It seems as though every second magazine you pick up or TV ad you see will be touting the benefit of taking some kind of vitamin or mineral supplement. So are they really worth their value for the serious endurance athlete?
So first things first you need to know what’s going into your body to be able to assess how well you are meeting your nutritional needs. Keeping a food diary is an excellent way to quantify your food intake, which will then give you a general idea as to how well you’re feeding yourself. The only truly accurate way to assess nutrient intake would be a battery of test samples of your food, which let’s face it just isn’t going to happen in the real world. We know that for the average person if you’re eating a wide array of vegetables and fruit and a balanced intake of quality fat’s and proteins you’ll generally be hitting the mark. When I say wide array, aim for 8+ servings of fresh vegetables and fruit a day, preferably raw with even more being better.
One key question to consider if your aiming to supply all your nutrients through food, is how nutrient rich are the foods you’re eating? There are a number of key variables that will determine food nutrient levels. The quality of the soil, how the plants have been fed, how fresh they are and how the plants have been handled, processed and stored. As a general rule of thumb, fresh is best with fresher being better in terms of retaining nutrients. One of the controversies that often come up when discussing nutrient quantities and qualities in food is the organic vs conventional debate. Personally I’m pro organic. It’s a debate that will probably continue to rage for a long time and there are valid points on both sides. According to this meta-analysis study which was featured on www.americannutritionassociation.org organic foods analysed showed higher nutrient contents than conventionally grown plants.
There’s no harm in taking a quality multi vitamin or mineral supplement. If your bodies’ nutrient levels are adequate you may be making some expensive urine but that’s about it. However, there are certain times where extra supplementation is a good idea, even on top of a good diet. Taking extra doses in times of high stress loads on the body due to an illness or large training volumes will help insure the body’s immune system stays strong and you can give your all in training and competition. If you have been diagnosed with a specific vitamin or mineral deficiency by a medical professional you will need supplementation to re balance the deficiency. Whenever I’m travelling and not able to eat the way I normally would I will take a multi supplement to cover my bases.
Finally I would recommend sourcing supplements that have come from a whole food source and not a synthetic source as they will be more available for the body to assimilate. Synthetic vitamins are isolated or chemically simulated nutrients that do not take into account all the countless phytonutrients that come along with them. Any knowledgeable health food store should be able to advise you on which brands are best, if they can’t I would be wary of following their advice at all.