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Overcoming Tissue Damage and Stress Chemicals Associated with Exercise

If we are going to discuss the role of nutrition in exercise, it is important to first discuss the different aspects of exercise that can benefit from good nutrition—overcoming tissue damage and stress chemicals and providing fuel for exercise at all levels. Our bodies are incredibly capable of handling and adapting to exercise. Microscopic breakdown occurs every day, which your body repairs during rest with the use of healthy tissues and good nutrients. However, if the breakdown is not able to completely repair before the next bout of exercise demand, it starts to exceed the repair, and an overuse injury begins to form. This is the common scenario in which exercise or training is too intense or too often without proper recovery time.

You know, the paper clip theory—keep bending it and it will break. During intense exercise activity and any associated emotional stress, a process occurs called oxidative stress, during which the body produces chemical by-products such as cortisol and free radicals.

Consider these by-products the exhaust produced by your car engine. These chemicals are catabolic, which means they are more likely to break down or damage tissues in the body instead of build them up. This isn’t an organic chemistry class, but let’s just say that all of the processes happening in the body to produce the energy output required for exercise also produce bad waste products that need to be cleared from the body. We don’t have chimneys to clear that smoke, so our bodies must rely on other means to clear them.

If the production of these chemicals is too high and exercise is too intense, this combination can have a negative effect on the good tissues of the body, causing damage to our DNA, muscle soreness, poor recovery from exercise, and a progressive decline in performance. Inability of the body to recover also overstresses the immune system, allowing infections to strike when the body is vulnerable. Excess free radicals are basically scavengers that steal valuable ingredients necessary for body repair, recovery, and energy production. Ways to help reduce this oxidative stress and free radical production include

  • Spread out highly intense exercise bouts.
  • Allow sufficient recovery time.
  • Get adequate rest.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Have daily nutrition that is high in antioxidants, which directly fight free radicals (the body’s Pac-Man effect).

Antioxidants are found in foods with high sources of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) such as raw, colorful fruits and vegetables. These nutritional sources are absolutely necessary for the athletic or active individual.

Paul R. Stricker, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Sports Success Rx! Your Child's Prescription for the Best Experience (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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