| Key learnings:
Exercise leads to an increased level of oxidation (oxidative stress) and inflammation within the body, triggering off a chain of events that tells our body improvement is needed. If you’re adequately recovering in between training sessions, there is no issue; you’ll get bigger, stronger, faster. However, if you’re not allowing enough time to recover, are training too strenuously, and/or don’t have an adequate level of nutrients coming in, then you can run into trouble.
The perils of inadequate recovery
Contrary to popular belief, regular gym training doesn’t make you stronger, in fact it does the opposite. By exercising you are tearing down and causing damage to your muscle. It is the time away from exercise, provided it is adequate, that actually makes you stronger.
But what if you aren’t adequately recovering?
There are a number of consequences of being frugal with your recovery time. As we mentioned above, excess oxidation and inflammation can result from exercising and if you’re not allowing your body adequate recovery then these build up. The effects of excess oxidation and inflammation are far reaching, impacting every bodily system to some degree, including;
What does this mean for performance?
It’s easy to see that any one of the above points could lead to impaired athletic performance. Combining all of them together while trying to maintain a heavy training regime is going to prove quite troublesome. On top of allowing more rest between workouts, there is one often overlooked aspect of recovery.
All of the aforementioned points can also be directly tied back to our levels of glutathione. Glutathione, the master antioxidant of the cells, is one of our body’s most important compounds. Via its cellular antioxidant capabilities it is able to neutralise oxidation and inflammation while also protecting the energy-producing mitochondria of the cells.
Glutathione is also one of our key detoxification compounds, enhancing the body’s phase I and II liver detoxification systems.
Finally, adequate glutathione can protect the mucus layer of the intestines and is also important for a properly functioning immune system, improving activity of macrophages, phagocytes and lymphocytes (1).
For the athlete, adequate glutathione translates to greater consistency with workouts due to less susceptibility to illness, better digestion and assimilation of nutrients from food, more energy, less joint pain and fewer injuries (2, 3).
The issue is that, aside from the level of intensity of your training, a range of common practises can deplete glutathione levels, including (4, 5);
- Poor sleep
- Standard Western diets
- Exposure to environmental toxins such as heavy metals and mould
- Certain medications
Thus, we can see that maintaining adequate levels of glutathione is of the utmost importance to improve our performance and also general wellbeing.
How to enhance glutathione levels
Fortunately, glutathione is a substance that is made within the body. For anything to be made, we need the correct materials, and in the case of glutathione, these materials are the amino acids cysteine, glutamate and glycine.
Improving cellular levels of cysteine especially, appears to be one of most effective ways to increase glutathione. In fact, cysteine levels are often said to be the rate limiting step in glutathione production. The molecule cystine, composed of 2 cysteine molecules covalently bound together, is much more bioavailable than cysteine on its own, meaning it is used by the cells in a more efficient manner (6).
Whey protein, specifically undenatured and native, contains ample amounts of these glutathione building blocks and so much more. In fact, when compared to standard denatured whey, undenatured whey was shown to increase tissue levels of glutathione (6).
What else can whey do for the athlete?
We’ve all heard about how important protein is for athletes, which is what whey tends to be known for. However, undenatured whey is so much more than its protein content, as it is a source of other health promoting compounds like lactoferrin and immunoglobulins. Another point to note is that undenatured whey contains higher levels of these compounds when compared to standard whey.
As the name suggests, immunoglobulins improve the function of the immune system. Our first exposure to immunoglobulins is during breastfeeding, where they are passed from mother to baby, a form of passive immunization. Later, the body is able to make its own. In times of poor immune function, this ability to produce immunoglobulins may become impaired, which is where supplementing with whey can certainly come in handy (7).
Lactoferrin improves iron absorption, by binding it in the gut (8). This has a two-fold effect.
Firstly, you’ll have higher circulating iron, which can subsequently improve blood oxygenation and endurance. Especially important for the athletes and exercisers among us. Second, by binding iron in the gut, there is a reduction in the growth of micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi, that feed on unbound iron (8). As you can imagine, by decreasing growth of these potentially pathogenic micro-organisms, you’re promoting an improvement on immune system function.
Lactoferrin is also known for promoting the health of your gut. It reduces symptoms of intestinal permeability by improving the integrity of the gut lining, and acts as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria (9).
Finally, lactoferrin has also been shown to improve glucose tolerance (10). What does that mean for you? Your body is better able to utilize carbohydrates from the food you eat and turn them into energy.
We can see that there is so much more to improving performance than working hard. This needs to be balanced with adequate recovery so that the body can adapt to the load and improve.
Beyond resting, one of the most important ways to support and supercharge recovery is by supporting the body’s production of glutathione, which is responsible for the health and function of so many bodily systems including the immune, digestive and detoxification systems.
Undenatured, native whey is just one way of supporting not only the body’s glutathione levels, but also improving recovery via its lactoferrin, immunoglobulin and protein content.
- Dröge, W. and Breitkreutz, R., 2000. Glutathione and immune function. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 59(4), pp.595-600.
- Aoi, W., Ogaya, Y., Takami, M., Konishi, T., Sauchi, Y., Park, E.Y., Wada, S., Sato, K. and Higashi, A., 2015. Glutathione supplementation suppresses muscle fatigue induced by prolonged exercise via improved aerobic metabolism. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), p.7.
- Perricone, C., De Carolis, C. and Perricone, R., 2009. Glutathione: a key player in autoimmunity. Autoimmunity reviews, 8(8), pp.697-701.
- Krolow, R., Arcego, D.M., Noschang, C., Weis, S.N. and Dalmaz, C., 2014. Oxidative imbalance and anxiety disorders. Current neuropharmacology, 12(2), pp.193-204.
- Singh, T.D., Patial, K., Vijayan, V.K. and Ravi, K., 2009. Oxidative stress and obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. Indian J Chest Dis Allied Sci, 51(4), pp.217-24.
- Bounous, G. and Gold, P., 1991. The biological activity of undenatured dietary whey proteins: role of glutathione. Clin Invest Med, 14(4), pp.296-309.
- Bell, S.J., 2000. Whey protein concentrates with and without immunoglobulins: a review. Journal of medicinal food, 3(1), pp.1-13.
- Adlerova, L., Bartoskova, A. and Faldyna, M., 2008. Lactoferrin: a review. Veterinarni Medicina, 53(9), pp.457-468.
- Chen, P.W., Liu, Z.S., Kuo, T.C., Hsieh, M.C. and Li, Z.W., 2017. Prebiotic effects of bovine lactoferrin on specific probiotic bacteria. Biometals, 30(2), pp.237-248.
- Zapata, R.C., Singh, A., Pezeshki, A., Nibber, T. and Chelikani, P.K., 2017. Whey Protein Components-Lactalbumin and Lactoferrin-Improve Energy Balance and Metabolism. Scientific reports, 7(1), p.9917.