The more intense your training the more your levels of some of these potentially performance-enhancing, immune-boosting nutrients could be running low or on empty. Ideally, you should be able to get what you need from your diet but, for many reasons, often we just don’t (or can’t) so it makes sense to see where you need to plug any nutritional holes.
Hitting your fitness goals
To get an idea of what you could be losing and how low levels of certain nutrients could affect your exercise performance research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed just one hour of pumping iron in the gym could deplete iron stores by 5.7%.
Another US study showed athletes with low vitamin B levels performed worse in high-intensity exercise than those with higher levels and they also had a reduced ability to repair muscle afterwards. Athletes who consumed enough calcium and vitamin D were less likely to develop stress fractures in another study. And research from the University of Newcastle revealed that those given extra vitamin D experienced less in the way of muscle fatigue.
The everyday essentials
Taking a multivitamin basically gives you a little of what you need in terms of all of the above and more – offering a complete spectrum of what your body needs so you get a perfect balance of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. Even if you are generally healthy, and eat a balanced diet most of the time, supplementing with a multivitamin and mineral that supplies 100 per cent of your recommended daily intake can still be beneficial. Take it either before or after you exercise and your basics are covered.
However, there are some nutrients that exercisers might benefit from getting more of – like vitamin D – fast being touted as one of 'the' significant sports supplements. Not least because if you train indoors mainly (or outdoors anywhere in the UK between the months of October and March!) you are unlikely to be getting optimum levels of this ‘sunshine’ vitamin which helps with muscle recovery and supporting immunity.
A 2015 study of US footballers found those with higher levels of this vitamin were more likely to be selected for the team and also had a reduced risk of fracturing their bones. Another, often overlooked, ‘essential’ are probiotics – live bacteria that help promote a healthy digestive tract. If your digestive system is not working as well as it could be it is entirely possible the nutrients from your food are not being absorbed efficiently and your overall health and immunity can be compromised. Plus if your gut is giving you gip you are unlikely to be on top of your game.
The joint and bone health supporters
If you’re routinely putting your body through its paces you also need to help your limbs withstand any wear and tear. Fish oils might be seen as primarily boosting heart health (and they do) but the powerful anti-inflammatory compounds they contain also help reduce joint pain and tenderness. They will also help speed up your workout recovery time - lowering your risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and pain.
You can get fish oils from your diet – in the form of food like oily fish including salmon and mackerel plus avocado, olive oil and nuts and seeds – but taking a supplement can be easy to fit into your life and some come with added extras like immune-boosting vitamins and anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric. Glucosamine and chondroitin - natural compounds found in cartilage – can also help form part of your muscle-protecting arsenal.
Generally partnered up to more effectively alleviate joint pain this nutritional double act have been shown to help cartilage (the tough connective tissue that cushions the ends of the bones within joints) from breaking down and encourage the body to produce new stores of it. They are also commonly taken to treat inflammatory joint pain and conditions like arthritis and osteoarthritis and can also help with injury and exercise recovery. It is difficult to get glucosamine or chondroitin from your diet so supplementation will help.
The immune boosters
Training hard can leave you more vulnerable to a cold, flu or other viral infection – as your body struggles with the demands you are putting it under. You don’t want to be off sick on match/marathon day so if you can offer your body a bit of an immunity-boosting hand, why not? Vitamin C might be your usual go-to immune booster but try adding the mineral Zinc to the mix – both will help with collagen formation for cartilage and bone health and should help you avoid coming down with a cold. A lack of zinc has also been linked to low energy, decreased endurance levels and a higher risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) .
There is also evidence to suggest a little known flavonoid (protective micro-nutrients found in plant-based foods) called Quercetin found in some fruit and vegetables (and which we only absorb small amounts of from it in our diet) could also help improve our ability to shrug off colds and flu. And don’t underestimate the power of a cuppa: A component within ordinary tea and green tea called L-theanine has been found to prime the immune system to attack invading bacteria and viruses. There is also some evidence to show the polyphenols in Quercetin and green tea could improve athletic endurance.