Muscling Up

Astaxanthin, a marine-based antioxidant, helps athletes hit their stride.

July/August 2015

by Lisa James


I t’s high summer and people are on the move. Estimates put the number of runners and joggers at more than 40 million, with another 15 million or so playing organized sports from golf and tennis to soccer and softball—and who knows how many casual weekend athletes are out there.

One way to support all those moving muscles is by neutralizing the cell-damaging free radicals that form readily during exercise. One free radical fighter, astaxanthin, has shown an ability to promote increased muscular endurance and performance.

Building a Better Muscle

The body’s skeletal muscles are packed with proteins that cause them to contract. Exercise causes tiny tears that the muscle fixes by creating more protein; this leads to muscle growth.

No muscles work harder than those of Pacific salmon that swim thousands of miles to the streams in which they were born, fighting their way upriver over rapids and other obstacles. Astaxanthin—a nutrient responsible for the salmon’s pink flesh—allows the salmons’ muscles to operate at peak efficiency, helping these fish accomplish their mission.

Promoting Strength

Astaxanthin has shown an ability to help human muscles as well. By protecting the membranes of mitochondria against free radical damage, astaxanthin helps these cellular power plants generate energy more effectively; it has helped modulate mitochondria function in older dogs (Journal of Animal Science 12/3/14). In another study, rats given astaxanthin were able to exercise for longer periods of time (Nutrients 12/12/14). What’s more, astaxanthin helps regulate the inflammatory response that exercise causes (Alternative Medicine Review 2011) and reduce the buildup of soreness-inducing lactic acid within working muscles.

Outdoor exercise can result in excessive sun exposure, which can cause skin damage. In two clinical studies, astaxanthin use was linked to reductions in wrinkles, crow’s feet and age spots (Acta Biochimica Polonica 3/17/12). Strong sun can also harm the eyes; astaxanthin has helped protect the retina against light-induced damage (Journal of Pharmacological Sciences 10/22/13).

Astaxanthin has demonstrated other advantages, including liver protection and improvements in lipid metabolism. But one of its most notable potential benefits is its ability to protect the brain; in one well-controlled study, older people with memory problems reported cognition improvements after taking astaxanthin (Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition 9/12).

Astaxanthin’s ability to support muscle function increases when it is used in combination with other appropriate nutrients. Creatine is an amino acid-based substance that helps fuel cellular energy output and tissue repair. Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, promote protein creation. Antioxidant compounds found in grapes and apples, called polyphenols, help counteract peroxynitrite, a free radical that can slow muscle growth. Calcium and magnesium allow muscles to relax. Astaxanthin is also useful in eye health formulations (along with fellow carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin) and as a natural pairing with krill oil, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Whether you’re hitting the field, the track or the court, your muscles need all the help they can get. Astaxanthin can provide that assistance.

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