinase, or CPK, all biomarkers of muscle damage.

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that damage not only muscle tissue but also DNA, accelerating aging. Generated by many normal physiological processes, their production also accelerates as a result of exercise. Free radicals damage proteins, leaving residue that can alter their formation. That’s referred to as the formation of protein carbonyl. Increased protein carbonyl activity is one of the most widely used biomarkers of how proteins have been altered as a result of oxidative damage. Neutralizing those muscle miscreants is critical if you are to reach and maintain your full growth potential. Exercise physiologists have discovered that some nutrients, such as vitamin C, act as antioxidants, neutralizing the damage caused by free-radical aggression.

According to Finnish researchers, vitamin C decreases the damaging oxidation that occurs during recovery, as opposed to during actual workout periods. In fact, current research indicates that muscle damage can be reduced by 11 percent postexercise when vitamin C is taken before workouts. Other studies indicate that 400 milligrams per day of vitamin C reduces postexercise pain and inflammation. British researchers reported in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition, Exercise and Metabolism that taking two weeks of supplemental vitamin C at 200 milligrams twice daily resulted in better muscle function and less muscle soreness by lowering the amount of a muscle-destroying molecule called malondialdehyde. Malondialdehyde develops in tissue as a result of the improper breakdown of fats.

Additionally, researchers at the University of North Carolina found that taking 500 to 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C for two weeks reduced the negative effects of protein carbonyls. Those same researchers reported that vitamin C inhibited the release of creatine kinase at doses of 3,000 milligrams for two weeks.

Then there’s cortisol, the hormone that accelerates muscle wasting when elevated. Vitamin C puts the brakes on cortisol’s destructive path. According to Dr. Shawn Talbott, the author of The Cortisol Connection, 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams per day of vitamin C for one week lowers cortisol by 30 percent. Weightlifters using 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily for two weeks have experienced dramatically lower levels of cortisol within 24 hours following an intense workout.

Bodybuilders are also concerned with nitric oxide, or NO, the stuff that helps you get a bigger pump—meaning it keeps your blood vessels dilated. The process, known as vasodilation, helps improve nutrient-delivery time and also how well oxygen gets to muscle tissues, thus stimulating and encouraging growth. There is exciting new research showing that vitamin C actually goes into war-torn catabolic areas of muscle tissue and improves NO function. In fact, Italian researchers reported in the Journal of Circulation that vitamin C puts the brakes on the activity of N(G)-monomethyl-L-arginine. That stuff blocks NO production. When nitric oxide production is inhibited, you get enhanced endothelial-cell dysfunction. Endothelial cells line the entire circulatory system and reduce the friction that may hamper the process of vasodilation. Current data indicate that vitamin C plays a key role in maintaining proper endothelial-cell function.

The recommended dose for vitamin C is 60 milligrams daily to prevent a deficiency; however, to elicit the benefits discussed here, 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams is more beneficial, supplemented before and after workouts.

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