If you’re an athlete or enjoy high-intensity workouts, you understand the unique nutritional needs required to maintain a high activity level. High protein, plenty of water, collagen, and glutamine supplementation are vital to keep you performing at a high level and recovering optimally. Yet, have you considered glutathione’s benefits for athletes?
The connection between exercise and glutathione is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, studies show that exercise can boost natural glutathione in your body.1 In contrast, glutathione levels deplete rapidly because your muscles need it during high-intensity exercise.2
If you’re a marathon runner or someone who does high endurance events such as triathlons, you likely know why glutathione is the most popular supplement for athletes. If you don’t yet live a highly-active lifestyle or haven’t heard of glutathione, I have some news for you!
I will tell you about glutathione’s benefits for athletes, why you should supplement glutathione if you are an athlete, and how to boost your levels of this all-important detoxifier. Here’s what you need to know about glutathione.
What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a tripeptide molecule composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. It is an important antioxidant naturally produced in the liver and found in every cell of your body.
It is your body’s master detoxifier and helps your body process and eliminate toxins, supports energy production, is a potent free radical scavenger, and boosts your immune system.
Glutathione is crucial to protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS). It also supports the immune system by helping it defend against bacterial and viral infections. Glutathione is involved in many cellular processes, such as DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, and cell proliferation.
Research has suggested that glutathione may have several health benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and heart disease. It also helps detoxify harmful substances, improve skin health, and enhances athletic performance.
Although your body does produce some glutathione naturally, a poor diet, toxins, medications, stress, and illness deplete your glutathione levels or halt production completely. Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, or arsenic can also lead to glutathione depletion.
Low glutathione levels are prevalent in the onset of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis. Without enough glutathione, your body cannot effectively remove toxins, which means toxins linger in your bloodstream or get stored in fat, wreaking havoc on your immune system and setting you up for chronic illness.3 So, why is it essential for athletes?
Why Do Athletes Need Glutathione?
If you are an active person that engages in moderate- to high-intensity activity, your body quickly burns through its glutathione reserves.4 The body’s metabolic rate increases during high-intensity exercise, increasing the demand for oxygen to produce muscle energy. This increased oxygen consumption leads to the production of more free radicals and oxidative stress, which causes damage to cells and tissues.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons, making them unstable and seeking to pair with other molecules, which can cause damage to cellular structures such as lipids, proteins, and DNA.
During high-intensity exercise, the increased production of free radicals is primarily due to the increased oxygen consumption and the increased energy production by the mitochondria, which produce ATP that provides energy for the transportation of oxygen and other molecules.5
In addition, high-intensity exercise also results in an increased production of lactic acid, which can further contribute to oxidative stress by causing a decrease in pH levels in the muscle tissues. This drop in pH levels can impair the ability of the antioxidant defense system to neutralize free radicals, leading to an accumulation of oxidative stress.
Overall, increased oxygen consumption, energy production, and lactic acid production during high-intensity exercise can increase free radicals and oxidative stress, which can cause damage to cells and tissues if not adequately neutralized by the body’s antioxidant defense system.
Let’s discuss the benefits of taking a glutathione supplement if you are an active person engaging in high-intensity exercise regularly.
Four Benefits of Glutathione for Athletes
Having a free radical scavenger such as glutathione on board is essential for repair and recovery, especially when you’re an athlete. Here are the top four benefits of using glutathione for athletic performance.
Glutathione Improves Muscle Performance
Glutathione is present in high concentrations in many tissues, including skeletal muscles. I’ve talked a lot about oxidative stress, which is directly related to muscle performance.
I mentioned that during exercise, the body produces reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage cells and tissues, including muscle fibers. Glutathione neutralizes ROS and protects muscle cells from oxidative damage. This, in turn, can help to reduce muscle fatigue and enhance muscle performance.
Another way in which glutathione improves muscle performance is by promoting muscle protein synthesis. Glutathione helps to regulate the activity of critical enzymes involved in protein synthesis, which is essential for muscle growth and repair. By enhancing muscle protein synthesis, glutathione can help to improve muscle strength and endurance.
Additionally, glutathione supports the immune system, which is vital for overall health and muscle recovery. Exercise-induced muscle damage can lead to inflammation and immune system activation, which can impair muscle function. By promoting immune system function, glutathione can help to reduce inflammation and improve muscle recovery.
Glutathione Fights Oxidative Stress
Imagine oxidative stress as jagged rusted particles (free radicals) floating around in your blood, bouncing against the vessel walls, tearing them up, and triggering a cascade of inflammation.
Exposure to toxins, poor diet, smoking, elevated blood sugar, chronic stress, and high-intensity exercise such as running marathons can signal your body to produce more free radicals. Your free radical production is in overdrive if you are deficient in glutathione, which can create an imbalance.
Glutathione also plays a role in recycling other antioxidants in the body, such as vitamins C and E. When these antioxidants neutralize free radicals, they become oxidized themselves. Glutathione can regenerate these antioxidants by donating electrons, allowing them to continue their protective role in the body.
Glutathione Promotes a Healthy Inflammatory Response
Inflammation is how your immune system responds to injury or infection. When your immune system is functioning optimally, acute inflammation is a weapon that protects you from severe and immediate stressors. Once the threat is gone, the inflammation subsides. In contrast, a weak immune system cannot defend itself from harmful invaders, which can cause chronic inflammation, often the root cause of autoimmune disease.
Glutathione promotes a healthy inflammatory response in several ways:6
- Reducing oxidative stress: As I’ve mentioned a few times, glutathione neutralizes free radicals and other reactive oxygen species, which can cause oxidative stress and trigger inflammation.
- Facilitates an immune system response: Glutathione facilitates an immune system response by regulating the production of cytokines, which are signaling molecules that mediate inflammation.
- It’s a master detoxifier: Glutathione helps detoxify environmental toxins and pollutants, contributing to chronic inflammation.
- Supporting tissue repair: Glutathione supports the repair of damaged muscle tissue caused by high-intensity exercise.
In summary, glutathione is a critical component to support an inflammatory response.
Glutathione Supports Cardiovascular Health
One of glutathione’s benefits for athletes is especially vital in regard to heart health. Glutathione helps to reduce oxidative stress in the body by neutralizing free radicals, which can damage cells and contribute to the development of heart disease.7
One of glutathione’s benefits for athletes is apparent with nitric oxide production. Glutathione facilitates the creation of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps relax and dilate blood vessels, improving blood flow and reducing the risk of heart disease.
These glutathione benefits for athletes aren’t exclusive to active people. Even if you aren’t participating in marathons or doing high-intensity workouts multiple days a week, you can still reap all the benefits of your body’s master detoxifier. Let’s talk about ways to support your body’s natural glutathione production.
How to Support Your Body’s Glutathione Production
As discussed earlier, glutathione is produced naturally in your body, and maintaining optimal levels of it can be enhanced through a healthy lifestyle. However, if you are an athlete, maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t enough to support glutathione levels in your body. Here are a few natural ways to increase glutathione production, both naturally and through supplementation.
Natural Ways to Support Glutathione Levels
- Consume sulfur-rich foods: The synthesis of glutathione requires sulfur. Dietary proteins such as beef, fish, and poultry or cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli have sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. They can help increase your production of glutathione.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is a vital part of daytime cognitive function and can even play a role in detoxifying your body. When you don’t get enough sleep, your risk of developing chronic issues, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity, increases dramatically. When I’m having trouble falling asleep, I turn to my chiliBLANKET by ChiliSleep to offer the comfort of a weighted blanket with the sweat-free sensation of cooling water channels.
- Incorporate selenium-rich foods: Selenium is a glutathione cofactor needed in all glutathione activity. Foods such as brazil nuts, fish, sunflower seeds, and bananas are all selenium-containing.
- Lower your stress naturally: No one can avoid stress altogether, so learning to relieve it by finding a relaxing activity, being outdoors, exercising, or listening to music can help keep your body balanced.
The Best Way to Support Glutathione Levels
When you engage in high-intensity exercise or compete in marathons, half-marathons, or triathlons, your body’s glutathione depletes rapidly. A glutathione supplement is vital to supporting your body during these activities. Unfortunately, most oral glutathione supplements on the market don’t work!
Years of research and clinical experience have led me to discover the optimal form, molecular structure, and delivery method supplemental oral glutathione must have to arrive in the gut and properly absorb viably.
I formulated Acetyl-Glutathione, which uses an acetylation process and microcluster molecular structure – the most advanced available. This process ensures that it won’t break down before your body can absorb it and that it is in the proper form to be absorbed.
When you combine the added support of acetylated glutathione with a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and exercise, you ensure that your body has enough of this master detoxifier when you exercise.
The Final Word on Glutathione
More studies show that doing a lot of high-intensity exercises has many adverse effects on your body, including increased oxidative damage from free radicals.8 When you combine the added support of Acetyl-Glutathione with a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and exercise, you’re ensuring that your body has enough of this master detoxifier, and it will help you recover faster from your workout.
- Glutathione supplementation suppresses muscle fatigue induced by prolonged exercise via improved aerobic metabolism. Wataru Aoi, et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2015.
- Why Glutathione is the Most Popular Supplement for Athletes. Colorado Recovery Infusion Center. 2023.
- Glutathione dysregulation and the etiology and progression of human diseases. Nazzareno Ballatori, et al. Biological Chemistry. 2009.
- Effects of High Intensity Exercise on Oxidative Stress and Antioxidant Status in Untrained Humans: A Systematic Review. Yining Lu. Biology (Basel). 2021.
- Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) Function in Cells. Susha Cherlyedath, MSc. News Medical. 2019.
- Role of glutathione in immunity and inflammation in the lung. Pietro Ghezzi. International Journal of General Medicine. 2011.
- Glutathione Participation in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases. Yining Lu. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021.
- Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress and the Effects of Antioxidant Intake from a Physiological Viewpoint . Susha Cherlyedath, MSc. Antioxidants (Basel). 2018.