Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: Positive Impact on Performance?
If any number of athletes were asked about vitamin and mineral supplementation, they would most likely read off a laundry list of various pills and powders that they consume. In general, most athletes and health conscious exercisers are apprehensive about not reaching adequate vitamin and mineral intake. However, no current research supports consuming vitamins and minerals above RDA (recommended daily allowance) will lead to improved performance.
While certain populations might present with individual deficiencies, thus warranting specific supplementation, in general, megadosing vitamins and minerals would not only fail to improve performance, but pose a threat towards health and potentially retard performance. The following article will help detail how various vitamins and minerals can have an impact on athletic/exercise performance.
Vitamins are organic compounds that are integral to metabolism and development. There are two sub-categories of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Vitamins have several critical functions in the human body including calcium absorption (vitamin D), cartilage health (vitamin C), limiting free radicals (vitamin C, E and B-carotene), critical roles in fat and carbohydrate metabolism (vitamin B3, B6, B1, B2), immune function (vitamin B12, folic acid, A, C, and E) and formation of visual pigments (vitamin A).
Minerals are inorganic compounds found in nature that are essential for life and consist of macrominerals (potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and sulfur) and microminerals (including but not limited to: chromium, cobalt, fluorine, iodine, iron, molybdenum, selenium, vanadium and zinc). Some minerals are the building blocks of tissues, while others are involved in oxygen transport, regulating metabolism and serving as electrolytes.
Supplementation: More harm than good
Despite all the essential roles that vitamins and minerals play in the body, supplementation will often lead to toxic levels of the specific molecular compound in the body. For example, vitamin C is commonly supplemented at levels greater than 1,000 mg/day, but this megadose may be associated with increased risk of kidney stones. Furthermore, the fat-soluble vitamins can cause serious illness when taken in excess, with common maladies including nausea, liver damage, joint pains, fatigue and vomiting. Megadosing anti-oxidants like vitamin C, E and B-carotene has also been reported to significantly impair adaptation to exercise or even increase risk of certain cancers.
There are several populations that may require additional supplementation due to specific diets or workloads. The at risk populations include low-body weight and weight-class athletes like female gymnasts and wrestlers, vegetarians, those training in higher altitudes, and individuals whose training causes high levels of muscle damage. The general conclusion of sport nutrition researchers however is that eating a balanced diet will fulfill most, if not all, vitamin and mineral requirements.