Even the most careful eaters can benefit from a daily multivitamin.

Athletes tend to be a health-conscious bunch – they know how important proper nutrition is to helping them perform their best. But even among those who try their best to meet their daily nutrient demands through their diet, it can be a challenge to hit every nutrient target every single day.

That may be one reason why many active people turn to multivitamin supplements; supplement use is higher among those who engage in regular activity compared to sedentary people. 1 And while it’s true that a carefully planned, well-balanced diet can provide your body with all that it needs, it just isn’t always possible to eat perfectly every day. Busy lives often get in the way of meal planning and prep, and eating well isn’t easy when you’re eating on the run.

That’s why a daily multivitamin is often seen as nutritional insurance and a convenient way to help make up for any nutrient shortfalls. That doesn’t mean that what you eat the rest of the day doesn’t matter, though – it’s always best to aim for a diet based on nutrient-rich foods. It’s often been said that supplements can’t make up for a poor diet (and that’s the reason why they’re called “supplements,” not “substitutes”).

How Vitamins and Minerals Support Activity

Vitamins and minerals (collectively called “micronutrients”) support all the systems of the body, and when you look at just a few of their key roles in supporting physical activity, it’s easy to see why it’s so important to get adequate amounts every day. Here are just a few examples:

  • The B-complex vitamins are particularly important factors in a number of biochemical reactions that are necessary to release energy from the foods you eat, which helps fuel working muscles.
  • Copper, folic acid (a B vitamin) and vitamin B12 are needed for the formation of red blood cells, and iron is an important part of hemoglobin – a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen to working muscles.
  • Vitamins A, C and E, and the minerals zinc and selenium help support the immune system. While regular exercise positively affects the body’s natural immune function, those who engage in very strenuous exercise may experience decreased resistance to upper respiratory tract infections.
  • Calcium is particularly important for bone health, but it also plays a key role in muscle contraction, so it is clearly critical for optimal performance.
  • Magnesium is a mineral that is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, and one of its major roles is producing energy to fuel activity. Also, it is one of the major minerals that are lost in sweat – along with sodium, chloride and potassium.
  • Several vitamins (notably vitamins C and E), beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A as needed), and the mineral selenium act as antioxidants in the body. This is important because exercise increases oxygen consumption, placing oxidant stress on the body that can potentially damage cells. While this is a normal consequence of aerobic exercise, it is important to have adequate antioxidants available to keep this process in check.

Since athletes tend to have higher energy requirements, it is often assumed that their nutrient needs are more easily met since more calories are being taken in. But that may only be the case when their diet is consistently well-balanced and varied. And, depending on the sport, some athletes restrict calories to maintain a low body weight or reduced body fat – with less food being taken it, it may be harder to work in all the micronutrients.

Multivitamin/mineral supplements are designed to be well-balanced and reasonably complete, and they generally provide micronutrients in amounts that are close to recommended intakes. So even though you may be choosing your foods carefully every day, you may want to consider a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement that can provide you with the reassurance that you’re getting everything you need to support your active lifestyle.

1Dickinson A. & MacKay D., Health habits and other characteristics of dietary supplement users: a review, Nutr J. 13:14, 2014 <https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-14> [accessed April 12, 2018].