During my private practice with soccer players, the following case happened: one athlete appeared in my office and told me he needed to take “some vitamin pills”, because he was getting too tired! This belief, common between many athletes, alerts to the need of a better clarification on multivitamin and mineral supplementation.
Vitamins are metabolic catalysts that regulate biochemical reactions within your body and minerals are required co-factors for function of numerous enzymes in almost every aspect of metabolism and physiology. Roles that directly influence athletic performance include oxygen use, energy generation, hormone function, antioxidant status and muscular contraction.
As so, vitamins and minerals are undoubtedly indispensable to your good health, and because your body doesn’t produce them, you must obtain them through your diet.
However, there is no scientific evidence that soccer players and other athletes need more vitamin and minerals than is recommended for the “average” person.
According to the International Olympic Committee, the best way to get all the needed vitamins and minerals is to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups.
A vitamin and mineral deficiency can really impair your health and performance, but it would take weeks to months of suboptimal ingestion (as can happen in anorexia) to develop such a deficit, because your body has good stores of most of these nutrients.
On the other hand don’t forget that, in general, the more you exercise the more you eat, so you end up ingesting more vitamins too. But caution, this will only happen if you eat a variety of wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy foods, rather than processed foods, refined sugar, too many sweets and treats. Eating vegetable soup on a daily basis and fruit shakes regularly are excellent ways to help you ingest all the micronutrients you need, with the additional benefits of carbohydrates and protein (mostly in shake), fiber and water (mostly in soup).
A lot has been said lately about the benefits of antioxidants for the general population and also for athletes. Although they’re important compounds, consuming high dosages of antioxidants is unlikely to be of real practical benefit and may actually have a pro-oxidant effect (i.e. elevates metabolic stress) which is precisely the opposite of what would be desired.
This way, instead of taking supplements with antioxidant vitamins (A, E, C and beta-carotene) you may choose the common foods I previously mentioned, making a special effort in the case of fruit (3-5 per day) and vegetables (300-500g per day), because food contains them in the right amounts (as well as other nutrients your body needs).
Cases where vitamin and mineral supplementation may be useful to soccer players and other athletes:
ü Proven deficiency of any micronutrient;
ü Weight-loss programs with long periods of energy restriction: athletes ingesting less than 1500kcal per day are more likely to miss their daily micronutrient needs;
ü Athletes with heavy competition schedule where normal eating patterns may be disrupted;
ü Athletes who overtrain and eat poorly as a result of being too tired to prepare balanced meals;
ü Indoor athletes: Futsal (indoor soccer) players, for instance, may be more susceptible to develop a vitamin D deficiency, due to the little solar exposure;
ü Vegan athletes: individuals who abstain of eating any kind of animal food can develop deficiency on B2, B12 and D vitamins, as well as in protein (macronutrient), iron and zinc;
ü Food allergies that inhibit the athlete from ingesting important sources of vitamins and/or minerals;
ü Contemplating pregnancy: female athletes who are thinking of becoming pregnant should take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid.
Back to the case I reported initially, there are many reasons for tiredness and given the non-restricted and varied daily diet of this player, a mineral/vitamin deficiency likely had nothing to do with that.
In fact, this soccer player did need to optimize the timing of his before- and after- training/competition snacks and meals (see the post: “Match day Nutrition for Soccer”), as well as respect the importance of getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep.
Recommended reading for more information:
- Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (http://www.nancyclarkrd.com)
- Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros (http://www.nancyclarkrd.com)
Don’t hesitate to ask your questions!
You may leave it in the form of a blog comment or you can contact me directly through my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you the best performance ever,
Diogo Ferreira, RD
Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal
“Promoting best health and performance through nutrition”