Do Athletes Need More Vitamins and Minerals?
The Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamins and minerals reflect recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and are meant for healthy, moderately active people. There remain some questions as to whether or not the vitamin and mineral needs of athletes are higher than the needs of the general population. Several factors associated with high-intensity training have been thought to increase one's requirements including:
- Excessive losses through sweat, urine and feces
- Additional stress put on the energy producing pathways of the body
- Changes in body composition (muscle growth and repair) and maintenance of lean muscle tissue
A 2006 review of the available literature concluded that exercise might increase the requirements for riboflavin and vitamin B6, while requirements for folate and vitamin B12 may also be increased but more research is needed.
A severe deficiency in folate, vitamin B12, or both, is most likely to have a devastating effect on performance as it can result in anemia and a reduced ability to transfer oxygen to working muscles. However, short-term or acute deficiencies in the B vitamins resulting from intense exercise have not been shown to clearly impact performance in athletes.
Due to the equivocal outcomes and limitations of research studies to date, the IOM has not created vitamin and mineral recommendations specific to athletes. It is a generally accepted notion that if athletes are consuming enough energy to meet their caloric needs, they will also be consuming more than enough vitamins and minerals to account for the possibility of increased requirements.
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Who May Need to Supplement?Research has shown that supplementing with one or more vitamins/minerals doesn't improve the athletic performance of people consuming adequate diets. Still, the sports nutrition market is saturated with products claiming to provide more energy and enhanced performance due to the mega doses of B vitamins they contain.
The fact is B vitamins don't actually provide energy because they don't have any calories. The calories in the foods we eat are what get converted to usable energy. B vitamins simply help in those pathways that turn the food calories into energy. So although being deficient in B vitamins may limit your ability to produce energy, simply taking more B vitamins than your body requires will not result in more energy.
Because B vitamins are water-soluble, the excess will be excreted from the body. That is why it is important to maintain a good daily diet that is rich in foods containing B vitamins.
Athletes who regularly restrict calories or limit certain food groups like meat or dairy (vegetarians and vegans) are at an increased risk of developing deficiencies. Furthermore, the popularity of low-carb diets for weight loss may lead to a significant decrease in enriched grain products and a resulting decrease in B-vitamin intake.