What are the best vitamins for athletes to take or increase in their diets?
If you are working to increase your performance, you may be wondering what the best vitamins for athletes are and whether or not you need them in your supplement regimen or diet.
Before we dig into which vitamins and minerals are important for an athlete, let’s first talk about what are vitamins and minerals and why we need to pay attention to them.
What are Vitamins and Minerals?
Vitamins and minerals are small compounds found in the foods we eat that help the body function. They are essential parts of every process in the body in some form or another, in relatively small amounts. They are collectively called our micronutrients.
Micronutrients are required in smaller amounts by the body while macronutrients are required in much larger amounts. The macronutrients, or macros, are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water. While the micronutrients are needed in much smaller amounts, they are vital to the function of our bodies.
Ultimately, vitamins and minerals work by helping in just about every function in the body. Breathing, energy production, muscle contraction, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom uses a vitamin and/or mineral.
Vitamins, Minerals, and Athletes: What’s the connection?
So, we have a basic understanding of the micronutrients, but why does it matter to an athlete? Why should you care? In this section we’ll go over some background on the importance of vitamins and minerals in athletics performance, breakdown if athletes truly need more, and go over some of the commonly deficient micronutrients to pay attention to.
Sports performance is all about energy production, muscle contraction, oxygen availability, and recovery. So we will focus on the micronutrients involved in those functions. We’ll discuss those needed specifically for athletes, and also those that most people experience deficiency.
Before we dive in, it’s important to mention that vitamins and minerals work by having optimal amounts in the body. If you don’t have enough, the body doesn’t function properly. You only benefit from correcting the deficiency. If you are not deficient, you do not need to take extra. To put it plainly, taking extra does not yield extra benefits!
Vitamins for Athlete Performance
Energy Production Vitamins
- Status: Research has shown blood levels of thiamin decrease with intense exercise, but has not indicated if this translates to increased needs in athletes
- Needs: Men: 1.2 mg/d, Women: 1.1 mg/d
- Sources: Pork, whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
- Rec: Pure Encapsulations BenfoMax*, Thorne Multivitamin*
Endurance and Ultra-endurance sports shows an increased production of oxidants.
- Status: most studied antioxidant in athletes. No evidence that athletes across the board have deficiency. Exercise does appear to reduce vitamin E stores and utilization.
- Needs: 15 mg/d
- Sources: nuts, seeds, sunflower oil, salmon
- Rec: Thorne Vitamin E*
- Status: No indication that athletes need more. Roughly 50% of the US population is deficient. Research indicates that increased intake can reduce instances of upper respiratory tract infection.
- Needs: Men: 90 mg/d, Women: 75 mg/d
- Sources: citrus, red peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, mango, papaya, mango, pineapple
- Rec: Garden of Life Raw Vitamin C*
- Status: No research or indication that athletes have higher needs or common deficiency
- Needs: Men: 900 mcg, Women: 700 mcg
- Sources: carrots, sweet potatoes, cod liver oil, pumpkin, cantaloupe, eggs
- Rec: Thorne Multivitamin*
Minerals for Athlete Performance
Minerals Lost in Sweat:
- Status: Sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium are all lost in sweat and losses are greater in hotter environments. These minerals primarily aid in hydration and muscle contraction.
- Needs: Oral Rehydration Solutions for electrolyte replacement during heavy sweating and hot summer months
- Sodium: salty food, shrimp, Oral Rehydration Solutions
- Potassium: banana, potatoes, beans, lentils, greens
- Chloride: table salt
- Calcium: dairy, greens
- Rec: Electrolytes: DripDrop*, Calcium: Thorne Multivitamin*
Minerals Lost in Urine
- Status: No indication that iron needs are higher in athletes, however, with increased avoidance of red meats and poor absorption of iron from vegetable sources, iron deficiency is common in many people. Iron is primarily involved in oxygen delivery and energy production.
- Needs: Men: 8 mg/d, Women: 17 mg/d; note: supplemental iron does not translate directly to these numbers due to poor absorption of non-heme iron.
- Heme iron: red meat, shellfish, dark meat poultry
- Non-heme iron: greens, beans, nuts, dark chocolate, lentils
- Rec: always check with a doctor before supplementation of iron due to potential toxicity: Vegetarian/Vegan: Thorne Iron Bisglycinate*, Heme/Non-Vegan/Better absorption: Simply Heme*
- Status: No indication for higher needs in athletes, but zinc plays pivotal roles in over 200 body processes. It is also an important part of immune health and preventing illness. While needs may not be higher, chronic dehydration and increased losses in urine make zinc something to monitor.
- Needs: Men: 11 mg/d, Women: 8 mg/d
- Sources: nuts, seeds, meat, dairy, dark chocolate
- Rec: Garden of Life Raw Zinc*
Mineral Deficiencies due to Low Energy Intake
- Status: There are many minerals that are often deficient in sports that are focused on body weight and therefore tend to result in lower than ideal energy intake. Reduced intake of energy/food typically results in reduced intake of micronutrients. Sports such as gymnastics, dance, horseback riding/jockey, and wrestling are of particular importance. Also, female athletes tend to experience these deficiencies more often.
- Needs: calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, copper
- Sources: Food variety is the best way to counteract this. If energy intake is limited or restricted, paying attention to a variety of colors, fruits, veggies, and whole grains can reduce the risk.
- Rec: Thorne Multivitamin*
This is not a complete and exhaustive list of micronutrients involved in athletics, but a look at some of the vitamins and minerals that athletes may need more of, lose more of, or commonly be deficient in. The only true way to know your micronutrient status is to contact us for diet analysis and individualized micronutrient testing.
Check out our other blogs for athletes and sports nutrition!