Achieving optimal athletic performance requires a high energy expenditure, but in turn, high energy output must be adequately fueled. The importance of proper nutrition and hydration is well documented in sports medicine, and studies show both help reduce the occurrence of muscular injuries, oxidative stress, and heart pathologies. However, the value of vitamins and minerals following sports activities is sometimes understated, but equally important for optimal performance and good health.
Vitamins play a pivotal, biological role in athletes’ muscle function, heart health, and microbiota. Supplements are critical for a number of metabolic reactions and are introduced to the diet to enhance, or supplement the micronutrients that the human body is unable to produce. A newly-released scientific review highlights the fundamental role of vitamin supplementation in physical activity and in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disorders, muscle injuries, and regulation of the microbiome.
Let’s take a look at the role and function of a number of critical vitamins:
Vitamin A is an antioxidant vitamin that helps neutralize free radicals that are produced during intense physical exercise. An adequate intake of Vitamin A can contribute to the elimination of reactive oxygen species and prevent the onset of diseases such as heart failure and muscle damage. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for vitamin A are 900 µg for adult males and 700 µg for adult females.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that accumulates in the liver through food consumption and is released into circulation as needed. It is also produced when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Because it’s a regulator of calcium metabolism, vitamin D helps calcify bones and prevent muscle spasms. The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) suggests an RDA of 600 µg in adults to maintain bone health and normal calcium metabolism.
Vitamin E, another fat-soluble compound, is found in foods such as nuts, legumes, avocados, seeds, and leafy green vegetables. It provides protection in processes where negative effects from oxidative stress can occur, such as diabetes, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer, in addition to physiological conditions such as aging or intense exercise. The FNB recommends 15 mg of vitamin E per day.
One of the lesser-known vitamins, vitamin K belongs to the group of fatsoluble vitamins and is stored in the body and used when needed. It is essential for blood-clotting, heart health, and bone density, all critical for athletes, and can be found in vegetables, such as tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, turnip greens. The FNB has established a recommended intake of 120 mg for males and 90 mg for females.
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin which is obtained through food. It’s involved in the metabolism of amino acids, lipids, and carbohydrates and contributes to cognitive development and immune function. Vitamin B6 represents an important factor in metabolic pathways that are involved in physical exercise, especially amino acid metabolism. The best sources of B6 include fish, liver, potatoes, fruit, and other vegetables rich in starch. The RDA of vitamin B6 in both men and women is 1.3 mg.
Achieving optimal levels of athletic performance requires vigilance in both nutrition and vitamin intake. Because vitamins are critical to so many biological processes, a vitamin-rich diet can protect athletes from injury and improve performance.
Brancaccio. M, Mennitti, C., et al. (2022). The Biological Role of Vitamins in Athletes’ Muscle, Heart and Microbiota International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
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