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Nutrition: Vitamins & Minerals

As an endurance athlete, you are probably concerned about taking extra vitamins and minerals for optimum health and performance. You might often find yourself questioning what vitamins and minerals are important, and when exactly are you suppose to take them. As an athlete, you look for foods that have the highest quality of nutrients in them, but advertising companies suggest that additional daily vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary for maximum training. So do you really need supplements if you are eating the right foods? There is hasn't been any research concluding that taking in "extra" amounts of vitamins and minerals will increase your performance, however, correcting vitamin and mineral deficiencies will improve your overall fitness. All vitamins and minerals are essential, but there are those that are most crucial to endurance athletes.         

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is also a water-soluble vitamin, and highly important to endurance athletes. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is valuable for the formation of scar and connective tissue. It is also important for releasing certain hormones and neurotransmitters that are used while exercising. Vitamin C is key in the formation of red blood cells, and iron absorption. Vitamin C is imperative for peak performance and a deficiency in Vitamin C can weaken your abilities. Vitamin C is found in easily attainable fruits and vegetables. An abundance of Vitamin C does not enhance your training ability. However, because intense training puts a lot of stress on your body, moderate quantities above the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is helpful to endurance athletes. RDA: 60mg

  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble and also important because of its function of an antioxidant. Vitamin E is popular among athletes because is protects muscle cells from harm, and repairs damaged cells. It also prevents the oxidation of unsaturated fats in cell membranes. Vitamin E deficiencies are uncommon, because it is stored in the body. You can also get Vitamin E from whole grain products, nuts, wheat germ and oils such as corn, sunflower, and soybean. RDA: 30 IU (International Units)

  • B Vitamins: There are eight B Vitamins: Thiamin (B-1), Riboflavin (B-2), Pyridoxine (B-6), Niacin, B-12 , Folacin (Folic Acid), Biotin, and Pantothenic Acid. The B-Vitamins are known as the "energy" vitamins. They process energy through carbohydrates and are important for a healthy nervous system. The B-Vitamins are water-soluble, and are not stored in your body in large quantities. They are easily excreted, however, too much may cause harm. If you eat the recommended allowances of beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, you should not have a B-Vitamin deficiency. However, vegetarians need to be aware, because B-12 and Riboflavin come mainly from animal products. If you consume milk and eggs you should meet the daily requirements. However, if you are a vegan you'll need to look for foods that have been fortified with the B-12 Vitamin or take a B-12 supplement. Vegans can consume enough Riboflavin from eating plant sources such as green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, avocados, soybeans, and enriched grain products. RDA: Thiamin (B-1): 1.5 mg; Riboflavin (B-2): 1.7 mg; Niacin: 20 mg; Pyridoxine (B-6): 2 mg; Folacin (Folic Acid): 0.4 mg; B-12: 2.4 mcg; Biotin: 30 mcg; Pantothenic Acid: 5 mg

  • Calcium: Calcium is always in demand, especially for endurance athletes. Calcium is essential for all types of muscle contraction; cardiac, muscle, and skeletal. It also is important in structural functions such as bone formation and the synthesis and breakdown of liver and muscle glycogen. Calcium plays a role in blood clotting, hormone secretion, and nerve impulse transmission. Calcium can be lost through sweat during vigorous bouts of exercise. Therefore, and adequate amount is suggested to maintain optimal performance. Vitamin D works in conjunction with Calcium as is aids in calcium absorption. Dairy products offer a significant source of calcium. If you are lactose intolerant look for lactose-free dairy products, or take lactase supplement enzymes. Vitamin D enriched foods are a little harder to come by. Look for milk, juices, and cereals that are fortified with Vitamin D. Fatty fish and egg yolks also contain amounts Vitamin D. As we all know natural sunlight can also provide Vitamin D. However, as we age, we are less able to convert sunlight to Vitamin D. Lucky for us, weight-bearing exercises such as running and weight training also increases calcium adsorption. There are factors to look out for that can decrease calcium absorption, such as too much caffeine, alcohol, excessive sodium and protein. RDA: Calcium: 1,000 mg; Vitamin D: 400IU

  • Iron: Iron is a major component of hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood, and myoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen in the muscles. Iron is also required for muscle enzymes involved in metabolism. A deficiency in iron can impair athletic performance. Low levels on iron can lead to anemia, which in turn, causes fatigue that can lead to poor exercise tolerance. Athletes, especially women, need to be aware iron deficiencies. Those who are at risk for deficiency are regular to heavy menstruating females, low body weight athletes, and long distance runners. Extra iron is unnecessary in non-deficient athletes. However, more iron may be useful when training intensity and duration is increased due to the altering of blood volume and muscle mass. Iron is found in lean meats and poultry, and plant foods such as beans, wheat germ, prunes, and spinach. Eating Vitamin C rich foods with high iron foods also increases iron absorption. RDA: 18 mg

  • Zinc: Zinc controls the activity of enzymes linked to energy metabolism in cells, and is involved in protein synthesis. Zinc also keeps your immune system healthy and helps the healing of wounds and injuries. Zinc has several important functions related to athletic performance, and exercise has been shown to increase zinc loss. However, you should use caution with zinc supplements, because of its side effects, which include the lowering of HDL levels, the "good" cholesterol. Sources rich in zinc include red meat, oysters, turkey, lentils, wheat germ, and lima beans. Zinc is better absorbed through animal foods than plant foods. RDA: 15 mg

As serious endurance athletes, chances are you making the right food choices, rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. However, we do care about our bodies and do not want to be lacking in any aspect of proper nutrition. Many of you probably take a multivitamin-mineral supplement. Although food is the best source of vitamins and minerals, multivitamin-mineral supplements may be just what you need to give your health that extra boost, especially during intense training. There are some athletes who may need to take specific supplements for vitamin or mineral deficiencies that food, or a multivitamin mineral supplement cannot correct. Those individuals are athletes who are vegans or vegetarians, at risk or osteoporosis, have food allergies, on a restricted calorie diet, or are pregnant. A multivitamin mineral supplement providing the recommended daily allowance should be safe. However, use caution when taking specific supplements due to the dangers or overdosing. If you think you are deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements for the recommended dosage.