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Vitamin Supplementation - the good and the bad

by dietitian Clare Wood

A vitamin is an essential micronutrient which the body needs in small quantities for proper functioning. Most essential nutrients cannot be synthesized therefore must be obtained through the diet. Sometimes you can get adequate amounts of these essential nutrients through your regular diet, while in some situations you will need supplementation. Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of vitamin supplementation.

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Advantages of Vitamin Supplements

  1. Taking vitamin supplements ensures athletes get enough vitamins - I like to think of it more as a safety net— if an athlete is deficient in some nutrient then they are making sure they are getting all vitamins necessary for general health and physical activity.
  2. Taking vitamin supplements is an easy option - Yes, many athletes will take supplements as an easy option, rather than analyzing dietary intake to determine any potential deficiencies.
  3. Taking vitamin supplements prevents burnout - This is not quite true, as no amount of vitamin intake will prevent burnout, there are lots of other considerations to ensure an athlete remains healthy and avoids burnout.
  4. Taking vitamin supplements means you don’t have to consume as much food - Vitamins in a tablet form are in no way better than getting the same vitamin through dietary intake, and eating it as part of your food intake is better due to all the other elements within food (e.g. macronutrient balance, antioxidants, fiber) that a person does not get when taking a tablet.

Disadvantages of Vitamin Supplements

  1. Athletes should be able to get enough vitamins from a good diet and not need supplements - Generally this is the case, but an athlete should get a dietary analysis and/or a blood test to determine if there are any gaps in the diet, or deficiencies in vitamin intake. Common examples of vitamin deficiencies include iron and calcium.
  2. Vitamin supplements are expensive - if you can get enough of the vitamins in the regular diet, or if you are not deficient, they can be a waste of money.
  3. When taking vitamin supplements it is hard to get the correct amounts - Athletes should be consulting a health professional regarding how much of certain vitamins need to be taken, if at all. An overdose with negative consequences is possible from some vitamins, so care needs to be taken.
  4. Vitamin supplements can be tampered with - If the source of the tablet is unknown, it is quite possible that contamination can occur. With strict regulations of doping tests for athletes, it is better to be safe than sorry. If ever in doubt, don't do it.

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