Vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants for training and staying healthy

Hard training and match play place a heavy stress on the body, but good food choices can reduce the risk of harm. Adequate intakes of energy, protein, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, selenium, sodium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12 are particularly important to health and performance. These nutrients, as well as others, are best obtained from a varied diet based largely on nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, grains, lean meats, fish, dairy products, and unsaturated oils. Dietary surveys show that most players are able to meet the recommended intakes for vitamins and minerals by eating everyday foods. Those at risk of sub-optimal intakes of these micronutrients include:

• players who restrict their energy intake, especially over long periods, to meet weight loss goals
• players whose diets lack variety and who eat a lot of foods with a poor nutrient-density

The best way to correct this situation is to seek advice from a qualified sports nutrition expert such as a sports dietitian. When food intake cannot be adequately improved for example, when the player is travelling in a country with a limited food supply – or if an individual is found to be suffering from a lack of a particular vitamin or mineral, then supplementation may be warranted. This should be undertaken with the advice of a qualified sports nutrition expert. In general, a broad- range multivitamin/mineral supplement is the best choice to support a restricted food intake, although targeted nutrient supplements may be necessary to correct an established nutrient deficiency (e.g. iron deficiency).
Anti-oxidant nutrients
Anti-oxidant nutrients are important in helping protect the body’s tissues against the stresses of hard exercise. Hard training increases the need for antioxidants, but the body naturally develops an effective defence with a balanced diet. Supplementation with antioxidants cannot be recommended because there is little evidence of benefit while it is known that over-supplementation can diminish the body‘s natural defence system.

Hard training and match play place a heavy stress on the body, but good food choices can reduce the risk of harm.

Ideas for promoting dietary variety and nutrient- rich eating 

• Be open to trying new foods and new recipes

• Make the most of foods in season

• Explore all the varieties of different foods

• Mix and match foods at meals

• Think carefully before banishing a food or groupof foods from your eating plans

Include fruits and vegetables at every meal. The strong colours of many fruits and vegetables are a sign of a high content of various vitamins and other food anti-oxidants. Aim to fill your plate with highly coloured foods to ensure a good intake of the range of these health-promoting dietary compounds. It is good to ensure that you “eat a rainbow” each day by choosing fruits and vegetables from each of the following schemes: 

White – e.g. cauliflowers, bananas, onions, potatoes 

Green – e.g. broccoli, lettuce, green apples and grapes 

Blue/purple – e.g. blueberries, plums, purple grapes, raisins 

Orange/yellow – e.g. carrots, apricots, peaches, oranges, cantaloupe, mangoes 

Red – tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, berries, red apples, red peppers 

Special concerns
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. It may occur in athletes, including football players, and can impair training and match performance. Unexplained fatigue, especially in vegetarian eaters, should be explored with a sports physician and sports nutrition expert. Routine use of iron supplements is not wise: too much is just as harmful as too little. Self- medication with iron supplements may not address the real problem that is causing fatigue or solve the cause of poor iron status.

Calcium is important for healthy bones. The best sources are dairy foods, including low fat varieties. Fortified soy foods may provide a useful substitute where players cannot consume dairy foods. Three servings a day are required by adults, with an increased requirement during growth spurts in childhood and adolescence.