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How Do Multivitamins Affect Athletes?
What You Should Know

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 30, 2021

The majority of the male and female athletes that I work with focus most or all of their dietary attention on different types of proteins instead of multivitamins and minerals.

Ignoring vitamin and mineral supplements could leave you open to reduced athletic performance and energy production.

So, we teamed up with a dietitian to give you a better understanding of why vitamins are important, which ones to focus on and how to boost your nutritional intake.

Here’s what we found.

How Do Multivitamins Help Athletic Performance?

Different multivitamins and an athlete flexing his mucles

There are two main factors you have to consider when it comes to physical performance.

First of all, there’s the energy production from your metabolism.

And because athletes have higher energy requirements, their metabolic pathways need to have a wide range of vitamins for optimum effects.

More on those in the next section.

Secondly, there’s the ability of your muscles to use as much available energy as possible and repair damaged muscle fibers as quickly as possible.

This is often where endurance athletes focus too much on protein-based dietary supplements and end up limiting their performance.

See our article on the best multivitamins for athletes.

Which Vitamins Are Best For An Athlete To Focus On?

The good thing about most multivitamin supplements is that they also contain some important minerals.

Here is a full list of the most important micronutrients we have identified.

1. Vitamin D

Close up image of supplements

Vitamin D deficiency has become quite common with people using sunscreen and sun blockers.

While it’s important to protect yourself from harmful UVs, it’s just as important to get enough vitamin D.

One study, in particular, looked at muscle performance in athletes who had a deficiency and found a direct link [1].

The scientists specifically highlighted energy metabolism and general weakness in muscles.

As it also plays a critical role in immune health, athletes can benefit from not wasting energy on fighting infections. Our dietitian pointed out that this is the top recommendation when it comes to vitamins and minerals.

2. Vitamin C

Here’s where things get interesting.

We often just think of vitamin C as helping our immune system. But it’s also a powerful antioxidant that athletes will require quite a bit more of than non-athletes.

Let me explain.

Exercise, especially high-intensity exercise, causes quite a bit of oxidative stress. Everything from lactic acid to toxins released through fatty acids can increase your overall toxicity.

These exercise stresses can build up over time, which is why severe weight loss practices should also factor in detoxification.

Vitamin C is by far the most effective and easiest way to get a detox boost. And with a balanced diet, you might not even need to boost your nutritional intake with supplements.

3. Vitamin E

Supplements spilled on a glass container

This is another vitamin that may play a critical role in helping athletes deal with the increased levels of oxidative toxins.

People who don’t exercise will also have a natural level of toxin build-up but because metabolic rates and muscle activity are so much higher for athletes, the increased levels of toxins can become problematic.

Studies have shown that vitamin E may have a direct link to the toxins stored in fat [2].

That makes it particularly interesting for athletes in a cutting phase or anyone going through a weight loss diet.

4. Vitamin B

Let me give you a bit of background on B vitamins. There are quite a few different vitamins that belong to this category, including B6 and B12.

While they collectively perform multiple different roles in the body, they are particularly important for creating red blood cells.

And it’s your red blood cells that are responsible for getting oxygen and nutrients to all your organs and muscles.

Now, it doesn’t take a seriously low red blood count to impact how well your muscles perform.

And with increased levels of activity, there is also a much higher need for boosted oxygen transportation and energy supply.

Don’t let your red blood cell count become a bottleneck.

5. Calcium

Holding a pill and the supplement container

For the remainder of this section, I want to focus on a few minerals that you will often find in multivitamin supplements.

The first of these is calcium, and most people will think of it in the context of bone health.

And yes, that’s a particularly important area where the body needs calcium to repair and maintain optimum bone density.

A lack of calcium may increase the chances of stress fractures, but there is more to it.

I was surprised to hear that it plays a similar role to magnesium when it comes to muscle contraction and recovery [3].

It seems like an easy way to improve performance and overall health at the same time.

6. Iron

Iron deficiency has a major impact on your red blood cell count, and a significant deficiency can cause anemia.

One of the major side effects of this is a constant feeling of tiredness and exhaustion, which goes to show how important the link between your red blood cell levels and energy is.

Most people who have a well-balanced diet with some red meat and certain leafy greens shouldn’t run into trouble.

But athletes will have higher demands and could benefit a lot from ensuring that iron levels don’t dip too low.

7. Sodium

Pouring capsules on other hand

This is one of the more important electrolytes, but with people paying a lot of attention to not eating too much salt, there could be a risk of running low on sodium.

Yes, too much salt in your diet may cause significant heart issues.

But when you’re sweating a lot during exercise, then you have to replenish that lost sodium.

Without a steady supply of electrolytes, you could dehydrate and negatively impact physical performance.

8. Magnesium

And finally, magnesium should be in any good multivitamin and mineral product, even if it’s in relatively small amounts.

Without magnesium, an athlete can quickly experience regular cramps, especially during the night when muscles are repairing.

It’s one of the minerals that sports medicine recommends the most for high-performance athletes to maintain maximum muscle function.

And magnesium is a cheap mineral to get in supplement form.

Do Athletes Need More Multivitamins Than The Average Person?

A person holding a different multivitamin supplements on his hand

Yes, athletes need more multivitamins than the average non-athletic person.

Certain vitamins, like vitamin C, D, and B vitamins, are needed for multiple metabolic and muscle functions.

Even with a routine exercise regime, a poor diet will quickly limit how well your body functions.

And when you add the need to repair muscles, ligaments, tendons and improve bone health, you get a clear picture of how important vitamins and minerals are.

Is It Best To Get Your Nutrition From Food Or Supplements?

A hand holding a meal full of vegetables and another hand holding a number of supplements

Generally speaking, it’s always best to get as many of your vital macro and micronutrients from a carefully planned and balanced diet.

But when it comes to the physical demands of intensive training and getting to optimal performance, that can become a tough task.

And if you’re doing some form of a restriction diet, e.g., vegan and vegetarian athletes, then the need for vitamin supplements becomes even greater.

You can achieve a certain level of boost through fortified foods, but our dietitian highlighted that these are often highly processed.

That’s why she recommends getting a boost of vitamins and minerals through high-quality supplements.

Have You Taken A Closer Look At Your Vitamin Intake?

If you have any concerns that you might be lacking some vitamins, then I suggest these approaches.

Ask your health care provider for a full blood test giving you results that include all micronutrients. This will show you exactly where you might need to make improvements.

Also, start tracking your food intake with an app like Noom. This might be able to identify which nutrients you’re not getting enough of. And it will even recommend some nutrient-dense sources to get a boost.

And if you’ve had some personal experiences and recommendations for vitamins and minerals, then please share them with us in the comments or on social media.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289217/
  2. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional
  3. https://www.hss.edu/playbook/why-calcium-matters-for-sports-and-where-to-get-it

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