Overwhelmed walking down the vitamin aisle? You’re not alone. Should I be taking a multivitamin? What’s a supplement? Will any of these actually make me healthier and stronger? Vitamins may provide your body with nutrients so you can physically function at your best throughout daily activity and each workout session. But, with all the confusing science out there, knowing what we’re supposed to take gets lost in the who knows what we’re supposed to take.
We chatted with a few experts to get the low-down on which vitamins to prioritize, how a healthy diet factors into a vitamin routine, and why your workouts may or may not be impacted by supplements in the first place.
Talk to your doctor or dietician before taking vitamins.
Different forms of vitamins are absorbed by your body at various rates. One type may be more or less effective than others.
“Antioxidants (like vitamins C and E) could help clean up cellular damage and free radicals resulting from exercise. But vitamins and dietary supplements aren’t the right choice for everyone,” advises McKercher. “When necessary, I fill in the gaps with a whole foods-derived multivitamin. But it’s important to talk to a registered dietitian before you start a new supplement.”
To make sure you’re not consuming too much or too little of a particular vitamin, always check with your physician or health care provider.
Start with an antioxidant-rich diet.
Antioxidants protect your cells against free radicals. These are molecules produced when your body breaks down food. They play a vital role against cancer and heart disease. Fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, herbs and spices, and seeds can all be great sources of antioxidants.
“I eat plenty of antioxidant-rich vegetables. Broccoli, spinach, and kale are a few of my favorites. Along with anti-inflammatory omega-3s from fish, flax, chia seeds, and walnuts to support exercise recovery and general wellness,” says Stephanie McKercher, Colorado-based registered dietitian and recipe developer at The Grateful Grazer.
Vitamins exist naturally within these foods. But if you find that your diet is lacking in any way, or you have a doctor-diagnosed vitamin deficiency, you may want to start adding supplements to your daily routine.
Dr. David Greuner, managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates, also notes how challenging it can be to obtain all vitamins through food alone. In his opinion, a high-quality, centralized supplement can simply make your life easier by saving you time and money.
Use spices to your advantage.
In addition to antioxidants and vitamins, you may want to consider using spices to bolster health, fitness gains, and exercise performance.
“Finding the right supplements to benefit your workouts and overall health can be beneficial,” says fitness expert and personal trainer Nadia Murdock. “Cayenne pepper supplements may help burn fat and boost energy before a workout. Turmeric is an excellent option for muscle recovery.”
Decide which type of vitamin is best for you.
Vitamins also control chemical reactions within your body to convert food into energy. Water-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin C and B complex vitamins, should be taken daily because they aren’t stored in the body.
Vitamin C protects your cells and immune system, and B complex vitamins are vital for good vision, skin health, nerve function, and nervous and digestive systems. “B complex vitamins are mostly important in metabolism and also in energy processing and recovery,” explains Dr. Greuner. “In general, they may help with energy levels. This, in turn helps with maximized results.”
Fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, are stored in the body. This means you’re more likely to get enough through a balanced diet. Vitamin A promotes vision, healthy skin, and immune system health, in addition to bone and tooth growth. Dr. Greuner says Vitamin D is linked to calcium metabolism in your muscles. This is useful since muscle contraction depends on the flow of calcium in and out of cells during exercise. As of now, he says there is not compelling evidence linking the two, but there is none proving otherwise, either.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. It has been associated with hormonal balance, improved vision, and better cholesterol. However, some studies suggest high intake of Vitamin E and Vitamin C can actually decrease workout recovery. Still, Dr. Greuner says the fact that both exist as antioxidants means they may minimize free radical damage produced with exercise.
Though less common, vitamin K and zinc also offer health benefits. The former strengthens bones, teeth, and cartilage. And the latter shores up your immune system to keep you healthy as a whole.
If anything, stick to a multivitamin.
In general, Dr. Greuner recommends a regular multivitamin for those interested in hitting standard vitamin goals. A high-potency multivitamin can ensure you get the nutrients you need for ideal physical efficiency and performance.
“The key is that it must be from an excellent source, which leads to better absorption of the vitamin,” he suggests. “I also recommend branched chain amino acids and essential fatty acids for anyone working out intensely. These components are integral for cellular repair.”
Another option is a vitamin compound, which combines certain vitamins for specific purposes. “I take a vitamin compound of Vitamin A,D, &,K to help me personally with digestion as my body does not digest properly,” shares Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “These vitamins help aid my workouts because my digestive system is running more smooth. This helps fuel my body as necessary, giving me the energy I need to workout.”