Shortcut: The answer is yes, but probably only as an insurance policy…
Vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) are essential for just about all aspects of muscle metabolism, development and growth. Without adequate amounts in the diet, performance suffers. In spite of this, it’s not that difficult to obtain adequate amounts from real food found at most grocery stores. If you’re an athlete, you don’t want nutrition to get in the way of your performance, so how easy is it really to get all your vitamins and minerals from real food, and should you be taking a mutivit just in case?
Do athletes need more vitamins and minerals than sedentary people?
The research on this subject is a bit inconclusive. Some studies show a marked increase in requirements, where some show no difference in micronutrient requirements. This is probably due to the varying type and intensity of training in these studies. On review, we believe there is an increased requirement, but this is simply on the observation that athletes tend to need to eat more food to sustain their activity level.
Is it possible to get all vitamins and minerals needed to perform at your best from real food?
In short, yes. There is no evidence that athletes fed an adequate amount of well-balanced, high-quality food run any risk of micronutrient deficiency, regardless of exercise type or intensity. The closest may be vitamin D in athletes in Iceland in the winter, where there’s little sunlight. Our view on multivitamin and mineral supplementation aligns with that of the American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Athletes consuming balanced, high quality, nutritious food at amounts that cover energy requirements probably get all vitamins and minerals they need.
Situations where athletes should consider taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement
Life has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions, and the same applies to athletes. Here are common situations where supplementation will benefit you, and ensure you’re performance doesn't suffer:
- For athletes restricting energy intake (perhaps to maintain or lose weight)
- Athletes with dietary restrictions e.g. vegans or those with allergies.
- Athletes eliminating one or more food groups from their diet
- Athletes consuming high-carbohydrate diets with low micronutrient density (usually endurance athletes).
- Athletes not able to eat a high quality diet for a period of time (we’ve all been there).
Don’t throw away your multivit just yet. Multivitamin and mineral supplements are usually inexpensive, and some are now made using real food sources. If you have a good, nutritious diet that supports your training, then it’s unlikely you’ll need them every day, but it’s a good insurance policy for those days when you can’t eat as well as you need to.