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The importance of multivitamins and antioxidants

As a sports person, the drive to improve your athletic performance and fitness levels will be of utmost importance to you. 

Motivational factors such as reaching personal goals, having a desire to win and possibly the compelling financial rewards of success are a constant provocation for you to train even harder and for longer‮.

However, the stresses and strains of general life demands, strenuous training, and insufficient rest can have a negative influence on both your athletic performance and your health which may result in recurrent infections such as troublesome coughs and colds.

The link between sport and illness

Research has shown that during intense training or after competition people tend to be more susceptible to common maladies such as coughs and colds. It is also known that nutrition plays a major role in your individual risk of developing infections. That's why a healthy balanced diet with adequate micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) can help to keep you 'infection-free' by maintaining your immune system function and keeping your white blood cells fighting fit.

On the other hand, poor eating patterns perhaps caused by dieting or trying to make a low body weight for competition can lead to trying to nutritional deficiency which in some cases can lead to a suppression of the immune system and illness.

Training increases the body's requirement for most nutrients. In many cases, these increased needs are met by the increase in food consumed,  but it is still advisable for active people take a vitamin/mineral supplement to counteract any nutrient imbalances that may occur.

The science

An extensive study by sport scientists in South Africa has focused on the suppressive effect of strenuous exercise on peoples' immune systems, as well as looking at what vitamins and minerals would help sports people combat this issue. 

In the first phase of the experiment, the scientists gave a group of runners and triathletes a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement for six weeks. The scientists found that the daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement had improved the killing capacity of white blood cells. In the second phase of the experiment, the same group of runners and triathletes were asked to take a high dose of antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E and Beta-carotene) for just seven days prior to a strenuous 2-hour run (designed to suppress their immune system function).

The function of a family of white blood cells called neutrophils which provide the first line of defence against disease-causing bugs by attacking and killing these invaders when they enter the body. Once again, the killing capacity of the neutrophils was found to have increased following the supplementation compared to a placebo.

Supplement your health

Since dietary supplements of vitamins and minerals (in the recommended dose) are not detrimental to health and nor are they classed as a performance enhancing drug, even elite athletes can supplement their diets with them.

It was found that the neutrophil function of those athletes that took the placebo actually decreased. The results from this study point to the use of combined daily multivitamin, mineral and antioxidant supplements to help maintain the immune system and general health of sporty, active people.

However, it is strongly recommended that you take supplements within the recommended daily intake (RDA) limits for physically active individuals and only those that are supported by scientific evidence.

Megadosing is not recommended. In fact, very high intakes of some vitamins and minerals can actually cause immunosuppression.

Furthermore, ensure that your nutritional supplements are bought from a reputable supplier who will provide you with a certificate of purity for your batch of supplements to show that they are free from steroid and stimulant contaminants.

Written by Dr Paula Robson-Ansley at 09:00

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