If you ask any knowledgeable person in the fitness industry what the most important dietary supplement is, they’ll most likely direct you to a multivitamin as their answer. Vitamins and minerals are essential for overall health, especially while being in a caloric deficit. Micronutrient is the term used for vitamins and minerals as they are ingested in smaller doses than macronutrients such as carbs or proteins, and they do not contain any calories.
Before we dive deeper into this topic, let’s first clarify that this information is focused on muscle growth and not health, longevity, or anything of that nature. The benefits of vitamins and minerals are well known, but the discussion here is their impact on performance and hypertension.
We’ll first discuss the importance of vitamins as they’re often mentioned before minerals. The most commonly used vitamins in athletics and bodybuilding are B-vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E. We’ll touch on them separately to get a better idea of each.
B-vitamins are the most commonly sought-after group of vitamins because of their involvement in metabolism – mainly during endurance training, where energy production goes into overdrive. However, B-vitamin supplementation is often not needed; any regular diet in most developed countries has plenty of B-vitamins, making it unnecessary to consume extra, even for athletes. Furthermore, studies conclude that higher levels of B-vitamin consumption don’t have any positive effects on athletic performance. One riveting caveat is that exceedingly high doses of B-vitamins may even promote relaxation – not precisely what most athletes or bodybuilders are looking for in a supplement.
B-vitamins are often found in pre-workout supplements and energy drinks. Many people in the fitness industry believe B-vitamins are an energy-boosting substance. However, consuming amounts way above the RDI doesn’t add any extra benefits. Therefore, aim for foods like pork, chicken, and many vegetables for their high B-vitamin content. The primary athlete or bodybuilding diet doesn’t have to have extra B-vitamin intake.
-Vitamins C and E
Vitamin C and E together are both packed into a group of substances known as “antioxidants.” Understanding the role of antioxidants in the body is essential. We must first understand one of the byproducts of intense exercise, which is reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species are commonly called “free radicals,” They readily bond to other microscopic substances inside the cell. This process can damage the cell, which leads to “oxidative stress.” The role of antioxidants is to combat oxidative stress as they bond to free radicals, avoiding damaging the cell. However, the problem with antioxidants and exercise is that oxidative stress chemically signals muscle repair and growth. So if you’re taking antioxidants and reducing oxidative stress from your workouts, chances are you’re going to have a weaker signal for muscle growth and minor overall adaptation to exercise.
Nonetheless, antioxidants still play an essential role in overall health. Just be cautious of supplementing with too many additional antioxidants if you’re focused on optimizing muscle growth. For instance, you can find vitamin C in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, while vitamin E is in nuts and green, leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach.
Vitamin D is your best bet for maximizing performance and muscle gains when it comes to vitamin supplementation. Researchers discovered that vitamin D supplementation could increase natural testosterone levels, especially for those deficient or part of the older population. Consuming between 3000 and 5000 IU per day of vitamin D is enough for this benefit, especially if you’re not getting enough vitamin D through your nutrition or sun exposure. In addition, having a healthy testosterone level is vital for building muscle gains as testosterone directly affects protein synthesis and overall strength and muscle growth. Not to mention, testosterone increases confidence and quality of life.
Researchers have also discovered that muscles have vitamin D receptors. This means that vitamin D could also play a critical role in protein synthesis and influence muscle strength. In addition, vitamin D is essential for bone health. Low vitamin D levels are associated with high risks in bone injuries . Therefore, supplementing with vitamin D is necessary for those who are looking to capitalize on their performance.
Vitamin D can be difficult to consume through a regular diet and exposure to the sun, especially during the winter when it’s colder. However, eggs and fish are both excellent sources of vitamin D. Most of the time, vitamin D is added to orange juice and dairy products. With that said, try to have some of these sources in your diet along with a vitamin D supplement of up to 5000 IU. Vitamin D3 is your best choice when it comes to vitamin D products.
Ultimately, if you’re not going through a period of dietary restriction and aren’t picky about your food, taking a multivitamin is more than likely unnecessary . Vitamin D is the only vitamin that has a potentially positive effect on performance, easily found in sports nutrition stores or grocery stores. Just don’t expect a massive increase in muscle gains from vitamin D supplementation. If you were deficient in vitamin D before supplementation, you could notice some effects. However, for most bodybuilders and athletes, vitamin D would support training and gains versus boosting them.
On the flip side, taking a multivitamin is advised during cuts. Especially during an extreme amount when you have to shred down for a show or weight class-restricted athletic event. Once you start restricting calories and overall food consumption, you’re more likely to have various vitamin deficiencies. This is why multivitamins should be used as a tool during extreme cuts; however, you should optimize your diet first.
Minerals are more important than vitamins for athletes and bodybuilders. Why? Because while we sweat, we lose most of our minerals. If you’re working out hard, you’re going to sweat a lot. Let’s get into some extra unique minerals that you’ll want to focus on if you are an athlete or a bodybuilder.
When it comes to performance, sodium is probably the essential mineral to consume. Sodium plays a critical role in muscle contractions and supports the fluid balance within a cell. As a result, sodium gets quite a lot of backlash in popular media. However, the problem is that the basic needs and requirements for sodium are directed towards sedentary people. Athletes have much higher sodium needs than the general population. How much more, you might ask? Let’s take a look at it this way:
Let’s say that you are an average sweater, which means that you produce about 1.5-liters of sweat per hour of intense exercise. Let’s also assume that you are a hardcore bodybuilder. So chances are, you get in 2-hours of heavy training on workout days and, therefore, lose around 3-liters of sweat every training session. The main mineral that we lose when we sweat is sodium. Remember that we lose about 1.15-grams of sodium per liter of sweat, which means that an intense 2-hour workout will result in around 3.45-grams of sodium loss. What’s the best way that you can replace that sodium? Salt! Salt has 40% sodium, which means that you would have to have over 8-grams of salt to replace the sodium you lost when you were sweating.
Even though the daily salt recommendation for sedentary people is about 2.3-grams of salt per day, ignore that completely. If you’re reading this, you are the type of person that works out, so those rules don’t apply to you, at- all. Instead, liberally salt your food, eat snacks with salt in them like peanuts or beef jerky, and don’t hesitate to cook meats in high-sodium marinades or sauces. Salt is essential to maintaining both strength, endurance, and performance. So make sure that you are taking in higher levels of salt as an athlete or gym-goer. Of course, if you’re cutting water for a fitness competition or weight class-restricted event, you’re going to have to modify your sodium levels as well. However, that conversation is a little out of the scope, for now, so we’ll leave that topic for another time.
Considering that you’re maintaining a proper intake of all electrolytes and consistently working up a sweat, blood pressure issues are unexpected to arise. Especially if you are within the healthy body composition range, however, if you are a bit overweight or have a blood pressure issue run in your family, it might be a good idea to regularly check your blood pressure when adding salt to your eating regimen. Health definitely should come before muscle gains, so make sure you keep this in mind when planning your diet.
Magnesium is another mineral essential for performance as it is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the human body. Many of these enzymatic reactions have a direct impact on muscle contractions and insulin sensitivity. Taking in higher magnesium levels through a regular diet can also be challenging, so magnesium supplementation might be a good idea for athletes, bodybuilders, and frequent gym-goers. Insulin sensitivity is essential for post-workout recovery, muscle growth, body composition, and overall performance. Therefore, consuming higher levels of magnesium is critical for improving performance. Magnesium also lowers or controls cortisol levels, impacting muscle growth as cortisol can adversely affect muscle growth and body composition.
Consuming between 300 and 500mg per day of magnesium glycinate appears to be the best way to go. It’s been known that some forms of magnesium could cause a tickle sensation in the stomach, but Glycinate has fewer side effects. However, Glycinate can be harder to find, so it’s best to go to a sports nutrition shop rather than a grocery store.
Calcium is essential because it is responsible for muscle contractions. However, calcium availability isn’t a big issue because we store around 99% of our bones while the other 1% is stored in our muscles. This means if our muscles need more calcium, they can get it from our bones . Having the proper calcium intake is crucial for athletes and bodybuilders because sweat and exercise can deplete bone calcium levels if not replaced . Having a depletion in calcium, combined with poor nutrition, can eventually lead to osteoporosis. If this happens, strength and size gains will essentially be impossible because you’ll be in the hospital with broken bones all of the time. The last statement is an exaggeration, of course, but healthy bones are happy bones.
It’s best to take in plenty of dairy through milk, cheese, and yogurt. However, if you’re lactose intolerant, you can eat leafy green veggies with a decent amount of calcium. Even though green leafy vegetables have calcium, you’ll probably still want to supplement to be on the safe side. Calcium supplements are best stacked with vitamin D because vitamin D increases overall calcium absorption in the bone. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are often combined anyways. This is a great way to save money and consume the proper amount of these micronutrients.
Iron deficiency is more frequent in female athletes than male athletes, primarily because of the female menstrual cycle. Iron is an essential component of oxygen transportation in the blood. Therefore, if your iron levels are low, it can significantly reduce how much oxygen your blood carries and delivers to working muscles. Taking iron supplements has been shown to enhance endurance in women who were previously iron-deficient, so if you’re a woman, it may be a good idea to check out an iron supplement. Additionally, proper iron intake would also likely help with training recovery from the increase in oxygen delivery.
Red meat has high iron levels, so don’t hesitate to add some red meat to your diet to maintain or elevate your iron levels. Women are likely to get the most benefits from iron supplementation, but you should consider an iron supplement regardless of your gender if your diet is low in red meat.
Studies conclude that zinc supplementation can increase testosterone levels, especially in older individuals. Keep in mind that a handful of these studies have been performed by the inventors of the ZMA formulation, including Victor Conte of BALCO fame. However, studies in younger individuals seem to show no benefits to zinc consumption. So, it’s difficult to know how effective zinc is for increasing testosterone production.
Regardless, adding zinc with vitamin D could be a potential strategy for bodybuilders interested in boosting natural testosterone levels, especially if a given lifter has a deficiency in either micronutrient or has naturally low testosterone levels. Zinc can also enhance immune functions, which can have a direct impact on muscle growth. It’s almost impossible to make progress if your body is constantly battling bugs and colds. Zinc can also be depleted through sweat, so adding zinc-rich foods into your diet would be a good idea. Meats, eggs, and dairy are all excellent sources of zinc which would be good news for the typical bodybuilder’s diet.
Ultimately, taking a multimineral would be a good strategy for the athlete or bodybuilder. Minerals can be challenging to come by in food, and we also lose a lot of our minerals through sweat. This is why extra supplementation is almost necessary to maintain proper levels. In addition, several more minerals may impact bodybuilding, and a multimineral supplementation would likely cover these.
Also, remember to lightly salt your food to make up for the sodium lost through heavy sweating while working out. You’re not going to notice an immediate performance boost or physique change from mineral supplementation, but your adaptations to your workouts will be better and more consistent over time. Also, your overall health and vitality will improve. Always remember, it’s more important to fuel yourself for long-term results, so do your best to have a proper diet rich in minerals.