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Do Athletes Need a Multi-nutrient Supplement?
Even with a healthy nutritious diet, most of us need to supplement with extra nutrients -in fact, nutrient deficiencies are quite common. The busy modern-day life often leads to us to being low in critical micronutrients that can support a healthy lifestyle. Our foods also lack the quality they used to have due to soil depletion over the years; the vitamin and mineral content of food decades ago was higher. The need for nutritional supplements is therefore more important than ever - read more about this here.
Since athletes have higher metabolisms and need their bodies to function at intense levels, they tend to have higher nutrient needs than non-athletes. If you want to progress and perform optimally, your diet can play an important role in reaching your goals. Head over to our article 'Fuelling your Performance' to learn more about the role of nutrition in exercise.
It is often that athletes think primarily about consuming the right amount of carbohydrates and protein, but it should not end there - the attention should also be on nutritional gaps in the diet. The body requires a delicate balance of micronutrients to feel and perform at its best, and while a ‘food first’ approach should be taken, a multi-nutrient offers nutritional insurance when you are not quite sure if you are hitting the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals. Although supplements may not always enhance your performance, a deficiency is likely to damage it.
An athlete’s body is subject to a lot of stress during exercise, and so they must compensate with the right nutrients. The more intense the exercise, the greater the needs. The micronutrients to focus on are calcium, zinc, magnesium, the B vitamins, and vitamin D, as well as antioxidants such as vitamins C, A and E, and polyphenols. Some more than others, particularly in female athletes and those on a plant-based diet.
Nutrients in depth
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, it is important for the growth, maintenance, and repair of bones. Calcium is also important for the regulation of muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and blood clotting. Athletes lose calcium at a higher rate through perspiration, ensuring this mineral is replaced, will decrease the risk of low bone-mineral density and stress fractures, as well as prevent muscle cramps from occurring.
Zinc plays a crucial role in immune function and recovery following high intensity exercise. Immunity insurance during periods of intensified training and competition is of great importance. Research shows that strenuous exercise decreases immunity short-term, consuming an optimal amount of zinc will help combat these effects.
Magnesium is critical for maintaining strong bones; it helps to regulate a sufficient balance of calcium and vitamin D in the body, as well as maintaining normal nerve and muscle function. Magnesium also plays a key role in processing carbohydrates and fats for fuel. A shortfall of magnesium in athletes can reduce energy production, and furthermore, lead to fatigue and reduced muscle power.
Vitamin D plays a role in the absorption of calcium, immune function, and muscle inflammation. Low levels can decrease physical performance and increase the incidence of stress fractures. Most of the population have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D due to a lack of sunlight; these low levels are more pronounced in the winter months and if a majority of training takes place indoors.
Athletes may have an increased need for vitamin C, E and A, and polyphenols. Prolonged exercise causes oxidative stress on a cellular level and the need for antioxidants heightens. Oxidative stress can lead to muscular damage and accelerated fatigue, which is not ideal for an athlete looking to perform at their best. Introducing antioxidants into their diet will reduce oxidative stress and therefore detrimental effects against sporting performance. Research has shown a reduction in muscle damage following a marathon race when supplementing with vitamin E and C, demonstrating a prevalence for supplementation among athletes.
Polyphenols are compounds found in many plants, fruits, vegetables, and even chocolate! They greatly benefit health and protect against degenerative diseases. There is a great interest in the potential of polyphenols to prevent oxidative stress and modulate athletic performance. Recent evidence suggests that foods high in polyphenols can accelerate recovery after exercise and therefore a crucial role in athletic performance. Research has also demonstrated an increase in endurance and repeated sprint ability.
B vitamins hold a multitude of benefits from energy production to immune system support. Thiamine, riboflavin, and B12 are particularly important in producing red blood cells and improving the metabolism and absorption of food for energy production, this is crucial for athletes to maximise energy levels and therefore avoid fatigue. The formation of new red blood cells improves oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, which has been shown to improve athletic performance. Our bodies cannot make vitamin B12 so it must be obtained through our diet, those on a plant-based diet may struggle to reach B12 requirements, which is where a multi-nutrient comes into play.
There are no official guidelines specific to athletes at this time, so individualised guidance is needed. It is safe to say that athletes should look to maximise their vitamin and mineral levels to ensure optimal health and performance.
Choosing a multi-nutrient supplement
When choosing a multi-nutrient supplement, opt for a ‘real food’ supplement, with natural food extracts, containing no faux chemical alternatives. A nutritional super blend such as Good Green Vitality is more than ideal for filling the gaps. With over 75 ingredients, it is a complex formula made up of a base of greens, fruit, and vegetables, fortified with vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients in their most bioavailable forms. Containing ingredients which address all our metabolic pathways: energy, digestion, immunity, stress and cognitive. Good Green Vitality includes probiotics, digestive enzymes, additional antioxidants, adaptogenic herbs, CoQ10, Alpha Lipoic Acid and much more – none of which are found in a standard multi-vitamin.