The Power Of Vitamins In Athletics

For athletes, the ability to comprehend the functioning of vitamins and identify their vital ones can greatly impact the success of a season.

One of the most frequently asked questions by athletes is how to determine if they are consuming enough vitamins and minerals to enhance their performance. closely following this question are two additional queries: which foods are most potent in terms of vitamins and minerals, and whether or not to utilise supplements.

There are several ways you can assist your student-athletes in meeting their nutrient needs, even if you don’t have the same resources or are the only one managing your school’s sports medicine. The first step is to comprehend the role of micronutrients in supporting the body, followed by familiarizing yourself with the specific details of the most important ones.

Athletes’ needs

Student-athletes often misunderstand how vitamins and minerals function, believing they contribute to energy levels. As micronutrients do not possess calories, they are unable to enhance energy reserves. Nonetheless, they play a vital role in converting food into energy via metabolic processes. To illustrate, numerous B vitamins assist in the release of energy from carbohydrates.

Micronutrients have additional significant functions, such as assisting in the creation of proteins that carry oxygen, ensuring bone health, supporting immune system functionality, and maintaining fluid balance. Furthermore, they contribute to the synthesis and restoration of new muscle tissue and offer protection against oxidative stress.

Athletes require more micronutrients compared to non-athletes because of their high energy metabolism and the need for intense bodily functionality. Exercise impacts the metabolic pathways that utilise vitamins and minerals and may lead to increased micronutrient requirements due to biochemical adaptations. Regular physical activity can also accelerate the depletion of vitamins and minerals in the body. However, it is important to determine the specific quantity and type of additional vitamins and minerals that athletes need.

To address that question, it is crucial to have a grasp on Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), which are determined by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. These offer a range of values utilised for developing and evaluating nutrient intake, and they differ based on age and gender. The DRIs encompass the following:

  • Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97 to 98 per cent) healthy people.
  • Adequate Intake (AI): established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA and is set at a level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy.
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

To ensure improved performance, athletes may be tempted to ingest vitamins and minerals, however, they need to be mindful of UL numbers. Consuming excessive amounts of micronutrients will not enhance their gameplay and can potentially be harmful by raising the chances of toxicity, particularly with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Additionally, it can also disrupt the absorption process and functionality of other micronutrients or medications.

Athletes should identify their deficiencies and create a dietary plan to address them instead of relying solely on supplements. This does not require analysing every food item consumed, but athletes should recognise how their food choices impact their vitamin and mineral intake.

Food First

Free photo fried chicken with rice and vegetables

Sports dietitians prefer to prioritise food over dietary supplements. Athletes need to establish a solid eating plan for optimal performance, and then supplement as needed. This approach is preferred because eating is more enjoyable than taking supplements and it addresses nutritional deficiencies caused by inadequate food intake. It is crucial to identify the barriers preventing athletes from meeting their dietary needs and assist them in strategizing for success. Meeting caloric needs is vital for improving strength, achieving performance goals, maintaining energy levels, supporting the immune system, and balancing hormones, which cannot be achieved solely through supplements.

To obtain sufficient amounts of micronutrients from whole foods, it is important to consider five factors. Firstly, consuming a varied diet seems to have a synergistic effect on foods, which cannot be replicated by solely ingesting micronutrients. For instance, certain types of iron are challenging for the body to absorb and utilise when eaten individually, but when combined with vitamin C-rich foods, absorption is improved.

When considering nutrient density, the most effective approach to obtaining vitamins and minerals is through consuming foods that are rich in nutrients. These foods include brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and a range of lean protein sources, including certain plant-based options like beans. I have discovered that it is beneficial to encourage athletes to prioritise nutrient-dense food for around 80 per cent of their diet, allowing for the remaining 20 per cent to be chosen based on personal preference. This concept of balance is relatable to athletes and is generally feasible for them to achieve.

I suggest to our athletes a simple snack consisting of a mixture of nuts including peanuts, almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts, combined with raisins, dried fruit, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and granola.

In terms of their diet, athletes should prioritise achieving a proper balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) from different food groups. It is common for some athletes to experiment with trendy diets that may lead to either excessive or inadequate carbohydrate intake. By consuming the appropriate ratio of carbohydrates and protein, athletes can ensure they are also receiving sufficient micronutrients in their diet.

By selecting a range of foods from all the food groups, athletes can greatly improve their intake of necessary vitamins and minerals. The greater the variety, the higher the likelihood that athletes will meet all their micronutrient requirements.

Fortified foods, particularly those targeted at athletes, are common nowadays. Athletes need to be mindful of the vitamin and mineral levels in these fortified foods as they seek to achieve optimal micronutrient intake. Athletes need to be cautious of consuming excessive amounts of certain micronutrients, as nutritional shakes and bars may already provide significant quantities, potentially meeting or surpassing their needs without the need for additional supplementation.

When considering the quality of food, it is recommended that athletes opt for fresh fruits and vegetables that are either in season or frozen in cases when they are not available. Frozen fruits and vegetables are harvested when they are fully ripe (meaning they have the highest nutritional content) and then promptly frozen. It is advisable to select frozen produce that is in its natural state and devoid of any sauces or breading.

Furthermore, athletes should refrain from overcooking vegetables as it results in the reduction of micronutrients. Instead, they can opt for cooking methods such as steaming, blanching, microwaving, grilling, or roasting. These cooking techniques are effortlessly applicable and ensure the preservation of vegetables’ nutritional value.

Pack a punch

I ranked nutrient density as the top priority in the previous list because it holds the utmost significance. Certain foods are unequivocally superior to others in terms of offering an abundance of micronutrients. Here are several excellent options when it comes to nutrient-dense foods:

The increasing popularity of kale in recent years can be attributed to its abundance of nutrition. It is rich in vitamins K, C, A, and B6, as well as calcium. Additionally, kale contains natural antioxidants and fibre. It can be consumed raw in salads, transformed into kale chips through roasting with a sprinkle of salt or incorporated into various recipes by sautéing.

Butternut squash, an orange vegetable, is rich in fibre and antioxidants. Compared to other squashes, it is more starchy, resulting in a higher carbohydrate content, making it a cleaner-burning fuel source. Additionally, it contains abundant vitamins A and C, as well as potassium. Butternut squash can be prepared through roasting, boiling, or mashing, and it is an excellent addition to risotto.

Whole grains, in their unprocessed state, offer essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre. They also serve as a source of energy, with certain grains like quinoa containing more amino acids compared to others. Moreover, whole grains have a lower glycemic index than other carbs, resulting in a smaller rise in blood sugar levels and a prolonged feeling of fullness.

Beans such as edamame, kidney, lentil, garbanzo, and black beans are highly regarded for their abundant supply of protein and carbohydrates. Additionally, they offer significant levels of magnesium, iron, folate, potassium, and fibre. These versatile legumes can be easily incorporated into various dishes such as soups, stews, spreads, or salads.

Nuts, despite being high in fat, contain unsaturated fats that have been proven to reduce inflammation. Additionally, they offer protein, fibre, potassium, vitamin E, and folic acid. Moreover, they can be conveniently transformed into a snack, incorporated into various recipes, or utilised in cereal.

A closer look

In addition to selecting a range of nutrient-dense foods, certain athletes need to pay closer attention to their micronutrient requirements to fully understand their importance. Athletes should primarily focus on calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin D, as well as certain antioxidants like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and selenium. To begin, let’s examine the essential minerals: calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. These levels can be deficient, particularly in female athletes, often due to insufficient energy intake or avoiding animal-based products.

Calcium is essential for the growth, maintenance, and repair of bones, as well as for regulating muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and blood clotting. If calcium supplementation is necessary, there are two main forms to consider: carbonate and citrate. Both forms are well absorbed, but individuals with lower levels of stomach acid can absorb citrate more easily. Calcium carbonate is widely available and inexpensive, and it is best absorbed when taken with food. Calcium citrate, on the other hand, is equally effective whether taken with or without food. To ensure optimal absorption and utilisation, it is recommended not to exceed 500 milligrams of calcium per dose.

Among athletes, an insufficient level of iron is likely to be the most prevalent micronutrient deficiency. Endurance athletes require around 70% more iron daily than the general population. Failing to meet this requirement leads to a decrease in performance due to suboptimal levels of haemoglobin, reduced amounts of myoglobin and iron-related enzymes in the muscle, which are involved in energy production. Haemoglobin and myoglobin are proteins that transport oxygen, crucial for endurance exercise and the proper functioning of the nervous, behavioural, and immune systems.

The impairment of muscle function and limitation of work capacity can occur due to iron deficiency, whether accompanied by anaemia or not. Inadequate energy intake is usually associated with iron depletion. Iron status can also be affected by various factors such as following a vegetarian diet with low iron availability, experiencing rapid growth in adolescence, training at high altitudes, and increased losses through sweat, urine, and faeces. It is recommended to regularly screen for iron levels, including serum ferritin levels, to assess the need for possible supplementation. Additionally, it is important to note that it can take three to six months to reverse iron deficiency anaemia.

Some good sources of iron include chicken and beef liver, Cream of Wheat, dried fruits, oatmeal, beans, lentils, and meats. Consuming foods with vitamin C alongside certain forms of iron from non-meat sources can enhance absorption. Conversely, absorption can be hindered when iron is taken with tea, coffee, chocolate, dark leafy greens, whole grains, soda, and certain minerals. If iron stores are low, it is advisable to consume calcium-rich foods and tea between meals. Additionally, it is beneficial to include vitamin C-rich foods during meal times, particularly when consuming non-meat sources of iron.

Zinc is a mineral that assists in muscle tissue growth and repair, energy production, and immune function. The status of zinc has a direct impact on basal metabolic rate, thyroid hormone levels, and protein utilization. Athletes, particularly women, who are at risk for impaired zinc status are those who consume a diet that is low in overall energy needs and animal protein but high in fibre. It is important to caution athletes against taking single-dose zinc supplements as they often exceed the upper limit of 40 mg. Consuming excessive amounts of zinc can result in low levels of HDL cholesterol and interfere with the absorption of other minerals, such as iron and copper, leading to nutrient imbalances.

Magnesium serves multiple functions in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Additionally, it plays a role in regulating neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune, and hormonal functioning. When there is a deficiency of magnesium, endurance performance is negatively affected as more oxygen is needed to complete submaximal exercise. Inadequate intake of magnesium is usually associated with an overall energy deficit and an imbalance of food groups.

After considering the four essential minerals, here is what comes next:

B vitamins play a crucial role in the body by assisting in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, thus enabling the release of energy. Although a person’s ability to exercise can be affected by a deficiency in one or more B vitamins, there is limited evidence supporting the notion that taking supplements without need improves performance. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a doctor and undergo testing before deciding to take B vitamin supplements. Female athletes, in particular, may be prone to deficiencies in B vitamins, which encompass:

  • vitamin B-12
  • vitamin B-6
  • niacin

If people lack vitamin B-12, they may experience sensations of weakness and fatigue, which is particularly common among vegans and vegetarians due to the limited availability of this vitamin in animal-based foods.

Vitamin D intake and its impact on athletic performance is a widely discussed topic at present. Despite not being classified as a vitamin, this hormone is crucial for the absorption of calcium, which in turn is essential for maintaining healthy bones. Additionally, it plays a significant role in immune function and the reduction of inflammation. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on exploring the effects of vitamin D deficiency in athletes. Research has demonstrated that inadequate levels can lead to decreased physical performance and a higher risk of stress fractures. As more information has been uncovered regarding the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its role in promoting overall good health and optimal athletic performance, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) was raised from 400 IU to 600 IU in 2010.

– Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and selenium have important roles in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage. The hypothesis suggests that frequent exercise may cause chronic oxidative stress on the muscles due to increased oxygen consumption, thus increasing the need for antioxidants. However, this concept remains controversial. Some evidence indicates that a combination of antioxidants could potentially reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. It has been demonstrated that strenuous and prolonged exercise can elevate the daily vitamin C requirement from 100 to 1000 mg. It is important to advise athletes not to exceed the recommended upper limit of any antioxidants, as higher doses could have pro-oxidative effects and potential negative consequences.

More vitamins and supplements for athletes

Coenzyme Q10 should be thought about step by step to ensure the same meaning is maintained.

Research has demonstrated a correlation between heightened fatigue and insufficient levels of coenzyme Q10. This enzyme is present within the mitochondria, which serve as the energy-producing components of cells.

Certain conditions have been associated with reduced levels of coenzyme Q10 in the body, as stated by experts.

  • neurodegenerative diseases
  • fibromyalgia
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • mitochondrial diseases
  • muscular diseases
  • heart failure

Research has demonstrated that coenzyme Q10 has the potential to enhance both physical performance and reduce “subjective fatigue” in healthy individuals who participate in physical activities.

In a 2014 review, it was emphasized by the authors that fatigue has been consistently linked to low levels of coenzyme Q10. Nevertheless, they pointed out the challenge of interpreting these findings due to variations in fatigue definitions across research papers.

There have been varying outcomes from research analysing the effectiveness of coenzyme Q10 supplementation for athletes. For instance, a study conducted in 2012 on men who had moderate training levels discovered no proof of it enhancing their exercise capacity.

Creatine is a compound that is naturally produced in the body from amino acids. It is primarily stored in the muscles and functions as a source of energy during high-intensity, short-duration activities. Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase muscle strength and power, improve exercise performance, and enhance muscle recovery. Despite being a popular sports supplement, it may not benefit everyone equally, and individual responses to creatine supplementation can vary. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplementation regimen.

Creatine is a lawful dietary supplement for enhancing athletic performance, which is utilized by certain athletes. Although it can be obtained from red meat and seafood, it is also accessible as a supplement.

When combined with strength training, research has demonstrated that taking creatine supplements can enhance muscle mass and augment strength.

It is possible that older adults can also utilize creatine to enhance their lean muscle mass and muscle strength.

Researchers have determined that athletes who consumed a creatine supplement along with caffeine, taurine, and amino acids experienced improved concentration and increased endurance, indicating that commercial supplements frequently incorporate a combination of creatine and other substances.

It is worth noting that a portion of the funding for this study was provided by corporations engaged in the production of supplements and other merchandise.

Ashwagandha is a plant that is commonly used in traditional medicine for its various health benefits.

Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb, was the focus of a 2015 study that investigated its impact on endurance in both men and women who are healthy and athletically inclined.

Participants who were given a placebo did not experience the same level of physical endurance improvement after 8 and 12 weeks of treatment as those who received the root extract of ashwagandha.

In a separate study, the endurance of elite cyclists was examined about the consumption of ashwagandha. Following 8 weeks of treatment, the cyclists who were administered ashwagandha demonstrated a delayed onset of exhaustion during a treadmill test compared to those who received a placebo.


For athletes to attempt to enhance their performance safely, vitamins and supplements can be utilised; however, further investigation is required to ascertain the efficacy of certain supplements.

Speaking to a doctor before commencing the intake of new vitamins or supplements is of utmost importance as these substances may have an impact on the way other medications a person functions.

Adverse side effects can occur when too many supplements, like iron, are taken. In addition, certain vitamins may not effectively work unless an individual already has a deficiency. If needed, a doctor can test for vitamin deficiencies and provide guidance on how to address them.

Before considering supplements, individuals who exercise regularly but still experience low energy levels should look at other elements of their routine. Adequate sleep and a well-balanced, nutritious diet can also enhance athletic performance.

Athletes who adhere to vegetarian and vegan diets should pay special attention to ensure that they are consuming adequate amounts of the mentioned nutrients in their diet.


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