The Athlete’s Guide to Vitamins

The Athlete’s Guide to Vitamins

Hey Angels and Alphas,

We’ve talked about vitamins and minerals many times before, but never in detail. I feel like vitamins/minerals are a topic that gets talked about a lot, and I’m happy about that. At the same time, a lot of the voices surrounding it are only there to help the fitness industry benefit.

Nevertheless, vitamins and minerals are crucial for you, regardless if you’re an athlete or not. Some studies out there point out that vitamin intakes should generally be higher for athletes to improve optimum performance. However, there’s no specific guideline on how much vitamins/minerals an athlete should be taking.

If you work closely with a dietitian or a nutritionist, they’ll help you get a better idea of the vitamins you might be deficient in. Those are truly the only ones you need to focus on.

There hasn’t been much evidence supporting the idea that taking extra vitamins helps improve performance (more on that later). However, there has been a ton of evidence proving that vitamin deficiencies are nasty and can cause an enormous amount of problems if not properly addressed.

Today, I want to shine light on the most famous vitamins and minerals that gym-lovers and athletes love taking. They are staples in vitamin supplements often recommended by nutritionists, and statistically speaking, you might have a deficiency in at least one of them.

So regardless if you’re an athlete or not, let’s get into it.

The B-Vitamins

The B-Vitamins are regarded as some of the best vitamins for increasing your energy and focus. A deficiency in pretty much any B vitamin would lead to having less energy and worse cognitive capabilities. This means bad memory, low concentration, and even low mental resilience. People who are deficient in B-vitamins have even demonstrated slow learning ability. Yikes.

That’s why they’re in pretty much the staple in almost every vitamin supplement. They’re used in everything. From breaking down nutrients into serotonin to proper cell function.

If you want to get a boost of concentration and productivity (or at least up to the normal level), make sure you’re taking enough B-1 (Thiamin) B-3 (Niacin), B-6, B-9, and B-12.

  • Vitamin B-1 is known as Thiamin. It plays a crucial role in breaking down carbs and protein. Good sources include peanuts, black beans, and grain products. Good sources: Whole or fortified grain products, pork, peanuts, and black beans.
  • Vitamin B-3 is also known as Niacin. Good sources are peanuts, fish, brown rice, and whole grains.
  • Vitamin B-6 is involved in a vast amount of metabolic pathways – it’s essential for the optimal breakdown of food (and particularly carbohydrates) from big nutrients into small units the body can use. Good sources include bananas, tuna, chickpeas, and pistachios.
  • Vitamin B-9 is called Folate, and it’s essential to the production of red blood cells. It also helps create and maintain new cells. It’s one of the building blocks of DNA and RNA. Good sources include avocados, leafy greens, broccoli, green peas and more.
  • Vitamin B-12 is one of those vitamins labeled a “performance enhancer”. When it comes down to it, I suggest you watch your supplement intake and focus more on food sources (if you can). Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal products.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’re most probably aware that it’s a common deficiency. What I’ve seen as the best alternative to that are breakfast cereals or plant-based meats. Be sure to read the label and make sure the label says “fortified”. Meaning the food is vitamin and mineral enriched.

B-12 is a common supplement, but you need to check with your doctor or nutritionist to make sure you need it. Good sources include milk, cheese, eggs, meats, and the above-mentioned fortified cereals.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is one of the easiest to manage – you get it from the sun! That being said, depending on things such as your location, skin color, and weight, you could be absorbing Vitamin D differently.

When it comes to Vitamin D3 (one of the two main forms, the other being D2), it’s regarded as one of the best focus and concentration supplements. It plays an important role in the nervous system, as it’s involved in over 200 processes around your body, from your bones to your mood.

Needless to say, that’s not a deficiency you’d want. To perform at your best as an athlete, you need that optimal cognitive function.

In western society, about half the people are deficient in Vitamin D3 – essentially risking physical and mental issues. This, too, is common for vegetarians and vegans.

Some great sources of vitamin D – direct sunlight! Also eggs and fish – tuna, salmon, sardines, oysters, shrimps, etc. For plant-based diets, go with fortified soy milk.

Vitamin A

You’ve probably heard how essential vitamin A is when it comes to vision. But there’s more! It’s also a powerful antioxidant. What’s important about vitamin A is that it can be dangerous when it’s in excess – make sure you’re not overdoing it with your supplementation.

Sources of vitamin A include carrots, pumpkins, spinach, sweet potatoes and more.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Regarded as one of the best supplements out there in the world of vitamins, they’re responsible for a huge array of functions from your liver, to your heart, to your eyes.

But the more important benefits of Omega 3 come through as improved cognitive functions. It’s proven to directly affect brain size, improve memory, boost your attention span, and heighten the speed of neural transfer while working on a complex task.

Most people nowadays are deficient in Omega 3, and that’s not good news. Low-fat diets are making this deficiency popular, and the irony here is that this leads to higher rates of diabetes and obesity. Also, depression and a whole bunch of cognitive/attention disorders.

When it comes to Omega 3, they’re crucial regardless if you’re an athlete or not.

They’re found in salmon, oysters, fish oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and dairy.

Magnesium

We’ve talked about how awesome Magnesium is before, but we’ll do it again.

Magnesium has been proven to assist healthy bone mass, better workout performance, and blood sugar regulation – in clinical research. It’s a crucial component of thousands of chemical reactions in your body. It also plays a role in converting B-vitamins into their active form.

Magnesium has also been linked to lower stress and anxiety levels. It helps your entire physiology run smoothly, and those who take it often report feeling relaxed, calm, and more focused throughout the day.

If you’re not supplementing with it already, give it a try. Other than that, you can find it in almonds, cashews, avocados, seeds, and best of all, dark chocolate.

Calcium

Many regard Calcium as the most important nutrient for athletes. However, most people nowadays are deficient in it – or at least consume less than the optimum daily dose.

Calcium intake is mostly a concern for female athletes. I won’t go into detail, but make sure your calcium intake is high if you’re training – especially if you’re young.

You should monitor your calcium intake, and make sure you’re consuming at least 1000mg a day. If you have a dairy sensitivity and you can’t get calcium from dairy, supplementation is often the easier option rather than chugging glasses of skim milk all day.

Iron

Iron plays a huge role in transporting oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiencies often lead to fatigue and lower physical performance.

For the athletes who train less than 4 days a week, iron deficiencies are most likely not a problem. But if you’re training 6 days a week, every week, you must get checked for an iron deficiency. Like right now.

Athletes usually use up iron quicker than non-athletes, but nevertheless, optimal iron intake is crucial to proper growth and body function.

Some great sources include beans, spinach, oats, clams, beef, and turkey.

What about Sodium?

The combination of sodium and chloride (essentially table salt) makes a frequent appearance in sports supplements.

The only thing you need to know here is that if you’re doing cardio all the time and you’re sweating a lot, you might be risking a sodium depletion. Weigh yourself before and after training sessions and try to determine how much fluid you’re losing. Stay hydrated, and make sure you get some more sodium in if you plan on sweating all day.

Conclusion – Don’t Just Take Multivitamins

If there’s one thing I want you to know about vitamins, is that they’re not simple. Some cause problems when you’re deficient, other cause problems when they’re in excess.

But hopefully, you can now identify some of the markers of these deficiencies (or their opposite).

The solution is probably not laying around in a bottle waiting to be taken in tables every day. The solution to optimal vitamin intake is in your diet, and most importantly, you have to figure out what vitamins and minerals you’re deficient in – and get that handled as soon as possible, regardless if you’re an athlete or not.