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Vitamins-Do you need them?

Vitamins-Do you need them?

"So most people and athletes are often confused how vitamins work, thinking they provide energy.  Because they do not contain calories, micronutrients cannot boost energy stores.  However, they are crucial for turning food into energy through metabolic pathways.  For example, many B vitamins aid in energy being released from carbohydrates.  Other important roles of micronutrients include aiding in the production of oxygen-carrying proteins, maintenance of bone health, proper immune system function, and fluid balance.  They also help with the synthesis and repair of new muscle tissue and protect against oxidative stress."  

Since athletes have higher rates of energy metabolism than sedentary people, they tend to have higher micronutrient needs than non-athletes or people not putting the same stress on their body.  The main key is find out what exactly you are eating.  Understanding what exactly you are eating will help to determine if you need specific supplementation.  Try to get a base performance-eating plan in place and then fill in the rest with dietary supplements.  

Satisfying caloric needs is essential for making gains in strength and performance goals, overall energy levels, immune system functioning, and hormonal balance.  That cannot be replaced with a supplement.  Eating whole foods is always better than taking a pill.  You were meant to digest food not pills.  So although supplementing a healthy diet is fine the vitamins in a pill form are not always completely absorbed properly.  A great example of this is some types of iron are difficult for the body to absorb and utilize when eaten alone, but when consumed with a food high in vitamin C, absorption is enhanced.

There is five factors to keep in mind when ensuring adequate amounts of micronutrients from whole food.

1. Nutrient Density-This means foods with lots of color (fruits, veggies), whole grains, nuts, seeds, and a variety of lean protein sources.

2.  Balance: Having a happy share of macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins) from each of the food groups.  

3.  Variety: Choosing a variety of foods from each of the food groups can help greatly with getting adequate vitamins and minerals.  

4.  Fortified Foods: Many foods today are fortified, especially those marketed to athletes.  As athletes strive to get the right dosages of micronutrients, they need to be aware of the levels of vitamins and minerals in the fortified foods they consume.  For example, nutritional shakes and bars can have large amounts of certain micronutrients that could cause an athlete to meet or exceed their needs with supplementation.

5.  Food Quality:  Always try to choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season or frozen when they are not.  Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of their ripeness (when they contain most nutrition) and flash frozen.  Look for those that are in their original form and not covered in sauces and breading.  Also, try to avoid overcooking vegetables which causes micronutrients to diminish.  

Remember: You can't out-train a poor diet and you can't out supplement a poor diet.

For in-depth information about dietary supplements visit the helpful website:

www.usada.org/supplement411.

-Amy Culp-RD, CSSD, LD is an Assistant Athletics Director and the sports dietitian at the University of Texas.

Training and Conditioning Magazine Volume XXIII