Antioxidants have been credited with helping to slow down the aging process and even prevent cancer. Now, studies are suggesting they may even increase your ability to work out for longer.

Antioxidants are phytochemicals (produced by plants), vitamins, and other nutrients usually found in fruits and vegetables. They may protect cells from damage done by unstable molecules called free radicals.  Think of free radicals as the ball in a pinball machine.  They bang around all over the place, dinging up the machinery and potentially breaking it down.  Free radicals in our body damage certain body cells, possibly leading to cancer and aging.  Antioxidants interact with free radicals and stabilize them to prevent some of the damage they may cause.  Some commonly heard-of antioxidants include beta carotene, lycopene,  and vitamins C, E, and A. 

Most of us get our antioxidants by eating fruits and vegetables.  Blueberries, apples, cabbage, and broccoli are among the foods being touted as "superfoods" that will prevent free radicals from wreaking havoc on our cells.  Cosmetic, vitamin, and food distributors have picked up on the antioxidant-craze by adding them to makeup, processed foods, and all kinds of supplements.

A recent study report in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism now says that antioxidants may also improve our ability to work out longer and better. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables rich in the antioxidant quercetin may boost endurance, according to a small study done with healthy college students. Quercetin, a compound abundant in red apples, red onions, berries, cabbages, broccoli, and green and black teas, is believed to have multiple antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cell-energy activation properties that benefit your health.

Twelve previously inactive college students were given the fruit drink Tang and a placebo for seven days to test whether quercetin supplements benefit energy production in humans. At the beginning of the study, investigators measured students' maximum oxygen uptake and the number of minutes they could ride a stationary bike. 

Then, for another 7-day period, the college students drank Tang spiked with 500 milligrams of quercetin and rode the bike.  This was followed by another 7 days of Tang with no quercetin.  The results were modest but may be significant.  They showed a nearly 4 percent increase in maximum oxygen uptake and a 13 percent increase in "ride time" before the volunteers were too fatigued to continue.

What does this mean for you?  It's yet another argument for doing what your mother always told you.  Eat your fruits and vegetables.