Vitamin E: What is it and why is it important to athletes?

Vitamin E is important for your immune system and protecting you against free radicals released by exercise, says sports nutritionist Stephan Smith. Here he explains all you need to know about this important vitamin

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What is vitamin E?

Vitamins E is one of a  group of fat-soluble compounds. They’re different to the water-soluble vitamins (B complex and vitamin C), in that they need to be transported around the body attached to dietary fat and are stored within the fat compartments of cells. Vitamin E represents a family of eight antioxidants, which help protect your cells from damage by free radicals.

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What does vitamin E do?

Vitamin E’s main function is to act as an antioxidant, but it also plays an important role in immune health and cell signalling.

Why is vitamin E important for athletes?

Like vitamin C, vitamin E could help reduce the amount of cell damage caused by free radicals, which are released after exercise. Similarly, vitamin E plays an important role in immune health, helping prevent loss of training time due to illness.

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are single atoms with unpaired electrons, formed from the splitting of oxygen. Since electrons like to be in pairs, free radicals search the body for other electrons to pair with, which causes damage to cells.

How much vitamin E do athletes need?

The recommended daily intake of Vitamin E ranges from 4mg to 15mg, depending on your country. There’s no evidence to suggest athletes need to intake higher amounts than those recommended for healthy people.

Which foods are rich in vitamin E?

Vitamin E is mostly found in oils such as olive, nut or soya oils. Other foods rich in vitamin E include nuts and seeds, such as brazil nuts, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Whole grains and cereals, as well as green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, apples and carrots are also good sources.

Should you supplement?

If you focus on eating a wide range of foods, including nuts, seeds and oils, supplementation is rarely necessary. A standard multi-vitamin will contain enough vitamin E to meet or exceed the recommended daily intake. However, similarly to vitamin C, large amounts of antioxidants may blunt the cell signals required for the muscles to adapt from exercise, so I’d advise against supplementing with additional vitamin E.

Stephen Smith is a SENr registered sports nutrition consultant, and is the owner and founder of Race Faster. He’s currently researching gut health and the effects of exercise on the gut for his PhD. You can follow him on Twitter @stephensmithPN

  

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