Don’t let Oxidative Stress Impact Athletic Performance

Sports have been played for ages. However, competitive sports require enhanced athletic performance to improve the odds of winning. Athletes and coaches are always looking to improve sports performance. Enhancing performance requires a thorough understanding of many internal or external factors.

Most athletes are aware of internal factors, like genetics and muscle fiber type, and external factors, like the environment. But research shows us there is more to performance. One such factor is ‘Oxidative Stress’.

Why is oxidative stress harmful?

Oxidative stress refers to the difference of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are molecules that easily react with other molecules, causing oxidation reactions. These are usually balanced by antioxidants in the body. But when there’s the free radical activity far exceeds the antioxidant activity, you experience oxidative stress. As a result, the free radicals start affecting lipids, DNA, and proteins, causing premature aging or diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and more.

Sports and exercise increase the production of free radicals. Exercise leads to an increased demand for oxygen, especially in the muscles, altering blood flow to the various organs. Exercise also causes muscle injury, leading to entry of phagocytes at the site. All these physiological changes add to the production of free radicals, causing oxidative damage to biomolecules.

An interesting fact to know is a moderate, short-term increase in free radicals is good for the body as it aids physical adaptation. This is possible with a good physical activity program. But excessive oxidative stress could impact an athlete’s performance in several ways.

Muscle damage

Muscle injuries are common while training. But did you know that damaged muscle fibers cause infiltration of phagocytes that break down the damaged tissue and further attract more white blood cells to the site.

This can ideally cause regeneration of muscle fibers. However, in case of excessive activity, it may lead to chronic inflammation, improper healing, and, in some cases, scar-tissue formation.

Motor skills

Retired professional athletes, especially those who played contact sports, have been seen to be at a higher risk of neurological diseases, like Alzheimer’s and ALS.


Cholesterol is required in the production of several biomolecules, such as hormones, and coenzymes. It becomes harmful when free radicals oxidize it. In that case, it gets embedded in walls of the blood vessels, preventing normal blood flow. A combination of this and oxidative stress can lead to atherosclerosis.

Can Oxidative stress be prevented?

Oxidative stress is necessary to some extent, so it can’t be completely eliminated from sports. As an athlete, the next best thing is oxidative stress tracking for recovery throughout a training cycle to make sure you are creating positive adaptations without causing cell damage.

Fortunately, the O2Score device, available at Nexus Scientific, makes it possible to   scientifically quantify the body’s response to training. Athletes and coaches can make sure the training loads and recovery methods are optimal, and performance can be maximized, without causing excessive oxidative stress and the risk of injury or fatigue.

What is oxidative stress and why is it important for athletes?

What is oxidative stress and why is it important for athletes?

A balance between free radicals and antioxidants for optimal physiological functioning of the body. If free radical production exceeds the amount or the speed at which the body can regulate them, you experience oxidative stress. Simply put, free radicals impact lipids, proteins, and DNA, leading to several ailments in the long run.

Free radicals – the rogue molecules

Free radicals are produced in large quantities in muscles during exercise. These moleculesmay be created when ATP (energy) is produced through mitochondria in our cells. Another source of free radicals is the environment – pollution, alcohol, tobacco smoke, heavy metals, transition metals, industrial solvents, pesticides, paracetamol, and radiation.

What happens during exercise?

During exercise, the body creates free radicals, followed by antioxidants to combat these free radicals. However, high intensity or exhaustive exercise may skew this balance, not allowing your cells to recover in time. As a result, you may experience fatigue, cognitive impairment or brain fog, muscle and joint pain when you exercise again the next day.

However, this is not a bad thing! When you train harder before the body adapts, overcompensation occurs to prepare the body for the next time it’s exposed to the same stimulus. The problem really lies in continuous overtraining, without giving the body enough time to recover and adapt. It would result in a buildup of excess free radicals that bind to lipids, proteins and DNA creating fatigue, joint and muscles pain, injury or cognitive impairment (brain fog), and eventually cell death (apoptosis).

In contrast, if the body is not exposed to an overload or you go through a long recovery period, your body will not undergo much overcompensation, will not adapt and your training will plateau because you will not have created enough oxidative stress!

Why does oxidative stress matter?

Oxidative stress is a scientific measure correlated to how well recovered you are.

Understanding your body and knowing its response to different training stimuli, is key to reducing the risk of injury and obtaining a steady progression in fitness. You can supplement your recovery by increasing antioxidant power through your diet. Methods of increasing blood flow such as stretching, foam rolling, cold contrasting, compression and elevation, are all good ways to help deliver nutrients to your muscles. Getting good quality sleep will also allow for those adaptations to take place. Keep a training log with an RPE (rate of perceived effort), so you can adjust your training load depending on how you felt.

Athletes and their coaches can scientifically track their oxidative stress throughout the training cycle to make sure they are creating positive adaptations without causing cell damage. Now you can measure your antioxidant power with the O2Score device and its interactive mobile app.

In reality, you may workout more than one day in a row before you take an easy day. What is important is to make sure you are recovering sufficiently between ‘key’ workouts and supplying the body with the right amount of stimulus during these workouts, creating a progressive overload. Too little stimulus will lead to no adaptations and too much will lead to fatigue and injury. If you are looking for oxidative stress tracking for recovery, check out theO2score device at Nexus Scientific or contact O2Score is a robust pointer of the antioxidant power, made after extensive R&D carried out at EPFL (Switzerland), validated for several years by professional athletes and coaches in various disciplines.