There is a common thought among athletes that taking vitamin and mineral supplements, will give more energy. I find this especially true for Vitamin B and frequently hear athletes talking about going for weekly injections (you now require a prescription for Vitamin B injections as they were being misused by athletes). Don’t be fooled by marketing and your peers! Vitamins and minerals have specific jobs in the body and only small amounts are needed for health. If however, you are deficient in a micronutrient, supplementation is necessary to reverse any pre-existing deficiencies, and then yes, you will feel the difference in your performance.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), International Olympic Committee (IOC) and American College of Sports Nutrition (ACSN) all recommend that if an athlete is following a healthy balanced diet and is including all food groups, there is no need for additional supplementation.
If however, the athlete is vegetarian, restricts energy intake, relies on extreme weight loss practices, or eliminates whole food groups from the diet, they may benefit from micronutrient supplementation. If you are concerned you are not getting enough micronutrients or are frequently ill, taking a general broad vitamin and mineral supplement can be beneficial. Single micronutrient supplements are only appropriate for correction of clinical deficiency i.e. Iron in anaemic athletes. It is of high importance to speak to your doctor about supplementation with vitamins and minerals as taking too much can become toxic and can also cause gastro intestinal upset.
By eating a well-balanced diet you will meet your micronutrient requirements:
- Fruit, vegetables and whole grain carbohydrates – contain antioxidants which are important in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage.
- Meat, chicken and fish – contain haem iron; vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils – contain non-haem iron. Not getting enough haem and non-haem iron can result in iron deficiency which impairs muscle function and limits work capacity leading to compromised training adaptation and athletic performance.
- Oily fish – salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and eggs yolks – contain Vitamin D which regulates calcium and phosphorus absorption and metabolism, and plays a key role in maintaining bone health. Studies have shown that there is a relationship between vitamin D status and injury prevention, rehabilitation, improved neuromuscular function, increased type II muscle fiber size, reduced inflammation, decreased risk of stress fracture, and acute respiratory illness. Supplementation is only required in athletes who have low levels and should be prescribed by a doctor following blood tests.
- Low fat milk and dairy products: contain calcium which is important for growth, maintenance, and repair of bone tissue; regulation of muscle contraction; nerve conduction; and normal blood clotting.
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the
American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. March 2016 Volume 116 Number 3.
Potgieter, S. Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013; 26(1):6-16.