Vitamins and minerals are required by our cells to encourage specific chemical reactions on a cellular level. Some vitamins such as Vitamin B are responsible for allowing our cells to obtain energy from protein and fat. Other vitamins effect the absorption of minerals. For example vitamin D assists with absorption of calcium that we obtain through our diets.
We can, if we eat a well-balanced diet obtain most or all of the vitamin and minerals that our bodies require. However certain vitamins are stored in our bodies whilst other are not. As the interaction between vitamins and minerals linked it is essential that we deliver the required intake to our bodies. There are occasions such as illness, changes in diet and environment that can effect intake absorption.
If you are an athlete it is particularly important to ensure that you present your body with the widest range of vitamins and minerals.
We should of course try to maximise our intake of vitamins through diet.
We should try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are best. Probably old news but don’t overcook vegetables. Microwaving and steaming is generally better than boiling as during boiling nutrients go into the water and get poured down the sink!
It is important to understand how vitamins are handled by our bodies, this knowledge can enable us to understand our requirements.
Vitamins are classified as either fat soluble or water soluble. The difference between the two groups is very important. It determines how each vitamin acts within the body.
Fat soluble vitamins.
Fat soluble vitamins are soluble in fats, they bind to ingested lipids and are absorbed in the small intestine. (Simplified)
Fat soluble vitamins, in particular vitamins A and E, are then stored in body tissues. Fat soluble vitamins are, A, D, E, and K, excess vitamin A and D can cause severe toxicity. Vitamin K unlike the other fat soluble vitamins is not stored in the body. Most vitamin K about 75% that we absorb is produced in the body by beneficial bacteria. The rest, about 25 % is from dietary sources.
If dietary fat intake is too low it could cause a deficiency in fat soluble vitamins as can certain illnesses and medications that effect fat absorption in the intestine.
Water Soluble vitamins are absorbed along with water in the gastrointestinal tract.
Water soluble vitamins are only stored in the body in insignificant amounts and unless used are excreted in urine. Therefore daily intake is required. However missing your vitamin intake for the day will not result in symptoms of deficiency the next day.
The exception is vitamin B12 which needs gastric intrinsic factor, a protein that must combine with B12 to be absorbed. As most B12 is obtained via meats, eggs and dairy products vegans are at risk of B12 deficiency as are people with problems relating to the production of intrinsic factor. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and it is possible to overdose.
Minerals are inorganic, (not of living matter) and many interact with vitamins, such as calcium and vitamin D.
They are required by the body and have numerous functions.
For example calcium, phosphorus and magnesium: bone health, teeth.
Iron for oxygen transporting compounds, haemoglobin, in blood.
Potassium for water balance and glucose delivery to cells, although overdose can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and supplementation is NOT suggested or recommended. A doctor may prescribe potassium in cases of chronic diarrhea and vomiting. Dietary deficiency is rare.
Supplementing minerals should be considered carefully.
In conclusion. If we have a well maintained balance diet we should be able to obtain most of our vitamin and mineral requirements. Although though this is not always the case whether due to bad dietary habits or lifestyle.
In times of illness we may need to take supplements to counter act the effect of the illness. In some countries Vitamin D may need to be supplemented especially if diets are missing in eggs, dairy and fish products and sunlight is lacking.
Supplements if taken correctly can be beneficial to us all and can support or bodies functions. Athletes can especially benefit from good supplement support due to their higher rates of metabolism and demands and stresses on the muscular and skeletal system.
Athletes should consider researching what they need and the effects of incorrect supplementing.
Multivitamins for example may not provide the correct balance of vitamins and minerals, the single pill does all solution is not necessarily the answer.
Hydration – A quick note.
Extreme exercise can cause a loss of minerals through sweat. Proper hydration is essential. Water is the best and natural substance for this, however it does not sufficiently replace electrolytes.
Studies have also shown that replacing fluids with a drink that contains carbohydrates and electrolytes during an endurance event is more beneficial than water. Replacing electrolytes and glucose after and event is essential. It is important not to overhydrate and I suggest more reading on this regarding this topic as it is beyond the scope of this particular article.
Sources; Human Anatomy & Physiology; WebMD; NHS Choices; Britannica.com; Medline Plus; patient.co.uk.