Not so Plain and Simple
Vitamins are organic compounds that we consume via our food and drink. They are integral to our bodies because we cannot manufacture them in adequate quantities endogenously (within the body). Vitamins are unique in two particular ways:
1.) Some are absorbed into the cell via the medium of water (water soluble vitamins)
2.) Some are absorbed into the cell via fat (fat soluble vitamins).
A good quality multi- vitamin and mineral delivers optimal ratios of water and fat soluble vitamins, as well as minerals and chemical compounds. The multi-vitamin and mineral was originally introduced to treat specific medical conditions, or to supplement/top up a person’s regular dietary intake. The vast majority of vitamins and minerals are found in fruit, vegetables, and fortified cereals/bread, with other sources including dairy produce, fish and meat. Unfortunately many of us do not consume enough of certain food groups (particularly fruit and veg) to meet our recommended daily allowance, so to prevent nutritional deficiencies, especially during an intense training regime, a multi- vitamin and mineral may be required.
Roles of the Vitamin and Mineral
Vitamins and minerals are integral to regulating cell growth, maintaining structure and function, controlling energy metabolism, monitoring cell degradation (breakdown) and maximising the utilisation of various macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) e.g. zinc is needed for the formation and breakdown of protein, whilst vitamin D is integral to the absorption of Calcium. Too many people are investing in powerful ergogenic aids (performance enhancers) in the hope that it will enhance their performance, without an adequate micronutrient base (vitamins and minerals).
Water Soluble Vitamins
As the name implies, a water soluble vitamin mixes very well with our body’s water, consequently large proportions of water soluble vitamins are lost via our bodily water in the form of urine! The excretion of these vitamins (via urine) means our body cannot store adequate amounts to meet requirements, meaning we have to replenish them via the diet. Dietary sources of these types of vitamins are relatively diverse coming from fruit, veg, fortified cereal/bread and dairy produce, but also poultry (chicken, turkey etc), fish and potatoes too (British Nutrition Foundation, 2012). B vitamins comprise the bulk of the water soluble vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, biotin and folic acid. The B complex vitamins are needed in the body for various metabolic functions for energy production, including carbohydrate and protein breakdown for energy, the formation of glucose and glycogen (carb stores) and many more. They are generally found in fortified cereals and bread, legumes, milk, almonds and peanuts, liver, fish and pork. The exception to this is folic acid which (as the name implies i.e. foliage) is derived from green leafy vegetables and strawberries. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries and tomato, as well as green leafy veg, peppers and potato.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is arguably the most well known and widely researched vitamin out there; it is needed for a plethora of reasons including the formation and maintenance of collagen, integral to healthy skin and joints (connective tissue). It is grossly understated for its role in the formation of Carnitine, a potent fat mobiliser (aids fat burning), and for its role in nervous transmission allowing for more intense muscle contractions. Vitamin C is vital for the absorption of iron, a fundamental component of haemoglobin which is needed for oxygen delivery to the muscles! It is also a potent anti-oxidant which reduces the oxidative process (damage to your body) caused by elevated free radical levels (Kreider, Wilborb, Campbell, 2010).
Fat Soluble Vitamins
Comprised of vitamins A, D, E and K, these vitamins are vital to bone health (D and K) and serve as potent antioxidants to reduce oxidation as a result of excessive free radicals (A and E)! The fact that they mix with fat means they are more readily stored by the body than water soluble vitamins, but because of this there is the possibility of toxicity should you consume them in excess. Main sources of vitamin A include sweet potato (including skin), carrots, spinach and fortified cereals, vitamin D is available from fish, milk, liver, fortified cereals, and particularly....sunlight. Vitamin E is found mainly in seeds, nuts and vegetable oils whilst vitamin K is mainly found in green leafy vegetables!
Minerals are chemical elements/compounds vital in maintaining homeostasis (regulation of normal internal functioning) with significant roles in the absorption and utilisation of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Minerals also serve to regulate enzyme function (needed to produce energy), regulate pH (prolong physical activity), and regulate nervous function and cellular growth! Some minerals are needed in larger amounts than others and are therefore known as macro and micro/trace minerals. Macromineral’s are needed in higher amounts, and include calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulphur, potassium, sodium and chloride.
Macromineral’s support structure and function of teeth and bones, muscle i.e. contractions and avoidance of cramp etc, nerve transmission and energy metabolism to name but a few. Micromineral’s include iron, zinc, copper, selenium, iodine, fluoride, chromium, manganes, molybdenum, boron, and vanadium. Micromineral’s are integral to the delivery of oxygen to tissue including muscle, they are required in the recovery process and wound healing, energy metabolism, promoting insulin production (needed for muscle growth, energy production and lean mass development, as well as limiting oxidative stress (associated with cancer and heart disease) (Kreider, Wilborb, Campbell, 2010).
Many of us seem to struggle to get adequate amounts of these vital micronutrients in through our diet be it due to time issues, financial constraints, food preferences or simply through not knowing where to find them. Ideally, we should try to meet nutrient requirements from a variety of foods through a healthy balanced diet, but if it is time, financial and food constraints causing you to neglect these vitamins....a multi-vitamin and mineral might be what you need (British Dietetic Association, 2012).
British Dietetic Association, (2012). Dietitians welcome EU directive on supplements. Retrieved June 26, 2012, from http://www.bda.uk.com/eu_vits_mins.html
Kreider, R, B., Wilborb, C, D., Campbell, B., Almada, A, L., Collins, R., Cooke, M et al, (2010). ISSN exercise & Sport Nutrition Review: Research & Recommendations. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition. 7: 1550-2783.
Web MD. Better Information. Better Health, (2010). Food Sources for Vitamins and Minerals. Retrieved June 25, 2012, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/vitamins-and-minerals-good-food-sources