What Are Vitamins?

holding a pill bottle

What Are Vitamins | Nutrient-Dense Foods | Fat-Soluble Vs. Water-Soluble Vitamins | Best Vitamin D Supplements | Best Magnesium Supplements | Best Iron Supplements | Best Vitamins for Energy | Best Beet Supplements | Best Vitamin B12 Supplements | Best Calcium Supplements

There are a thousand different types of vitamin supplements out there, all with different ingredients, formulas, and dosages. But what are vitamins really? Do we need to take them? How do I know which ones I should take and how often? Which vitamin does my body actually need to stay fit and healthy? Well, consider this story your ultimate guide to everything you need to know about vitamins.

What Do Vitamins Do?

Vitamins act as assistants that help facilitate several reactions in the body. These reactions are essential for metabolism, growth and development, vision, and organ and immune functioning.

Vitamins are also essential for helping your body produce energy and transport oxygen. They help your muscles contract and relax and are important for building and maintaining cartilage, bone, and muscle. Like an internal bodyguard, vitamins also help protect your body from damage.

Key Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals

Both vitamins and minerals are essential to human health. However, there are a few distinctions between vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are organic compounds found in plants and animals, while minerals are found in soil and water. Vitamins are classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins require fat for digestion and absorption. They can also accumulate in the body and are therefore toxic when taken in high doses. Water soluble vitamins require water for absorption. With the exception of vitamin B12, all other water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body. Only vitamin D and vitamin K can be synthesized by your body. Vitamin D can be synthesized when the skin is exposed to sunlight and gut bacteria can make vitamin K. However, many individuals still do not make enough vitamin D or get enough from their food. Therefore, most people need supplemental doses of vitamins D and K to help meet their daily needs. All other vitamins need to be consumed.

Why Vitamins Are Important for Athletes

Vitamins have a number of important roles for athletes including energy production, oxygen transport, and muscle contraction and relaxation. In addition, vitamins build structures in the body and synthesize and repair muscle tissue. For instance, vitamin C is a cofactor for building collagen, one of the most abundant proteins in ligaments, tendons, and bones. Vitamin E is incorporated in the body's cellular and subcellular membranes, where it helps prevent oxidative damage in cell membranes.

It should come as no surprise that exercise stresses many vitamin-dependent pathways in the body. Also, deficiencies or insufficiencies in certain nutrients can impair training adaptations and performance. Despite this, there is surprisingly little research on vitamin needs in athletes and active adults. And there is no indication that excess nutrient intake, beyond the requirements for general health, will improve athletic performance. In some cases, excess consumption of specific vitamins may actually interfere with performance, training adaptations, and recovery.

What Vitamin Supplements Should I Take?

Your need for vitamin supplements depends on your current dietary intake, any particular health needs you have, and your body's stores of vitamins. Commonly underconsumed vitamins include vitamins A, C, D, E, and folate. Those at greatest risk of inadequacy or deficiency include anyone who is dieting or cutting out specific food groups, as well as those with a nutrient-poor diet. Water-soluble vitamins, with the exception of vitamin B12, need to be replenished daily, as they are not stored in the body. Any excess consumed is excreted in urine. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and not needed every day.

Though vitamin A is one that is typically underconsumed, caution must be taken when considering vitamin A supplements. Because it is fat-soluble and therefore stored in the body, it is not wise to take in large doses over time. In fact, one single massive dose of vitamin A can be toxic, as can large doses of vitamin A taken consistently. Signs and symptoms of chronic consumption of very high intakes of vitamin A might include increased cerebrospinal fluid pressure, dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting, nausea, bone and muscle pain, headaches, and poor muscular coordination. An easier way to get vitamin A may be through nutrient-rich foods.

Though vitamin C is water soluble and generally harmless, large doses can interfere with your training gains. Use it without setting you back by taking a small amount (about 50mg or the amount in one orange) alongside your collagen one hour before exercise to support tendon health and strong ligaments. While taking it preventatively won't help prevent a cold for most people, doing so might shorten the duration or severity of a cold. For this purpose, consider taking about 200mg or the amount in five servings of fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin D is critical for bone health, muscle functioning, immune health, and keeping inflammation at bay. Consider a vitamin D supplement if you have insufficient or deficient levels of this vitamin as measured in your blood. Taking too much vitamin D (more than needed to reach a healthy blood level of vitamin D) isn't helpful and may be harmful.

Folate is one of several B vitamins that work together to help convert the food we eat into usable energy. In addition, vitamins B12 and folate are important for repairing damage to muscle cells. While a nutrient-rich diet can easily help you meet your B vitamin needs, women of childbearing age have an increased need for folate and those who are vegetarians and vegans need to be cognizant of getting supplemental doses of vitamin B12 or consuming vitamin B12 fortified foods. While B12 shots are trendy, they are not necessary unless you have a deficiency.

Many adults aren't meeting their vitamin needs. Anyone who is cutting calories and those who cut out food groups are less likely to meet their vitamin needs. In particular, active individuals may feel the effects of an adequate vitamin intake. Taking a vitamin B complex or multivitamin can help fill in nutrient gaps and give you a little added insurance that your nutrient needs are being met.

What Are Vitamins | Nutrient-Dense Foods | Fat-Soluble Vs. Water-Soluble Vitamins | Best Vitamin D Supplements | Best Magnesium Supplements | Best Iron Supplements | Best Vitamins for Energy | Best Beet Supplements | Best Vitamin B12 Supplements | Best Calcium Supplements