Include vitamin C in your post-workout shake to help clear cortisol from the body and speed recovery. Vitamin C is often used only for immune protection, but studies show that it plays an integral role in helping to remove cortisol and minimize the catabolic stress response in a timely fashion.
For example, a study published last year in the European Journal of Applied Physiology tested the effect of giving physically active men 800 mg of vitamin C for six weeks and perform a session of high-intensity shuttle running for 90 minutes. Results showed that the vitamin C produced lower cortisol levels post-workout than a placebo group, and the vitamin C group cleared cortisol much more rapidly with significantly lower cortisol at 1 hour of recovery.
Other studies show similar effects of vitamin C as an anti-catabolic supplement:
• A 2008 study had untrained men take 1,000 mg of vitamin C pre-workout and do 30 minutes of moderate exercise. Post-workout cortisol levels declined much faster than a placebo group and the effect was evident immediately after exercise, and at 2 and 24 hours post-workout.
• Another 2008 study had trained men take 1,500 mg of vitamin C for 8 days and perform 120 minutes of cycling at moderate speed in a humid, 93 degree environment. Cortisol response was 57 percent lower after exercise in the vitamin C group compared to a placebo.
• A 2006 study tested the effect of giving 1,000 mg of vitamin C a day for two weeks to trained men who performed a 2.5 hour run at 60 percent of maximal. Cortisol was significantly lower post-workout than a placebo group.
All of the studies mentioned also tested the effect of vitamin C on various other inflammatory biomarkers and found no significant differences on these measurements. Researchers are still unclear why vitamin C is so effective at lowering the cortisol response to intense training, while not having much effect on inflammation. However, we do know that vitamin C is released from the adrenal glands during physical stress when cortisol is also released. The purpose of vitamin C may be to quench the oxidative biomarkers produced when cortisol is elevated, or some other unidentified effect. Researchers write that the data indicate that vitamin C may actually have “hormone-like” properties, indicating the overwhelming value in getting more of this nutrient.
A few things to note: All of these studies tested the effect of giving vitamin C for different periods of time and not immediately post-workout. The first point is to take it everyday or for an extended duration, and you might as well take it post-workout because that will help clear any excess caffeine or other stimulants left in your system. Best results will come from a 2 gram dose, which is slightly higher than those seen in the studies above.
Another benefit of taking a large dose of vitamin C daily is that over time it will also elevate testosterone. Human studies into the effect are sparse, but two recent studies show vitamin C supplementation for 30 days can improve testosterone levels in diabetic rats. Testosterone is typically very low in diabetics, and in one studies, the vitamin C totally restored testosterone levels and the rats recovered normal reproductive function. In the other, vitamin C partially restored testosterone and reproduction.
These results are impressive and suggest an even larger daily dose taken at multiple times throughout the day is preferred. Consider taking 10 grams of vitamin C spaced throughout the day.
Bailey, D., Williams, C., et al. Oxidative Stress, Inflammation and Recovery of Muscle Function after Damaging Exercise: Effect of 6-Week Mixed Antioxidant Supplementation. European Jouranl of Applied Physiology. 2011. 111, 925-936.
Davison, G., Gleeson, M. The Effect of Two Weeks Vitamin C Supplementation on Immunoendocrine Responses to 2.5 Hours Cycling Exercise in Man. European Jouranl of Applied Physiology. 2006. 97)4), 454-461.
Nakhostin-Roohi, B., Babaei, P., et al. Effect of Vitamin C Supplementation on Lipid Peroxidation, Muscle Damage and Inflammation after 30-Minute Exercise at 75 Percent Vo2 Max. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2008. 48(2), 217-224.
Carrillo, A., Murphy, R., et al. Vitamin C Supplementation and Salivary Immune Function Following Exercise-Heat Stress. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2008. 3(4), 516-530.
Fernandes, G., Fernandez, C., et al. Vitamin C Partially Attenuates Male Reproductive Deficits in Hyperglycemic Rats. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. 2011. 27(9), 100.
Fernandes, G., Gerardin, D., et al. Can Vitamins C and E Restore the Androgen Level and Hypersensitivity of Vas Deferns in Hyperglycemic Rats. Pharmacological Reports. 2011. 63(4), 983-991.