Boosting your vitamin E intake lets your hard-trained body rebuild itself rapidly. Result? You get bigger, faster.
Originally featured in:
Men's Fitness March, 2002
Chances are you shunned vitamin E as a performance supplement soon after you noticed it in the cosmetics section displayed as a skin beautifier—a product more appropriate for your girlfriend’s beauty endeavors than for your efforts in the weight room, you thought. Don’t dismiss E so fast, though. This versatile antioxidant has been known to help prevent cancer and heart disease, not to mention enhance sexual performance. Here’s some additional artillery you can tote to the gym: Vitamin E may also play a major role in muscle repair after a hard session of lifting.
From the novice lifter to the tireless gym rat, every guy who’s ever graced a weight room knows the anguish of postworkout soreness—a condition that can last for days after a taxing session, in which even the simple act of shampooing leaves you wincing in pain. Such muscle trauma is detrimental if it keeps you out of the gym. Vitamin E will help facilitate muscle repair without compromising your bulldog intensity.
Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, protecting your muscles from highly reactive, unstable molecules called free radicals. Besides leading to hardened arteries and cancer, free radicals also contribute to your aching muscles and diminished performance. Because of an increased oxygen requirement during exercise, the harder you hit the gym, the more free radicals you produce. E’s effectiveness at countering this is backed up by the experts:
“Either as a supplement or in food, the antioxidant properties of vitamin E may be beneficial for an athlete training hard, whether anaerobically [lifting weights] or aerobically [cardio],” says Susan Kundrat, R.D., sports nutritionist and owner of Nutrition on the Move in Urbana, Ill.
The Evidence on E
While vitamin E has traditionally carried the reputation of catering only to the cardio-inclined, muscle-minded readers like you now have reason to covet this so-called micronutrient for its macro attributes.
In a recent study in which male subjects were given vitamin E capsules and put on a lifting program, blood-borne free radicals were reduced and muscle damage was minimized. Vitamin E initiated the healing process, allowing the muscles to rebuild sooner. The faster the muscles begin to repair themselves, the more they’ll grow. This is how you get bigger and stronger.
“Our research supports the claim that vitamin E can significantly reduce the damaging effects of high-intensity resistance exercise,” explains Bruce Craig, Ph.D., Ball State University physiology professor and the conductor of the study. “However, our study showed that short-term usage does not enhance muscular strength or power.” Should you implement E into your diet if your goal is to pack on muscle? Absolutely, says Craig.
“Though some people question the effects that antioxidants will have on increasing mass, the protective effects of vitamin E should not be detrimental to anyone using resistance training to enhance muscle growth. In fact, the reduced level of free-radical damage should make the muscle membrane stronger and enable you to achieve better and faster gains in strength and size.”
Based on the available data, it appears that vitamin E may very well belong in the class of muscle-building supplements presently dominated by the likes of creatine and protein powder. “Unfortunately, very little research has been conducted on the effects of long-term vitamin E supplementation and resistance training,” says Craig. “Once this has been done, I’m sure that everyone will see the benefits of taking their vitamin E.”
Tapping Into E
Rummage through your pantry and you’re bound to run across an abundance of vitamin E. Wheat germ, almonds, peanut butter and even margarine, just to name a few, are all potent sources of antioxidants. Problem is, you would have to devour between 10 and 16 cups of peanuts, for example, to sufficiently feed your E-starved muscles—neither a practical nor healthy approach, considering the amount of fat you would also be taking in. Enter supplementation.
The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin E is a paltry 20 IU, a far cry from the level your muscles demand for adequate recovery and growth. That may suffice for the inactive man, but for the Men’s Fitness guy who trains intensely, experts generally prescribe between 200 IU and 800 IU per day. While this may seem high in comparison to the RDA, vitamin E is safe and easy on the body, with incidents of toxicity virtually nonexistent.
“There’s really no standard for supplementation, but I believe that 200 IU to 400 IU of a natural source of vitamin E daily can be a sound addition to a nutrition program, especially for active individuals on a low-fat, high-protein diet,” says Kundrat.
Read the labels and look for d-alpha tocopherol, d-gamma tocopherol, or d-alpha tocopheryl acetate/succinate, which are all variations of natural vitamin E. Also, take your vitamin in one or two doses each day, preferably with a meal that contains a little fat, as this aids absorption. Readily available and cost-efficient, vitamin E is sold as soft capsules or chewable tablets, and as an oral solution. Whatever your preference, your muscles will undoubtedly rest and recover easier.
Deciphering the different forms of vitamin E often requires advanced biochemistry. Here we offer simple explanations of the most common types of E supplements on the market.
d-alpha tocopherol: By far the most extensively studied form of vitamin E, this natural antioxidant is what you find in most E products. You can’t go wrong supplementing alpha.
Price: Approximately $15 for 100 capsules of 400 IU.
d-gamma tocopherol: Found in “mixed tocopherol” products, it’s not as widely used as alpha, but gamma is gaining recognition as being equally effective, and may have benefits all its own.
Price: Approximately $15 for 100 capsules of 400 IU.
d-alpha tocopheryl acetate and succinate: Acetate and succinate are simply additives that improve shelf life. They make it easier to put vitamin E into tablets and gel capsules, but have no effect on absorption or efficacy.
Price: Approximately $20 for 50 capsules of 400 IU.
dl-alpha tocopherol: The synthetic form of d-alpha tocopherol. Although less expensive, it’s also less biologically active than its natural counterpart. If you notice “dl” rather than “d” at the beginning of the name, you know it’s synthetic.
Price: Approximately $10 for 180 capsules of 400 IU.
Tocotrienols: Not as researched as tocopherols, tocotrienols are most likely no better or worse than their more popular brethren.
Price: Approximately $30 to $40 for 100 capsules of 400 IU.