Do Athletes Really Need To Take A MultiVitamin?

In a perfect world, athletes would consume a well-balanced diet containing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, thereby aiding in the assurance of the proper intake of all micronutrients. Unfortunately, in the real world, athletes do not have perfect diets. In today’s society, the lack of time and the convenience of less-than-ideal food sources tempt people to ingest a diet lacking many of the essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle and fuel performance. If an athlete’s diet is less than favorable, it is recommended that they take a high-quality multivitamin as an easy and cost-effective way to ensure the proper intake of all the essential micronutrients.


The human diet consists of both macro- and micronutrients. Macronutrients include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, whereas micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals. As their name implies, macronutrients comprise most of the required dietary intake, whereas micronutrients are essential in much lower quantities. With the deficiency of micronutrients, athletic performance in addition to normal physiological function will suffer. However, the very nature of being a micronutrient suggests that excess intake in well-fed athletes will not likely alter performance without an activity associated increased need.

For example, many vitamins and minerals are important in the catabolism of the macronutrients for energy production. Furthermore, many of the micronutrients are involved in endogenous antioxidant defense mechanisms. It has been hypothesized that athletes have an increased requirement for vitamins and minerals because of the increased energy expenditure and excess muscle damage that occurs during training or competition. A good multivitamin can help athletes meet this increased need demand.


Key Study #1: Multivitamin/mineral supplementation increases energy and enhances mood.

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by Sarris et al. (2012) found that subjects who supplemented with a multivitamin for a period of 16 weeks reported increased energy levels and enhanced mood compared to the placebo. Additionally, a trend was found for participants reporting better sleep with the multivitamin over the placebo.


Key Study #2: Multivitamin/mineral supplementation decreases exercise-induced free radical cell damage.

A 2007 study conducted by Machefer et al. investigated the effect of a moderate multivitamin and mineral supplementation containing mainly vitamin C (150.0−1), vitamin E (24.0 mg∙day−1), and β-carotene (4.8 mg∙day−1) prior to and during an extreme running competition—the Marathon des Sables (MDS)—which consisted of six long races in the desert.

Seventeen athletes participated in the double-blind placebo-controlled study. Blood samples were collected prior to the supplementation, i.e., three weeks before the competition (D-21), two days prior to the MDS (D-2), after the third race (D3), and at the end of the competition (D7). Erythrocyte antioxidant enzyme activity (glutathione peroxidase (GPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD)), erythrocyte glutathione level (GSH), plasma non-enzymatic antioxidant status (uric acid, vitamin C, α-tocopherol, retinol, β-carotene), markers of plasma lipid peroxidation (thiobarbituric reactive substances (TBARS), reactive carbonyl derivatives (RCD), and membrane damage (creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase activities) were measured.

The results of the study showed that in both groups, GSH levels, uric acid levels, and membrane damage significantly increased during the competition while SOD activity significantly decreased. In the supplemented group, plasma α-tocopherol, β-carotene, and retinol levels significantly increased after three weeks of supplementing. In contrast to the placebo group, α-tocopherol, vitamin C, and retinol levels were significantly affected by the competition in the supplemented group. Moreover, no increase in TBARS was observed in the supplemented group during the competition, whereas TBARS significantly increased at D3 in the placebo group.

The researchers concluded that multivitamin/mineral supplementation could prevent the transient increase in TBARS levels during extreme exercise.


Key Study #3: Multivitamin/mineral supplementation can lower blood lactate concentrations after exercise and could improve aerobic energy efficiency.

A 2007 study conducted by Aguilo et al. examined the effects of antioxidant diet supplements on blood lactate concentration and on the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds, and their adaptations to training were analyzed. Fifteen amateur male athletes were randomly assigned to either a placebo group or an antioxidant supplemented group. The supplementation was 90 days of vitamin E (500 mg·day−1) and β-carotene (30 mg·day−1) with the addition of vitamin C for the last 15 days (1 g·day−1).

Before and after the antioxidant supplements, the sportsmen performed a maximal exercise test on a cycle ergometer and maximal and submaximal physiological parameters were assessed together with blood lactate concentration. Maximal oxygen uptake ([Vdot]O2max), maximal blood lactate concentration, and the maximal workload attained rose significantly in both groups after 3 months of training. At the end of the study, maximal blood lactate concentration was lower in the group that took supplements than in the placebo group.

The percentage of [Vdot]O2max attained at the anaerobic threshold rose significantly in both groups after 3 months of training, although the final value in the supplemented group was higher than that in the placebo group. Antioxidant diet supplements induce lower increases in blood lactate concentration after a maximal exercise test and could improve the efficiency in which aerobic energy is obtained.


Key Study #4: Food alone may not provide sufficient micronutrients for preventing deficiencies.

The purpose of this study (Misner, 2006) was to determine if food intake alone provided the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) requirements for 10 vitamins and 7 minerals. The 10 vitamins analyzed were vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B-1, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-3, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and folate. The seven minerals analyzed were iodine, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.

From 70 computer-generated dietary analyses, 20 subjects’ diets were selected based on the highest number of foods analyzed from 10 men (age 25–50) and 10 women (age 24–50). A First Data Bank Nutritionist IV computer-program default was utilized, defaulting to apply the Harris-Benedict equation, a formula that determines energy expense against RDA micronutrient requirement by age, gender, and body mass index (BMI).

The 20 Individual Diets analyzed originated from the following subjects:

  1. Two professional cyclists athletes (A)
  2. Three amateur cyclists athletes (A)
  3. Three amateur triathletes athletes (A)
  4. Five eco-challenge amateur athletes (A)
  5. One amateur runner athlete (A)
  6. Six sedentary non-athletes (S)

Hence, fourteen (14) athletes’ (A) and six (6) sedentary subjects’ (S) diets were analyzed for calorie and RDA-micronutrient adequacy or inadequacy.

Of the 340 micronutrient entries generated from 17 micronutrients analyzed, all 20 subjects presented between 3 and 15 deficiencies each based on the RDA value from food intake alone. Males averaged deficiencies in 40% of the vitamins and 54.2% of the minerals required. Females averaged deficiencies in 29% of the vitamins and 44.2% of the minerals the RDA required.

The male food intake was RDA-deficient in 78 out of 170 micronutrient entries, or 45.8% of the 10 vitamins and 7 minerals analyzed. The female dietary intake was RDA-deficient in 60 out of 170 micronutrients or 35.2% of the 10 vitamins and 7 minerals analyzed. Both male and females as a single entity recorded 138 micronutrient deficiencies out of the possible 340 micronutrients analyzed, or 40.5% RDA-deficient in micronutrients from food intake alone.


Sarris, J., Cox, K. H., Camfield, D. A., Scholey, A., Stough, C., Fogg, E., … & Pipingas, A. (2012). Participant experiences from chronic administration of a multivitamin versus placebo on subjective health and wellbeing: a double-blind qualitative analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Nutrition journal,11(1), 1.

Machefer, G., Groussard, C., Vincent, S., Zouhal, H., Faure, H., Cillard, J., … & Gratas-Delamarche, A. (2007). Multivitamin-mineral supplementation prevents lipid peroxidation during “the Marathon des Sables”. Journal of the American College of Nutrition26(2), 111-120.

Aguiló, A., Tauler, P., Sureda, A., Cases, N., Tur, J., & Pons, A. (2007). Antioxidant diet supplementation enhances aerobic performance in amateur sportsmen. Journal of sports sciences25(11), 1203-1210.

Misner, B. (2006). Food alone may not provide sufficient micronutrients for preventing deficiency. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,3(1), 1.

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