Vitamins and Minerals – Are They Really Needed?
Vitamins and minerals are an essential part of an athlete’s diet and should not be overlooked. They are essential for metabolizing energy from food, building tissues, fluid balance, carrying elements like oxygen and removing by-products of metabolism from tissues.
A really surprising fact about vitamins and minerals that most do not know is that consuming too much of any vitamin can actually be just as harmful as consuming too little. Dietary supplements taken by athletes can be problematic from another angle. In 2001, the IOC testing laboratory found that 24% of all samples tested contained nandrolone, a banned anabolic steroid. In the end, nutrient supplements should only be taken when real food is not available or impractical.
Vitamins are either water soluble or fat soluble. Those athletes who try to avoid fats in their diet are losing out on a number of vitamins and essential fatty acids to their health. Fats should make up 20-25% of total calorie intake every day.
Your body will use vitamin-B to break down carbohydrates to release energy. The more energy burned doing sports, the more vitamin B needed in your diet. By eating a diet rich in fortified and enriched grain products, there is little chance of being deficient in B vitamins.
If you suspect that your diet may be lacking in some nutrients, consult with a registered dietitian rather than attempting to decipher the problem yourself.
There are differences between vitamins and minerals. Unlike a vitamin deficiency, a lack of minerals can take a long time to fix. Anemia (lacking iron) can take upwards of 6 months to correct. A shortage of minerals can lead to poor performance for extended periods. The most common mineral deficiencies are iron and calcium. To keep levels consistent, it is not recommended to take a supplement as it is a large dose once or twice a day. Minerals absorb slowly so taking them as a part of whole food over the course of the day will aid in their assimilation.
A lack of calcium can lead to skeletal issues like rickets and stress fractures. A normal diet should contain 1 000 – 1 500 mg of calcium a day. A regular glass of milk is 300 mg so that would mean up to 5 cups of milk a day. Calcium intake does not have to be solely from milk. Dark green vegetables, peas and beans. One issue is that calcium is bound to oxalates in vegetables which can be released by blanching them (dipping in hot water). Oxalates are water soluble so this will help make the calcium available for absorption.
Red meats are a great source of iron as well as zinc. Unfortunately, that leaves vegetarians at risk but with careful planning, enriched grains and vegetables can be a great source. Having to use an iron supplement is quite rare and will not be necessary in the majority of cases.
With athletes sweating a lot, there is a risk of electrolyte loss,especially sodium. Losing too much sodium can affect blood volume and sweat rate. To replenish lost sodium, a quality sports drink like Gatorade is all that is needed. An intake of 50 – 200 mg per cup is ideal.
Vitamins and minerals from whole food are the best sources. Over consumption can be an issue so taking a supplement to “be sure” can decrease your performance. Stick to a quality nutrition plan and vitamins and minerals will be a natural part of your diet.
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