It should go without saying that athletes and sportspeople need to keep their bones and hearts strong in order to maximise physical performance. The active body needs to heal itself faster and load up on energy-rich carbohydrates, while healthy cells ensure that you can recover quickly from a high intensity workout.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at the nutritional needs of athletes and consider which dietary supplements offer the most promise as far as sports performance is concerned.
Vitamins and Your Metabolism
Vitamins give your body the ability to regulate its energy metabolism, and that feeds several key processes related to physical performance.
Thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin B6 are needed in the energy pathways. They also help cells to regenerate, so they’re an important component for healing muscle tears after a workout.
Antioxidants like vitamin A and E prevent oxidative damage in the cells, so they’re believed to help sportspeople to reach their peak performance rates.
Vitamin A can reduce the risk of hip fractures, but it’s risky in megadoses – so the decision to supplement is best made with the help of a medical doctor. Your family physician will make the best judgement based on your personal needs.
No athlete can reach the top of their game if they have nutrient deficiencies. Active people often suffer from a shortage of calcium, iron, and potassium. The latter nutrient doesn’t get enough attention, but without it, your aches and pains will increase exponentially.
Potassium also regulates your minerals, preventing hypernatremia. Still, it’s vitamin B deficiency that’s most often linked to poor athletic performance, so be sure to keep your levels where they need to be.
If you have a deficiency, your body will become over-reliant on carbohydrates and prevent your adipose tissue from releasing fatty acids. That can reduce muscle glycogen levels and push your endurance down.
Choline and Energy
We rarely speak of choline, but it’s an important part of a healthy diet. It’s used to keep the nervous system healthy and, when levels are low, could cause fatigue during exercise.
Studies on choline’s impact on aerobic exercise are preliminary, but time will tell if it’s the energy booster it seems to be.
Who Needs Vitamin Supplements?
While those who eat a healthy, varied diet don’t usually need vitamin supplements, there are a few exceptions: pregnant women, athletes, the elderly, and those with chronic illness are just some of the people who tend to use more of some nutrients and develop deficiencies.
Still, it’s important to bear in mind that occasionally, supplementation can do genuine harm.
Antioxidant supplementation can disrupt homeostasis, and unnecessary folic acid may increase cancer risk. In addition, all vitamins have a toxic dose (although in many cases it’s difficult to reach this), so it is critical to your athletic performance not to overdose on nutrients.
Vitamins, Botanicals and Weight Loss
Unexplained weight gain can be a symptom of a vitamin deficiency. A lack of iodine in the diet can cause thyroid imbalances that cause the body to pack on extra pounds.
A vitamin D deficiency is equally damaging; low magnesium levels have the same effect, but supplementing may even play a role in boosting metabolism in those without deficiencies.
Thiamine, B6, iron, and calcium, meanwhile, have roles to play in metabolism, so if you’re trying to lose weight, it might be worthwhile to increase your intake.
The take-home? Weight management isn’t just a case of calories in, calories out. Making sure you’re hitting your RDA for vitamins and minerals will potentiate any possible weight-loss efforts.
Botanicals and Athleticism
Many botanicals speed up weight loss through herbal stimulants, but they can be dangerous. If you have a heart condition, for example, ma guang and ginseng can be potentially fatal. If you have epilepsy, even mild herbal stimulants can cause seizures. Consult your doctor before taking a herbal supplement.
Dangerous aside, botanicals can often boost performance where nutrients cannot. Betaine, for example, appears to boost the body’s production of creatine, thereby shedding water retention. Small human trials indicate that it might boost strength-based performance, too.
Branched-chain amino acids can be incredibly beneficial too; they’re metabolised by mitochondria, causing the body to release the energy it needs to boost sports performance. Creatine isn’t quite as new to the circuit. In fact, it’s been in use for many years for its ability to carry energy to the muscles. Trials show that it’s a potent strength-builder.
There’s a good reason elite athletes rely on dietary supplements to boost their performance. Whether you’re building endurance and strength, or merely improving your tolerance to exercise, they can support your hard work and speed up your results.
This article was written by Conor O’Flynn of O’Flynn Medical. Conor has worked in the healthcare industry for over two decades and is a strong believer in the benefits of supplements to help sportspeople reach their optimal fitness levels.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Antioxidants like vitamin A and E prevent oxidative damage and are believed to help sportspeople reach their peak performance rates.