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Multi Taskers

When it comes to supplements, those who train seriously tend to focus on the obvious performance and physique boosters, like whey protein, creatine, BCAAs and beta-alanine. And while those are all must-haves, there is one supplement that may be even more critical — a multivitamin/mineral.


You’ve heard it before — many so-called experts claim that if you eat a well-rounded diet, you don’t need a vitamin and mineral supplement. Let’s be reasonable now. Even if you’re a healthy-minded, trained individual who meticulously eats a well-rounded diet, it can be difficult to maintain a robust micronutrient profile. One reason is the diminishing quality of our food supply. Modern conventional farming practices deplete the nutrient density of soil and reduce the micronutrient content of animal-based products like beef, milk, chicken and eggs. You eat organic, you say? That’s a good move, and one that will certainly net you more vitamins and minerals, but because you work out, you may still be at risk. Research shows that athletes who train intensely routinely lose many critical vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, vitamin C, chromium, selenium, zinc, magnesium and copper. These reasons make a multivitamin/mineral supplement an absolute necessity.

Bad Medicine?

You might have also heard some doctors and nutritionists saying that taking vitamin and mineral supplements can be dangerous. We’ll clear that up right now. That info is based on some poorly executed and very biased studies, the most recent of which was conducted at the University of Minnesota. The researchers used data from more than 38,000 elderly women in the Iowa Women’s Health Study, which was pulled from questionnaires about supplement use in 1986, 1997 and 2004. They concluded that the use of multivitamins, vitamin B-6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper were associated with slight increased risk of death.

Now first of all, the study was done in elderly women, not exactly the most vivacious of populations. Second, researchers didn’t actually provide the subjects with any of these supplements; they simply relied on subjects’ being able to remember taking them. Anecdotal evidence of that sort is the most unreliable data available for use in a study and is far from scientific. And another flawed factor is what is known as the “sick-user effect,” referring to the fact that when people are diagnosed with a disease, they tend to start taking supplements in hopes of an alternative cure. So the supplements didn’t increase their risk of death, the disease did. Finally, the study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which is a journal of the American Medical Association, a group known to be staunch supporters of the pharmaceutical industry and strongly opposed to the supplement industry. 

The truth is that the number of studies showing that vitamin and mineral supplements are beneficial far outnumber those claiming they aren’t. The most recent was published in the June 2012 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition. German researchers reported that among about 24,000 people, those taking vitamin/mineral supplements at the start of the study had a 42 percent reduced risk in all-cause mortality over the 11 years of the study and a 48 percent reduced risk in cancer-related death. Here are some more:

  • A 2012 study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology suggests that supplementing with a multivitamin could reduce the risk of colon cancer.
  • A 2010 study from the Karolinska Institute reported that women using multivitamins had a 30 percent reduced risk of a heart attack.
  • A 2009 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that taking multivitamins for more than 10 years reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 16 percent, while taking a vitamin E supplement can reduce the risk by almost 30 percent.
  • A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that taking selenium along with a multivitamin reduced the risk of prostate cancer by 40 percent.
  • A 2003 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that of 130 adults, those taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for one year had significantly fewer infections, including respiratory and urinary-tract infections, influenza and gastrointestinal infections, and a lower rate of illness-related absenteeism.

Studies also show that multivitamins can provide cognitive benefits and even aid fat loss. One 2012 study from Australia analyzed the data from 10 studies on cognitive function and multivitamin use in more than 3,000 subjects. They reported that multivitamin use was associated with better memory in females. And a 2010 study from U.K. researchers found that young to middle-aged women taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for nine weeks performed significantly better on cognitive tasks than those taking a placebo. And a 2010 U.K. study revealed that men taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for about five weeks performed better on cognitive tasks, were less mentally tired and reported improved vigor as compared to those getting a placebo.

There’s good news, too, for those concerned with physique and performance. Chinese researchers reported in a 2010 study that women taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for six months lost 8 pounds without changing their diet, while those taking a placebo lost less than half a pound. This was likely due to the higher metabolic rate and increased fat-burning afforded by the multivitamin/mineral supplement. Reduced hunger may be another key factor, as one 2008 Canadian study reported lower hunger ratings during fasting in those supplementing with a multivitamin. The supplemented group also significantly lowered their total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and raised their HDL (good) cholesterol. And a 2008 study in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that men who regularly consumed multivitamins had lower body-fat levels than men who did not.

Photo by Robert Reiff


A 2011 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that female athletes getting a multivitamin/mineral supplement during a six-week training period had lower levels of tissue-damaging reactive oxygen species than those taking a placebo, which could lead to better recovery and performance. And a 2010 study from France reported that male competitive cyclists receiving a multivitamin for three weeks showed better cycling performance than those getting a placebo. A multivitamin/mineral supplement was also shown to increase performance in fencers.

The bottom line is that you definitely should be supplementing with a multivitamin/mineral supplement to boost overall health, brain function, athletic performance and even fat loss and muscle recovery and growth.

Multiple Choice

You should take a multivitamin with the first meal of the day to enhance absorption of most of the nutrients and to stock up on them for the day ahead. Look for a multivitamin that provides as close to 100 percent as possible of the Daily Value of the following:

Vitamin A (only if it’s mostly beta-carotene, otherwise keep it under 4,000 IU)
Vitamin B-1 (thiamin), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), B-6, B-12 and folic acid (B9)
Iodine (especially if you follow a low-sodium diet)

The Extras

If you train, you will need more of the following vitamins and minerals:

B vitamins: These water-soluble vitamins are typically low in those who train because they are often lost in sweat. Take a B-complex 100 that provides 100 milligrams of B-1, B-2, B-3, pantothenic acid (B-5) and B-6, and at least 100 micrograms of B-12, 400 micrograms of folic acid and 300 micrograms of biotin, twice a day.
Vitamin C: This is another water-soluble vitamin that can be lost via sweat. Take 500 to 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C twice a day.
Vitamin D: Critical for your health, physique and performance, D aids fat loss, testosterone levels, bone health and mood. Take 2,000 to 6,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day.
Vitamin E: New research shows that vitamin E is critical for muscle recovery. Unless your multivitamin has at least 400 IU of E, you will want to take a vitamin E supplement providing 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E per day. Be sure to buy the natural forms, called d-alpha tocopherols, which are absorbed and utilized better than the synthetic forms, called dl-alpha tocopherols.

  • Calcium: Important for bone health, fat loss and even testosterone levels, you need 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of calcium per day. Take 500 to 600 milligrams of calcium (any more may not get absorbed properly) two to four times per day separate from other minerals and vitamins.
  • Zinc and magnesium: Take 30 milligrams of zinc and 450 milligrams of magnesium 30 to 60 minutes before bed. It will help increase sleep quality and keep testosterone levels and muscle strength up.
  • Consider taking any vitamin or mineral that does not add up to 100 percent DV in your multi, unless you are certain to get adequate amounts of the nutrient in your daily diet.

Want to learn more from training, nutrition and supplement authority Jim Stoppani, Ph.D.? Visit his website or find him on Facebook and Twitter.