Vitamins and Minerals


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Vitamins and Minerals

Getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals is important not only for good health but also for your performance in the gym. Regular heavy strength training places additional demands on your body that increase your requirement for many vitamins and minerals, higher than the recommended daily amounts set for the general population. Coupled with busy lifestyles, erratic eating habits, or calorie­restricted diets, many athletes end up with vitamin and mineral intakes below the recommended daily amounts. This could leave you lacking in energy, failing to make gains in size and strength, susceptible to minor infections and illnesses or at risk of more serious conditions such as stress fractures and anaemia.

Should I take a multivitamin supplement?

A multivitamin can act as an insurance policy if you aren't getting enough nutrients from your food. Regard supplements as top-ups rather than main providers of your intake. They should not be substitutes for a badly planned diet but they may be beneficial if:

  • You eat erratically and fail to consume five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • You are on a calorie-restricted diet providing less than 1500 kcal/ day.
  • You exclude one or more major food groups (e.g. a dairy-free diet).

One study of competitive bodybuilders found that those who consumed roughly 1500 kcal/day had worryingly low intakes of several minerals, which put them at risk for calcium, zinc, copper and chromium deficiencies. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama, also found that competitive bodybuilders consumed less than 70% of the recommended daily amount for folic acid, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and zinc. These low intakes were due partly to their low-calorie (food) intakes during the pre­competition diet, and partly due to their avoidance of dairy products. One of the biggest problems is that many bodybuilders eat very monotonous diets, centered on only a few foods. This is bad news because the more restricted your diet is, the less likely you are to obtain all the vitamins and minerals you need. By increasing the variety of foods in your diet, you will automatically be getting more vitamins and minerals.

Will supplements enhance my performance?

The idea of supplements giving you a performance advantage or enhancing your strength is certainly an attractive one. Unfortunately, there is no evidence in the scientific literature to support this. In studies, those athletes who were given vitamin and mineral supplements for a period of eight months did not experience greater gains in strength, power or endurance compared with athletes who had a placebo (dummy pill). On the other hand, the studies did not measure the health-enhancing effects of supplements, or their effect on post­workout recovery. Given that vitamins and minerals are essential for energy production, muscle manufacture, red blood cell formation, cell division and virtually every other metabolic process, it seems logical that an adequate intake will optimize all of these processes. And a supplement may just help you achieve this. A sub-optimal intake would clearly reduce the efficiency of these processes, slow down your recovery, and have a negative effect on your performance. The whole point of taking a supplement is to ensure 'normal' levels of "vitamins and minerals that will support health and performance.

Is it possible to overdose on Supplements?

Supplements taken in excess of your requirements will not give you any further benefit and some may even be harmful in high doses. For example, regular daily doses of vitamin A greater than 1500 micrograms during pregnancy can cause birth defects in unborn babies. A single dose of 150,000 micrograms may cause weakness and vomiting.

To avoid excess doses, it is best taken in the form of beta-carotene or carotenoid supplements (these can be converted into vitamin A in the body as required). Regular daily doses of vitamin D greater than 50 micrograms can cause constipation or diarrhea, nausea and heartbeat irregularities, and can ultimately cause calcium to accumulate in the muscles. Most supplements contain up to 10 micrograms of vitamin D. High doses of vitamin B6 (more than 2000 mg/day) can cause nerve damage if taken over a period of tine. So, always check the amounts of these vitamins on the label and follow the recommended dose given by the manufacturer. Upper safe levels for supplementation have been determined by the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the European federation of Health Product Manufacturers.

A balance of nutrients is also important, so avoid single-nutrient supplements, unless you have taken the advice of a nutritionist or health professional. A common mistake is to take only some vitamins, when a full range is needed. This can result in imbalances as many nutrients interact and work as a team. For example, most of the B vitamins work together to help convert food into energy. Each B vitamin must be present for the team to do its job, but if one is in short supply, this reduces the functioning of the rest of the team. It is always safer to take a multivitamin formulation rather than individual supplements.

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Muscle Building Nutrition - Vitamins and Minerals