Vitamins: Do Athletes Need More?

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Diet and exercise go hand in hand these days. Most people change their diets when they begin an exercise program, or at the least, they become more mindful of what they eat and drink. Whether you are exercising to lose weight, gain muscle, train for a marathon, or simply to maintain a healthy heart, diet will play a big role in the outcomes. Many active people include supplements in their diet to get more nutrients that may be missing in their regular diets or for the sake of enhancing their performance or recovery. The best approach to nutrition is to eat a well-balanced diet from every food group, making sure to include all vitamins and minerals your body needs. For the majority of people who live a busy lifestyle, this may not always be possible.

There has been a large amount of research done on supplementation in the general population as well as in athletes. In any popluation many factors can affect what the body needs such as illness and disease, regular diet, activity level, genetics, and even the amount of time we spend indoors versus outdoors! People who lower their food intake to lose weight end up lacking necessary nutrients the body needs. On the other spectrum, high intensity athletes, especially marathoners, tend to lose nutrients and not replace them sufficiently due to higher metabolic rates. Both of these categories require a certain amount of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals in order for the body to perform at any state and maintain proper organ function.

Since many vitamin and mineral supplement bottles are labeled with a notice that states they are not FDA approved, many people are opposed to taking them. It isn’t until they develop a symptom or certain results from routine bloodwork that they pay more attention to taking the essential missing nutrients. It would be helpful to get evaluated by your doctor and get routine bloodwork done before any negative symptoms or illness develop, since it is possible that a body can naturally not produce or absorb certain nutrients even when given a wholesome diet. If you are trying to lose weight and know that you are cutting out certain food groups, or are an athlete performing at higher intensity levels or for long durations, you may want to consider including proper supplementation to keep your body going.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Bone health is a popular topic throughout life. Most children are brought up learning to drink calcium-rich milk every day to make and keep bones strong. Besides being a bone-strengthener, calcium is also in charge of other vital roles in our bodies such as nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and aiding in blood clotting. Many food sources are rich in calcium besides milk, including almonds, kale, brocolli, yogurt, and most other dairy products. Sufficient amounts of Vitamin D should also be included as it is responsible for the calcium absorpsion, as well as other functions such as helping reduce inflammation in the body and for immune health. More recent studies have shown that insuffiient Vitamin D intake may lead to more incidences of stress fractures and decreased performance levels. Foods high in Vitamin D include milk, mushrooms, eggs, and most seafood. The easiest way to increase vitamin D intake is to spend an extra ten minutes in the sunlight!

Iron and Vitamin C

The most important role iron plays in the body is to transport oxygen in the blood to the tissues, basically ensuring proper muscle function. This is a major factor for athletes who want to perform at their best. During recovery from strenuous exercise, such as long distance running, iron helps to produce new cells and repair our damaged muscles. It is important for high intensity and endurance athletes to include the recommended amount of iron in their diets. Women in particular should be aware that their requirements are higher than for men. Iron deficiency can be caused by blood loss, poor absorption, or inadequete intake through diet. The antioxidant Vitamin C plays a role in the proper absorption of iron, as long as it is ingested at the same time. Vitamin C is also vital for the repair of damaged tissue and immune health.

B Vitamins

For active individuals who train at high intensities or for prologed periods, it is essential to include the recommended amount of B-vitamins in order to be able to perform at their best. These important group of substances are in charge of the proper metabolism of macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Some B-vitamins help our bodies rely on carbohydrates for energy, which may assist in delaying the glycogen depletion process. This is desirable for a marathon runner who wants sustained energy for as long as possible. These vitamins are abundent in many food sources, so it is not difficult to ensure adequete intake. Fortified cereals, vegetables, lentils, animal products, and nuts are all rich in most B-vitamins.

Magnesium

Many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants aide in the metabolism of macronutrients, including magnesium, which is essential for muscle health. Its role in protein synthesis is especially important for the recovery process when muscle tissue is broken down during exercise. Magnesium also plays a role in oxygen uptake, therefore making it beneficial for high intensity and prolonged exercise, since there is a need for higher oxygen requirements. During activities that result in increased sweat loss, magnesium is known to be one of the electrolytes lost during the process, which will decline exercise performance if not replaced. Good high-magesium food sources include seeds, legumes, bananas, avocados, and dark chocolate.

Upper Intake Level

Although dietary requirements of vitamins and minerals varies from one individual to another, it is important to note that there is a maximum. Many studies have shown there are benefits to including the proper amount of vitamins in an athlete’s diet, but going beyond the maximun level will not enhance performance further. There are harmful effects of ingesting too much of any nutrient, such as increased risk of toxicity, interference in absorption of other medications and nutrients, immunosuppression and oxidative damage. As mentioned earlier, it is best to include a balanced variety of food groups in your daily diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other fortified sources before opting for supplementation. If your diet is lacking in a particular food group, such as in a vegan or vegetarian diet, or a low calorie diet used for weight loss, and it is difficult to include a variety of vitamin-rich food sources, supplementation may be necessary. Many health conditions and disease can alter the amount of nutrients and vitamins our bodies require, which is why it is always best to consult a medical professional before modifying your diet.

Sources

  1. Melvin H. Williams, Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Introduction and Vitamins, Journal, Nov 03, 2017
  2. John Eric W. Smith, Megan E. Holmes, Matthew J. McAllister, Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes, Journal, Nov 03, 2017
  3. Kathleen Woolf, Melinda M. Manore, B-vitamins and Exercise: Does Exercise Alter Requirements?, Journal, Nov 03, 2017
  4. Forrest H. Nielsen and Henry C. Lukaski, Update on the Relationship Between Magnesium and Exercise, Journal, Nov 03, 2017
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