This post addresses the second most common outcome from the #800gChallenge: people just “feel better” (i.e., better recovery). (Although check out these epic #800gChallenge weight loss transformations at CrossFit Diamond State!).
Both responses – energy and recovery – likely come from the increase in micronutrients and phytochemicals in one’s diet. Of course, there is the confounding issue that potentially they just weren’t eating or sleeping enough before the challenge. But assuming the macronutrients and other lifestyle factors were relatively the same pre- and during the #800gChallenge, it is likely they were not getting enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in their diet previously.
So what do micronutrients and phytochemicals have to do with recovery? Essentially, exercise is a stress-inducing but necessary stimulus to become a stronger and fitter athlete. The stress results in free radical (oxidant) production (simply by the generation of energy, which increases during exercise) and inflammation (from muscle damage due to training). Anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals (like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper) and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals (like polyphenols) can mitigate these stressors.
It is important to note, however, inflammatory and oxidant compounds are a normal part of the exercise-stress response. In fact, these compounds are the necessary signaling molecules to trigger the favorable adaptation to exercise (1,2). This is why it might not be beneficial to supplement with supraphysiological levels of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories (1,2). Dr. Eddie Jo (3) called for an “even-keel approach” of anti-oxidants where at extreme high ends (heavy supplementation) and low ends (poor diet) is where we have the problem. Too much: we blunt our natural and innate response, and too little: we have too much inflammation and oxidation (associated with disease). “Bottom line: an even-keel, balanced approach to anti-oxidant intake through food and perhaps supplements may best keep your [oxidant] levels optimal” (3). It’s not about eliminating the response; it’s about ensuring the balance of inflammatory/anti-inflammatory and oxidant/anti-oxidant compounds are within healthy ranges.
So, how to ensure healthy ranges without supplementation? Per usual, not a single number is expected to work for everyone due to genetic variation and even differences in training volume, intensity, capacity, etc. Regardless, a good whack of fruits and vegetables (a la #800gChallenge) is probably a great place to start and potentially increasing this dependent on individual needs, preferences, caloric load, etc. Check out my last post for the percent RDA of select vitamin and minerals on the #800gChallenge which includes the anti-oxidants listed above. We also have to consider the anti-oxidant/anti-inflammatory effect of the phytochemicals, but this isn’t as straight-forward as a process. Nevertheless, here are a couple rough estimates (note, these are not specific to training):
“Fruits like grapes, apple, pear, cherries, and berries contains up to 200–300 mg polyphenols per 100 grams fresh weight” (4). Of course, it depends on what fruits and vegetables are eaten, but it is possible the #800gChallenge offers 1,600 mg polyphenols/day or more. This dose is associated with a decreased risk of all-cause mortality in a study concerning the effect of polyphenol intake on cardiovascular disease (5). In another study looking at anti-oxidant capacity, 480 grams of fruits and vegetables were considered enough to decrease all-cause mortality for a 2,500 calorie/day diet (6). Now, of course, there are potential errors here: different levels of polyphenols in different fruits and vegetables, the fact that we don’t actually know all the phytochemicals that exist and their relative functions, and factors like climate, soil type, and degree of ripeness that all affect the phytochemical amount in fruits and vegetables (4). Regardless, the #800gChallenge, particularly as a fraction of what one eats in a day, provides a dose of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds associated with health. And it is also a means to that even-keel approach (aka sweet-spot) to recovering “better” between training sessions.
1. Nunes-Silva, A. (2014). Exercise-Induced Inflammatory Response: To Use or Not Use Anti-Inflammatory Medication. Journal of Sports Medicine & Doping Studies, 4, 142. doi: 10.4172/2161-0673.1000142
2. Merry, T.L., & Ristow, M. (2016). Do antioxidant supplements interfere with skeletal muscle adaptation to exercise training? Journal of Physiology, 594(18), 5135-5147.
3. Jo, Eddie. (2018). The Even-Keel Approach to Dietary Anti-Oxidants for Muscular Training Adaptations. Accessed 11 Dec 2018 at https://www.instagram.com/p/Bl7IbDRhzqg/
4. Pandey, K.B., & Rizvi, S.I. (2009). Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2(5), 270-278.
5. Tresserra-Rimbau, A., Rimm, E.B., Medina-Remon, A., Martinez-Gonzalez, M.A., Lopez-Sabater, M.C, Covas, M.I., … Lamuela-Raventos, R.M. (2014). Polyphenol intake and mortality risk: a re-analysis of the PREDIMED trial. BMC Medicine, 12 (77), 1-11.
6. Prior, R.L. (2015). Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC): New horizon in relating dietary antioxidant/bioactives and health benefits. Journal of Functional Foods, 18, 797-810.