If you’re like most people, starting a new fitness routine can be hard. As the saying goes, the hardest part is starting. But what happens when you commit to that hardcore spin class, take on that HIIT workout, or add those extra reps, only to find your muscles are too sore to work out the next day? Or, for the next five days? How do we maintain a fitness routine and avoid burnout? Say hello to my little friend, Glutathione.
Glutathione is known to increase performance and assist in faster recovery. In a mouse and human study from Japan1 , data demonstrates that supplementation with glutathione can boost mitochondrial levels in muscle, prevent the decrease of intramuscular pH (often related to the build of up lactic acid in the muscles) and can delay exercise-induced fatigue. Right. Let’s back track and start at the beginning.
Metabolism refers to a variety of chemical reactions that happen on a cellular level which create energy. As we exercise, our breath and heart rate increase in order to pull more oxygen into the blood-stream. As the lungs bring in oxygen, it enters the blood stream and is carried to muscles. Inside your cells several thousand mitochondria (that’s several thousand in nearly each and every cell of your body) utilize that oxygen to convert glucose into energy. This process is called cellular respiration. More specifically, your digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose and then cellular mitochondria convert glucose into a fuel molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
ATP is the fuel of energy not only for your muscles but for every cell in your body. In fact, ATP is the primary energy carrier in all living organisms on earth. Even microorganisms capture and store energy metabolized from food and light in the form of ATP. Think of ATP as a biochemical way to store and use energy. And without it, cells couldn’t transfer energy from one location to another.
This process of converting oxygen into energy produces heat, which is one reason we heat up when we workout. During exercise, your body uses two different types of metabolism: anaerobic and aerobic.2 Anaerobic metabolism is used for short bursts of intense activity when your body cannot take in enough oxygen to meet its energy needs such as sprinting. While, aerobic metabolism refers to a more sustained form of burning energy which utilizes oxygen, like jogging. It is very common for your body to switch back and forth between these two during long, intense exercise or sports such as a game of basketball or soccer.
While aerobic metabolism brings in oxygen to fuel the fire, Anaerobic metabolism results in the rapid breakdown of glucose and the formation of lactic acid in the muscles. As lactic acid builds up, it slows down contractions, putting on the brakes on peak performance. We’ve all felt “the burn” and that’s lactic acid in action. The build-up requires your body to slow down giving your muscles time to recover and for lactic acid to diffuse from cells (typically between 30-60 minutes). The purpose of anaerobic metabolism is to give your body that extra push and it can be extremely beneficial in building endurance and muscle strength. Although it should be noted that even this concept is not without dispute. You may have heard the now debunked myth that muscle soreness is the result of lactic build up in the muscles. Not so.
Muscle soreness, clinically referred to as Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness or DOMS, is actually caused from inflammation. Microscopic damage to myofibrils (small filaments of skeletal muscle) can often result from intense exercise. These tiny tears bring in a flood of white blood cells, prostaglandins, and nutrients in order to repair the damage, thus creating inflammation. There is some disagreement about whether this microscopic damage is beneficial for muscles in the long term.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are the by-product of normal metabolism. In the body, oxygen splits into an atom with an unpaired electron called a free radical. Now, electrons want to be in pairs. The danger of free radicals lies in their domino effect. A free radical will steal an electron from another molecule thereby turning that molecule into a free radical. This can set-off a chain reaction destabilizing the cell. Free radicals can damage parts of a cell such as proteins, DNA and membranes through this electron stealing action called oxidation. Cells can even lose their ability to function, in some cases resulting in cell death.
So, what happens when you ramp up your metabolism, as is the case with exercise? When free radicals overwhelm your antioxidant defenses causing damage to cells? The process of widespread oxidation is called oxidative stress and it’s been linked to many diseases.4 However, it’s important to note that oxidation is also a normal by-product of basic functions like breathing and creating energy. Today we know that some oxidative stress can be beneficial.5 New research demonstrates that oxidative stress can prompt cells to become stronger over time.6 Just like building muscles, a little stress can build resistance and increase performance over time. So, fear not! There are a series of checks and balances in our bodies to keep free radicals at bay. Most specifically, antioxidants. Which brings us back to Glutathione, often referred to as the Mother of All Antioxidants.
Glutathione is the body’s major intercellular antioxidant and its role in building immunity and combating inflammation and oxidative stress cannot be over stressed. There are literally thousands of medical articles on the importance of glutathione. Some basics about Glutathione.7 A glorious tri-peptide com-posed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. Glutathione is a powerhouse. One of the secret powers of glutathione lies in the sulfur atom contained within the amino acid cystine. Sulfur has been used as a detoxification agent for thousands of years and is found in all living organisms. Essentially Sulphur acts as a magnet binding to free radicals.
The excessive production of ROS leads to tissue injury which in turn lead to inflammation.8 By binding to and eliminated ROS, glutathione can diminish oxidative stress. And simultaneously alleviate inflammation. Which is why you see faster muscle recovery with the supplementation of glutathione. Oh, but wait, there’s more.
Remember that Japanese glutathione study mentioned earlier? One of the conclusions of that study demonstrates that glutathione in fact boosts mitochondria performance. Mitochondria are the energy factory of your body and they produce around 90% of your energy. Meaning, glutathione assists cells in creating more energy.9 This is why you see an increase in strength and endurance with glutathione supplementation. Staying in aerobic metabolism longer results in reduced injuries. And, the metabolism shift assists in the creation of muscle development.10
One important note before we sign-off. There are specific genes (GSTM1, GSTP1, and others) involved in the creation of enzymes that allows the body to create and recycle Glutathione. Today, we are finding impairment of these genes in many people for a variety of reasons. One theory for this is that humans evolved before the more than 80,000 toxic chemicals found in our environment today, including electromagnetic radiation, mercury, and lead. There is an amazing article from Dr. Mark Hyman that discusses both his personal experience and his experience with patients missing genes involved in the metabolism of glutathione. Roughly 1/3 of the population who suffer from chronic disease are missing the GSTM1 function. This being one of the most important genes to produce Glutathione. However, don’t panic. You can be tested for this gene and there are alternative ways of supplementing your glutathione.
So, next time you hit the gym, remember your tablespoon of liposomal glutathione.