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Vitamins and minerals: Important or just marketing hype?

Vitamine und Mineralstoffe: Wichtig oder lediglich ein Marketing Hype?

Vitamins and minerals are the most popular supplements on the market today, but do we really need them?

If you eat a balanced diet and eat adequate amounts of food, then there is a good chance that you are getting the daily recommended intake of the necessary vitamins and minerals. Assuming that you are not deficient in any of these numerous micronutrients, then taking an additional multivitamin will not provide any additional benefits as your body cannot store an excess of most of these micronutrients for later use.

On the other hand, if you tend to eat a lot of the same foods (as bodybuilders often do) or if you are dieting and your calorie intake is below your maintenance calorie intake, then there is a good chance that you have a micronutrient deficiency. Vitamins and minerals are essential for your health and well-being and are also needed for your training and your body's ability to burn fat. They promote energy transfer, prevent disease and act as co-enzymes to support many chemical reactions. A significant deficiency of any of these micronutrients can lead to serious illness.

I personally recommend that my clients use a multivitamin and mineral complex daily regardless of their dietary habits. The only way to determine if a person is deficient in any of these micronutrients is through a blood test. A good multivitamin product can serve as a kind of insurance policy against possible deficiencies - and there are no drawbacks: the cost is minimal and micronutrients that are not used by your body are simply excreted in the urine without any negative consequences.

In addition to vitamins and minerals, there is a class of micronutrients called antioxidants that require additional supplementation. There are no official recommendations for the daily intake of antioxidants, primarily because these official recommendations were made to prevent deficiencies rather than to improve overall health and well-being - and antioxidants have benefits that go far beyond the basic functions of the body.


Antioxidants are like your body's 'road sweepers', helping it to protect itself from damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage the body's cells and tissues). Every time we breathe, the intake of oxygen causes the production of free radicals. Environmental factors such as pollutants, smoke and certain chemicals also contribute to the production of free radicals. If left unchecked, they can wreak havoc in your body and cause a variety of ailments including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer.

Here's how this process works: Our bodies are made up of billions of cells held together by a series of electron bonds. These electron bonds are aligned in pairs so that one electron stabilizes the other. In response to different events, such as oxygen consumption, a molecule can lose one of its electron pairs, turning it into an unstable free radical. These free radicals then attempt to replace their lost electrons by "stealing" an electron from another molecule. This triggers a chain reaction in which the second molecule becomes a free radical and "attacks" a third molecule, which in turn becomes a free radical and attacks a fourth molecule, and so on.

To prevent the production of free radicals running amok, your body has a sophisticated internal antioxidant system. Various antioxidant enzymes, together with antioxidants from the food we eat, help to keep free radicals in check. However, when free radical levels reach a critical level, this system becomes overloaded and cellular tissue damage occurs.

Physical activity and training further exacerbate this situation. Due to increased oxygen consumption, free radical production skyrockets during exercise (up to twenty times higher than at rest), overwhelming the body's defense system. If this extreme production of free radicals is not controlled, it results in inflammation of muscle tissue, impaired muscle function and slower recovery. Active people therefore have an even greater need for antioxidant supplementation.

Although there are dozens of known antioxidants, two of them are absolutely essential: vitamin C and vitamin E. These vitamins are partners in defense - they have a synergistic relationship and work together in a way where their combined effects are greater than simply the sum of their individual effects. Other antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, selenium and carotenoids are also helpful - not only do they have important health benefits on their own, but they can also help to regenerate the activity of vitamins C and E.

Antioxidants can be obtained from food, but it is almost impossible to get adequate amounts from natural food sources alone. For example, you would need to drink 11 glasses of orange juice to meet your daily requirement of vitamin C and eat three pounds of almonds to get the necessary amount of vitamin E. And since it has been shown that antioxidants in low doses (for vitamin C and E even above the officially recommended minimum intake) cannot provide adequate protection against infirmity, supplementation is not an option, but a necessity. Considering that side effects are virtually non-existent at the recommended intakes, the risks are minimal while the potential benefits are enormous.

Vitamins, minerals and the athlete

For a long time it was believed that the body only needed proteins, fats, carbohydrates and a range of minerals to stay fit and healthy. However, it was then discovered that these nutritional components are not enough - in addition to these, a number of other micronutrients are essential to maintain the body's function. These vital nutritional components were given the name vitamins.

What are vitamins?

Vitamins are organic compounds that help to regulate fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism in the body. They cannot be produced by the body and must be supplied through the food we eat. Fortunately, we only need tiny amounts of these vitamins.

Vitamins are not a source of energy, but they play a crucial role in releasing the energy stored in the food we eat. In addition to this, our enzyme, nervous, hormonal and immune systems depend on vitamins for their regulation and control. Therefore, vitamins are essential for good health, well-being and growth.

Vitamins are divided into two classes:

  • Water-soluble vitamins: These vitamins cannot be stored in the body and must therefore be supplied regularly through food.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins: These vitamins can be stored in the body and include vitamins A, D, E and K. However, even though these vitamins can be stored, they should still be a part of a good diet.

What are minerals?

Minerals are inorganic elements that play many important roles in the functioning of the body. In addition to their well-known roles in the formation of strong bones and teeth, they also help control the nervous system, fluid balance in body tissues, muscle contractions, some hormonal functions and enzyme secretion.

Like vitamins, minerals are essential and, like vitamins, cannot be produced by the body itself. All minerals in our body must be obtained from food.

Where do we get our vitamins and minerals from and what roles do they play?

Vitamin A: Vitamin A is found in two forms in food: retinol and beta carotene. It is important for vision in dim light, healthy skin and healthy surface tissues - especially those that secrete mucus, such as the digestive organs, lungs and vagina. In addition, it protects against infections and is necessary for the functioning of the immune system.

  • Food sources: Fish liver oil such as cod liver oil, liver, carrots, margarine enriched with vitamin A, cheese and dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D comes in two forms: Cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol. It is necessary for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth as it regulates the absorption and metabolism of calcium.

  • Food sources:Fatty fish, eggs, milk, breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin D and margarine. Vitamin D can also be produced by the body through exposure of the skin to sunlight.

Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a collective term for a group of compounds known as tocopherols. It is used to protect cell membranes and fats from oxidative damage, to protect vitamin A and for the function of the immune system and nervous system.

  • Food sources: Vegetable oils, eggs, whole grains, green vegetables and nuts.

Vitamin K: Vitamin K represents a number of compounds, including phylloquinone. It is necessary for normal blood clotting and energy metabolism.

  • Food sources: Dark green, leafy vegetables, liver, meat, potatoes and cereals.

Vitamin B1: Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is used for energy metabolism and especially carbohydrate metabolism.

  • Food sources: Bread, potatoes, milk, meat (especially pork), offal, whole grains and breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B1.

Vitamin B2: Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is essential for the utilization of energy from food - especially from fats and proteins.

  • Food sources: Milk, meat, liver and eggs.

Niacin: Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid, is needed for energy metabolism.

  • Food sources: Meat, potatoes, bread and breakfast cereals enriched with niacin.

Pantothenic acid: Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, is needed for energy metabolism and the production of neurotransmitters for the immune system.

  • Food sources: Yeast, liver, whole grains and nuts. In fact, pantothenic acid is found in almost all foods.

Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is the name of a group of compounds that includes pyridoxine. It is important for protein metabolism and in particular for haemoglobin metabolism.

  • Food sources: Potatoes, meat, milk and fish

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is the name for a group of compounds including cyanocobalamin. It is needed for blood formation (red blood cells), the nervous system and DNA synthesis.

  • Food sources: Liver, milk, fish and eggs.

Folic acid: Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 and vitamin M, is needed for red blood cell production, the nervous system and DNA synthesis.

  • Food sources: Offal and raw green vegetables.

Biotin : Biotin, also known as vitamin H, is used for protein and fat metabolism.

  • Food sources: Liver, kidneys, whole grains and nuts.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is found in various forms, including ascorbic acid. It is necessary for the maintenance of connective tissue (including tendons, ligaments and joint cartilage) and supports wound healing, the production of hormones and the function of the immune system. It also protects vitamins A and E.

  • Food sources: Fresh fruit (especially citrus fruits) and vegetables (especially potatoes).

Function and sources of minerals

Sodium: Sodium helps regulate fluid balance and is involved in the release of energy, nerve function and muscle contraction. Sodium also increases blood pressure.

  • Food sources: Salt, bread and cereals, ham, seafood, smoked fish, soy sauce and foods that have been preserved using salt.

Potassium: Potassium is needed for the body's fluid balance and is involved in membrane function, muscle function and a reduction in blood pressure.

  • Food sources: Potatoes, vegetables, greens products, pork, dairy products, fruit (especially bananas) and fruit and vegetable juices.

Calcium: Calcium is needed for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting, hormone secretion and muscle and nerve function.

  • Food sources: Milk, cheese, bread and flour, green leafy vegetables and small fatty fish with bones.

Magnesium: Magnesium is involved in muscle tone and the activation of enzymes.

  • Food sources: Milk, bread, potatoes and vegetables.

Iron: Iron is necessary for hemoglobin production in the blood (red blood cells), oxygen transportation and enzyme activation.

  • Food sources: Red meat, liver, flour and cereal products, potatoes and vegetables.

Zinc: Zinc is needed for growth, bone metabolism, activation of enzymes, release of vitamin A from the liver, sense of taste and insulin storage.

  • Food sources: Meat, liver, seafood (especially oysters), milk, bread and cereals.

Copper : Copper is essential for enzyme function, blood formation, bone metabolism, immune system function, nerve function and energy metabolism.

  • Food sources: Oysters, mussels, liver, brewer's yeast, whole grains, nuts and cocoa.

Manganese : Manganese is necessary for enzyme activation and cell structure and works together with calcium and iron.

  • Food sources: Whole grain bread, wheat germ, nuts, avocados, peas and tea.

Molybdenum: Molybdenum is involved in enzyme function.

  • Food sources: Liver, kidneys, wheat germ, lentils, sunflower seeds, eggs and beans.

Selenium: Selenium has an enzyme function and protects cell membranes and fats from oxidative damage. Selenium works together with vitamin E.

  • Food sources: Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), seeds, bread, fish and meat (especially pork)

Chromium: Chromium enhances the effect of insulin on glucose uptake by cells.

  • Food sources: Egg yolks, liver, cheese, whole grains, mayonnaise and brewer's yeast.

Iodine : Iodine is a necessary component of thyroid hormones.

  • Food sources: Fish, seaweed, meat, milk and iodized table salt

Phosphorus : Phosphorus is necessary for regulating energy storage, bone formation, membrane function and growth.

  • Food sources: Dairy products, meat, fish, soybeans, soy products, legumes, and wheat bran.

Am I getting enough?

Most experts agree that a balanced diet should provide you with all the vitamins and nutrients you need. This assumes that you eat a variety of different foods from each of the food groups and, of course, adequate amounts of these foods. By sufficient amounts, we mean enough food to maintain a healthy body weight.

Of course, different people have different needs for these micronutrients and therefore helpful guidelines have been established by health authorities in different countries. There are different guidelines and bases for calculation.

For example, there is the estimated average requirement, which indicates the amount of nutrients an average person needs. Some people will need less and others more. Another basis for calculation, also known as the reference nutrient intake, has slightly higher values that are intended to cover the needs of 97% of the population, which means that only a few people (3%) need more. It is important to remember that these reference values are aimed at populations of people and not individuals. They are therefore only guidelines and not targets that you should aim for.

Do athletes have different needs?

In general, athletes should get all the vitamins and nutrients they need from their normal diet. As athletes consume more energy than inactive people, they tend to eat more, which should allow them to meet increased vitamin and mineral requirements through increased dietary intake (always assuming a balanced diet).

However, some studies have shown that many athletes do not have an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals. This could be because they reduce their calorie intake in order to control their weight. Other reasons for inadequate intake include irregular training programs that make meal planning difficult and following a fad diet that does not include a balanced nutritional intake.

Will vitamin and mineral supplements improve your training performance?

A lot of research has been done to find out whether vitamin and mineral supplements can improve athletic performance. So far, there is not much evidence that athletes who take sufficient vitamins and minerals in their diet experience any improvements. The only improvements in performance that have been observed have been in athletes who were previously deficient in a nutrient and for whom taking a supplement had compensated for this deficiency.

In summary, it can be said that supplementation will not result in an increase in performance if you were not previously deficient in one or more vitamins and minerals. However, if you do suffer from a deficiency, then compensating for this deficiency may well have a beneficial effect on your performance.

Choosing the right supplement

Most people will not be aware of a possible minor deficiency of vitamins and minerals as the symptoms are not severe. Serious deficiencies, on the other hand, are not widespread in our part of the world.

However, it can still make sense to use a vitamin and mineral supplement as a kind of "insurance policy", as taking it will at least do no harm and may be beneficial. If you choose to use such a supplement, then the best choice is a well-formulated multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains all the important vitamins and minerals.

What about supplements that only contain specific vitamins or minerals?

It is best not to use supplements that only contain one or two specific vitamins or minerals. This is because vitamins and minerals work together and an excessive amount of just one vitamin or mineral can interfere with the absorption or effectiveness of other vitamins or minerals. A correct balance is important here.

In addition, some vitamins - especially the fat-soluble vitamins - can be harmful in excessive amounts as they can accumulate in the body and cause problems. With water-soluble vitamins, excess amounts are simply excreted in the urine and provide no additional benefits, meaning you're wasting your money.

The packaging of vitamin and mineral supplements will usually state for each ingredient what percentage of the daily requirement the supplement provides.

You will probably notice that many supplements exceed the recommended daily intake, but this is not necessarily harmful as the safety buffers are large.

Key points

  1. Your body cannot produce most vitamins and minerals on its own, which is why they must be obtained from food.
  2. A balanced diet should provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need.
  3. If you already consume sufficient amounts of all vitamins and minerals through your normal diet, supplements will not increase your performance.
  4. If you have a minor deficiency in one or more micronutrients, then a supplement may boost your performance.
  5. Severe vitamin deficiencies are rare in our part of the world.
  6. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K can have side effects if they are taken in very high quantities.
  7. When selecting a supplement, you should choose a well-balanced multivitamin and mineral supplement.
  8. Supplements containing single vitamins and minerals are best avoided as it is difficult to achieve the right balance with their help.


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