The question is... “Should I as a sports person be taking vitamin and mineral supplements – just in case?"
It is very common for sports people to assume that their vitamin and mineral requirements are much higher than that of non-active people. Research however does not necessarily support this notion. The jury is still out as to whether there is a great need for vitamins and minerals in athletes. It remains unclear as to whether additional vitamins and minerals improve performance that would therefore support their use over and above the recommended amounts for the general population. It is clear from research, however, that if a nutrient deficiency exists then correcting this deficiency is beneficial. The question is... “Should I as a sports person be taking vitamin and mineral supplements – just in case?” This article will focus on vitamins and next time we will be discussing minerals important for health and sports people particularly.
Our body requires 13 vitamins for growth and health. In some cases, vitamins work as catalysts for reactions in the body. They release energy from food and speed up biochemical reactions in the body. Some vitamins play a vital part in the structure of proteins, blood and hormones and some vitamins act as “anti-oxidants” and scavenge the free radicals produced in our body as a result of the environment or exercise. Most vitamins are required to be sourced from the food we eat as our body cannot synthesise them itself. There are some exceptions to this, for example, Vitamin D which is produced by the reaction of sunlight on our skin.
There are two classes of vitamins: those that are considered fat soluble and those that are water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins include Vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are stored in the body, therefore it is important that these are not consumed in excessive amounts as this can lead to unpleasant side effects. Vitamin A is an example of this. Women require 700 micrograms per day. Vitamin A rich foods include liver, oily fish, butter, margarine, cream, full cream milk, egg yolks and cheese. It is unlikely that most women would exceed this amount through food intake alone. Most cases of vitamin “toxicity”, or overload, occur due to incorrect ingestion of supplements or when women unwittingly are taking several different supplements, all fortified with the vitamin. There is a trend with supplement companies these days to put “a little bit of everything” in their products, as this often helps with the marketability of their product. So a golfer taking several different vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as other sports foods (for e.g. protein shakes) that are also fortified with vitamins and minerals, do need to be careful. Doses exceeding more than 3000 micrograms per day can cause nausea, liver damage, dry itchy skin, hair loss, headaches and skin problems. In pregnant women, these high dosages can interfere with foetal development or produce birth defects. A good idea is to have a very close look at the supplements you are taking and where possible talk to a qualified Dietician or Sports Dietician who can guide you as to whether they are necessary and the correct dosages.
The water soluble vitamins include the B-Group vitamins (comprising of Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), niacin, pyridoxine(B6), cyanocobalamin(B12), folate, biotin, and panothenic acid), and Vitamin C. B group vitamins are important for active people for the effect they have on metabolism and the release of energy from food. Vitamin C is important for wound healing and resistance to infection, the absorption of iron and also has antioxidant properties.
So where does this leave us? • Adequate vitamins and mineral are essential for the proper functioning of the body. • Active people may or may not require more. • We can obtain nearly all the required nutrients we need by following a well balanced diet. Many active people end up eating a slightly larger volume of food to match their activity, so very often their vitamin and mineral intake is naturally higher as a result. • Supplements are only found to be of use, where a known deficiency exists. • Ideally, it is recommended to obtain nutrients from food, as food provides nutrients in their most readily absorbed form. • Nutrients also tend to naturally exist in the food supply with other complementary nutrients.
If you do choose to take supplements, there are a few things to consider;
1. Talk to a qualified nutrition professional who can guide you as to whether it is necessary or whether your diet is adequate and, if supplementation is required, guide you on the proper dosage.
2. When taking supplements, take them with food as this will assist with absorption.
3. Do not think of them as a substitute for a poor diet, but rather a “top up” from your daily intake.
4. Check the supplement that it contains adequate amounts of the vitamin and mineral you require. Use reputable brands.
5. Check the label if you have an allergy or intolerance – most capsules don’t usually contain things like yeast, dairy, gluten, seafood etc – but it is still best to check.
In the next Nutrition article, we will look at a variety of minerals that are particularly important for active women.
Kellie Hogan Sports Dietitian/Nutritionist B Hlth Sci. (Nutr&Diet) (Hons) APD SDA
For more information check out the Sports Dietitians Australia website www.sportsdietitians.com and the Australian Institute of Sport’s website at www.ais.org.au/nutrition.