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Vitamins and Minerals for Athletes

Vitamins and minerals requirement would largely depend on the daily caloric intake and exercise levels of an athlete. These micronutrients play vital roles in the body like involved in hemoglobin synthesis (iron, folate, and vitamin B12), energy production (thiamin, riboflavin and niacin), maintaining adequate immune function, bone health and protection of body tissues by scavenging the free radicals and preventing oxidative damage (antioxidant vitamins like vitamin A, E, C, beta carotene, selenium, zinc and glutathione). Stress caused due to exercise may interfere with many metabolic pathways in which these micronutrients are involved. The turnover of the micronutrients is also increased due to exercise leading to the losses of vitamins and minerals from the body. Thus the need of vitamins and minerals would be higher for an athlete involved in strenuous exercise.

Foods rich in carbohydrates and proteins when consumed suffice the current Recommended Dietary Allowances for all the vitamins and minerals.
However when athletes who restrict energy intake for weight loss are at greater risk for micronutrient deficiencies and might require multivitamin and mineral supplements. But this practice is discouraged unless a genuine medical or nutritional health reason is present.

Unlike fat soluble vitamins, water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body. Riboflavin, calcium, iron and zinc are the common vitamins and minerals found low in the diets of female athletes. This can be attributed to avoidance of non-vegetarian diet, dairy products and restricting caloric intake. As female athletes are also more prone to low mineral density, stress fractures and menstrual dysfunction, calcium intake along with vitamin D and phosphorus becomes utmost important. Poor energy intake is also associated with high incidence of iron depletion from the body. Female athletes involved in high intensity and duration exercise should be screened periodically to check the iron status in the body. Often amenorrhea is present in female athletes to preserve the body iron stores.

Chronic low iron levels will ultimately lead to low-iron stores, low-iron transport in the body and then anemia. To avoid this situation it is better to consume iron rich foods before iron depletion state is developed. Some athletes may experience a transient depletion of serum ferritin with initiation of a training program; this can be explained due to increase in the plasma volume causing hemodilution. This effect however does not appear to affect performance. 70 % zinc is mainly derived from animal proteins and approximately 81 % women and 90 % men have zinc deficiency. It is wise to assess zinc levels in diets of the athletes as it plays important role in building and repair of muscle tissue and energy production.
Submitted on January 16, 2014