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What are vitamins?
Vitamins play a role in all kinds of bodily functions, such as the energy supply, the functioning of the immune system, bone preservation and the functioning of the nervous system. When there is a shortage of vitamins, certain body processes do not work as well and you may suffer from symptoms such as fatigue, reduced resistance and inflammation.
If you eat a varied and sufficient diet, you will probably get enough vitamins. You get them from foods such as vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat and fish. There are many different vitamins: one is common in fruit, the other in dairy, for example. In total there are thirteen vitamins: A, C, D, E, K and eight types of vitamin E. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) differs per vitamin and can vary from a few micrograms to miligrams. Read more about the different vitamins and the RDA here.
Two groups of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble
Water-soluble vitamins (B and C) cannot be stored by the body (with the exception of vitamins B12). Too much of these vitamins is therefore almost non-existent. If there is too much of these vitamins present in the body, they leave the body through the urine.
The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are mainly found in dietary fats. Your body can store them to a limited extent. Only vitamin A can be stored in the liver in larger quantities. Excess of these vitamins leaves the body through the urine or bile.
What use can vitamins have as a supplement?
Athletes often get enough vitamins through their ‘normal diet’. This is because athletes often eat more than non-sportsmen and therefore also get more nutrients. Athletes who have removed certain foods from their diet, eat unbalanced or little, can get too little (less than the RDI) vitamins in their diet. A sports nutritionist can help you to gain insight into possible shortages.
Although a deficiency of vitamin B can have a negative effect on sports performance (a deficiency can cause less energy in your body), it has not been proven that taking extra vitamin B can lead to a better sports performance. Vitamins that are involved in energy production, such as vitamin B6, can be of added value for athletes who train a lot and heavily because they may contribute to how much energy you have. This does not automatically mean that your sports performance improves as a result. An excess of vitamin B6 can be harmful to your health or lead to injuries. So make sure you don’t get too much vitamin B6.
Vitamin C has no effect on your sporting performance. However, vitamin C does play an important role in the immune system. Taking 200 – 1000 mg of vitamin C daily can help. You can get this extra amount through food, for example by eating extra fruit and vegetables. For example, a raw red pepper contains 190 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams: that’s more than in an orange (50 mg per 100 grams). A supplement is also possible.
The RDA of vitamin C is around 75 mg per day for adults. More than 1000 mg of vitamin C per day makes no sense. In fact, this can have a counterproductive effect and make you benefit less from your training. Too much vitamin C has a negative effect on certain substances in your body that are involved in muscle building.
Your body needs vitamin D to process calcium, so that your bones strengthen and your muscles function well. Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D: it provides about 90% of the total amount of vitamin D your body produces. The remaining 10% comes from food, such as oily fish. If you are outdoors a lot, for example by exercising outside, then you won’t easily have a vitamin D deficiency. In the winter, however, it can be good to take some extra vitamin D.
A lack of vitamin D can disrupt the absorption of calcium, so that bones are less strong and your muscles do not function optimally. There are also indications that a lack of vitamin D can be bad for your sports performance. It is just not yet known exactly how this works and whether extra vitamin D intake leads to a better sporting performance or faster recovery. If you work out indoors and you don’t get out much, then it’s certainly not wrong to take vitamin D (especially in the winter months). Read more about vitamin D here