Vitamin E: The Antioxidant

Few bodybuilders realize the importance of antioxidants for muscle growth. Following exercise, free radicals can wreak havoc on precious muscle, resulting in its breakdown. The free radicals also stimulate the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These cell-signaling molecules can inhibit the activity of growth hormone and insulinlike growth factor-1 — two major players in muscle growth. Taking an antioxidant supplement before or immediately after your workout can dramatically decrease the free radicals, which means quicker recovery and better gains.

One of the most important and effective antioxidants is Vitamin E. Besides promoting muscle growth and inhibiting muscle breakdown, it provides a host of health benefits that include improved cardiovascular, immune and eye health, as well as cancer prevention. While synthetic Vitamin E supplements take up the majority of shelf space in the Vitamin E section in health-food stores, natural Vitamin E supplements are emerging.

Natural vs. Synthetic

Today we clearly understand the benefits of supplementing with natural forms of Vitamin E vs. synthetic forms. While both are absorbed to the same degree, the natural form is more than two times more bioactive within the body. Only 50% of synthetic Vitamin E is treated as the preferred natural Vitamin E by the liver; the rest is predominantly excreted during urination. You’ll have to read the label on the Vitamin E supplement you buy to ensure that it’s from a natural source. If the source is listed as dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate or dl-alpha tocopherol, it’s synthetic. If it reads d-alpha tocopherol (no “l” after the “d”), it’s a natural form likely derived from vegetable oils.

A Closer Look at Vitamin E

Vitamin E is actually the generic name for a group of compounds known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. Each has four different structures or isomers that are designated as alpha, beta, gamma and delta. Each of these acts as biological Vitamin E antioxidants to varying degrees, the most powerful being alphatocopherol. This is why most Vitamin E supplements list only the alpha-tocopherol units. But that doesn’t mean the other isomers are useless. Each one offers distinct benefits in the body, and research shows that a mix of the isomers has the greatest range of benefits. For instance, gamma tocopherol inhibits cancer growth, and alpha tocotrienol provides potent neuroprotection. In addition, supplementation of only alpha tocopherol has been found to reduce levels of the other isomers in the body — which is a good reason to make sure your Vitamin E supplement provides all eight isomers.

While several supplement manufacturers offer such a product, currently the two with the highest ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, a test of the supplement’s free radical-quenching ability) are Natural Isomer-E by Pinnacle and Isomer E by GNC. These products offer 10,000% more antioxidant capacity than synthetic Vitamin E, and 100% more than other natural Vitamin E formulas. For this reason, a dose of 400 IU of a natural Vitamin E that provides all eight isomers immediately before or after working out is recommended.