N-acetyl cysteine is an unheralded amino acid when it comes to athletic performance and keeping over worked cells happy. From an athlete’s point of view, there are few things as important as recovering quickly after intense activity and staying healthy leading up to an event. During acute and chronic high intensity activity the skeletal and heart muscle increase their utilization of your “master” antioxidant, known as glutathione. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is the rate limiting substrate in glutathione production. Most people have an abundance of glutamine and glycine the other two amino acids needed for glutathione production but NAC is depleted quickly.
Oral NAC can increase cellular glutathione levels between 30-40%. Considering that glutathione delays muscular fatigue induced by oxygen free radicals during strenuous muscular contraction, it is best to keep glutathione levels at their threshold. Another important part of the glutathione picture is its immune enhancing properties. After prolonged intense exercise the number of white blood cells called lymphocytes in the blood decreases and natural killer cell function is suppressed making the body more susceptible to viral and bacterial assault. Keeping glutathione levels optimized enables a sickness free competitive season.
Many athletes have poor dietary habits or do not supplement in a way that meets the demands they are placing on their body. This can cause antioxidant adaptation failure. Basically, instead of growing younger with the increased VO2 max and muscle mass gains from their years of heavy labor, they are aging more quickly. How terrible would it be to put in insane amounts of physical activity, pushing your body to the edge on most workouts and take a snap shot of your tissues a year later and find out you actually aged faster than the person who just twiddled on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes three times per week? Maintaining optimal antioxidant status permits adaptation to occur and gains to be continually made without the sacrifice of overall health in the process.
This is why it is so vital to get in a rainbow of colors throughout your meals each day, to enable adaptation in the antioxidant system. Second, supplement optimally in a way that meets the demand put on your body. High intensity exercise or long duration moderate exercise causes a massive amount of oxidation. This has to happen otherwise your body would not be creating the fuel for you to perform and to make gains. So if you are not the type to be content with your current fitness status and truly want to see where your body can take you, then you MUST consider your fuel!
A study of the Canadian cycling team showed that the average athlete had a blood glutathione level depression in the range of 40%. Upon optimizing glutathione levels, the athletes were able to improve performance between 1-3%. At first glance, these numbers seem meaningless; I mean what is a 3% gain in performance really going to get you. Well if you are an Olympic athlete just a 1% increase in performance is the difference between a gold medal and sixth place. That is huge. One athlete sees doors open for him/her at every turn and the other likely falls into obscurity dreaming about what could have been. Yes, all because of 1%.