It is well known that elite athletes regularly take multivitamins to enhance their performance.  Of course, they have the benefit of the advice of a team of professionals, including doctors, dieticians and nutritionists, who can individually tailor the diet and supplements to each athlete.  Obviously the average person does not have these advantages but it is worth considering that we could all benefit from adjusting our multivitamin intake to benefit our sports performance, especially when training for a big event.  Some companies offer multivitamins tailored for athletes but not all sports have the same requirement so it is good to know what effect a vitamin can have.

What Is A Micronutrient?

The main thing to remember about supplementing your diet with multivitamins is that they do not provide energy.  Carbohydrates, fats, and sugars are macronutrients and can be taken in large quantiles and their effect is obvious. The vitamins and minerals that make up multivitamins are micronutrients and a small amount can make a big difference. While micronutrients will not directly contribute to your energy stores they are vital in smooth running of all your body’s systems.  Micronutrients are a vital factor in energy production, bone health and immune function. During recovery from exercise and injury they assist with the synthesis and repair of muscle tissue. Exercise stresses many of the metabolic pathways where micronutrients are required, and so micronutrient needs are increased. In addition regular exercise can increase the turnover and loss of essential micronutrients from the body.

Some vitamins are fat soluble. This means they are more readily absorbed and used by the body if taken in combination with some form of fat, such as olive oil. They can also be stored in the body. This leads to the danger of them building up in the body and causing toxic effects.  Other vitamins and minerals are water soluble, meaning they easily dissolve or mix in water. This means they are easily excreted and are therefore unlikely to build up to toxic levels in the body.

What Are Antioxidants?

Some vitamins are characterised as antioxidants.  Antioxidants’ main role is to protect cell membranes from oxidative damage. The theory is that frequent exercise produces long-lasting oxidative stress on an athletes’ muscles since exercise increases oxygen consumption. This creates a need for antioxidants. Some studies also show that a mixture of antioxidants can aid in reducing inflammation and muscle soreness.

What Are The Essential Vitamins For Athletes?

Nutrient DeficienciesWhile it is universally accepted that the body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to function correctly and that the extra stresses placed on the body by competing create additional demands, there are currently no official guidelines for vitamin recommendations specific to athletes at this time. To accurately assess  individualized nutrition needs, a meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in sports nutrition would be advisable.  For your average sportsperson this level of detail is probably unnecessary though but it is worth researching which multivitamin would best suit your needs.  Here are some of the more important vitamins to look for in your multivitamin.

Vitamin A

While mainly known for aiding to maintain night vision, vitamin A can also act a powerful antioxidant, especially helpful during endurance training. Vitamin A mainly comes in the form of beta carotene from brightly orange coloured food, such as sweet potatoes and carrots.  It is a fat soluble vitamin so it is easily stored in the body and care should be taken not to take too much.

Vitamin B

Many of the B vitamins have an important role in the body’s metabolic activities. If you are low on B vitamins then your metabolic enzymes can’t do their respective jobs. There have been some studies that suggest exercise may double the need for B vitamins. Folate and B12 in particular are required as they aid the production of red blood cells and tissue repair and maintenance and a lack of them results in anaemia and poor performance. B vitamins are water-soluble but excess intake can still lead to problems.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and can possibly prevent the destruction of the red blood cell membrane during exercise. Studies have shown that intense and prolonged exercise increases vitamin C needs from 100 to 1000 mg/day. Especially for endurance athletes, taking extra vitamin C before and after an event can reduce the chances of catching a cold. Vitamin C is water-soluble and not easily stored in the body, meaning there is little danger of overdosing on it.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is mainly taken by athletes because it combines with calcium to support bone development and density.  The risk of exercise related stress fractures is greatly increased if you do not have enough vitamin D.  Without adequate vitamin D levels you can’t absorb calcium from your gut. Vitamin D is also an antioxidant and supports the immune system and reduces inflammation.  The main source of vitamin D is sunlight but there are many factors that affect how well your body can absorb it.  While vitamin D is fat soluble, the difficulties in absorbing large amounts mean it rarely builds up in the body to toxic levels but care should be taken not to take too much as a supplement.

In addition to vitamins, other essential nutrients to look for in a multivitamin include are iron, sodium, calcium, magnesium, zinc.

Many studies have shown a strong link between vitamin deficiency and poor physical performance. In the majority of cases, performance improves when this deficiency is corrected. With the greater demands put on the body by sports training and performance it makes sense to supplement a balanced diet with a multivitamin.