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Should footballers take multivitamins?

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You are probably after a yes or no answer, but it’s not quite as simple as that. The answer is in fact one of the most commonly used phrases in nutrition – “it depends”.

According to examine.com, their analysis of scientific literature suggests that multivitamins seem to be neither significantly healthy nor significantly harmful/dangerous.

Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that, wherever possible, we feel it’s always better to get your nutrients from food. Whole foods are complex, and the substances within them go far beyond a list of vitamins. The combination and synergistic actions of nutrients, phytochemicals, fibre, etc., is impossible to replicate in a pill.

“But surely a multi-vitamin as a diet ‘insurance-policy’ is a good idea; you know, covers all the bases and fill any gaps where I might be falling short?”

To put it bluntly, if your diet is already good in terms of variety and nutrient density, then taking a multivitamin is likely to offer no benefit and would be, at best, a waste of money.

However, no one is perfect when it comes to nutrition and all of us have periods where our diets fall short. Whilst a multivitamin is no substitute for a good diet, if your diet is consistently poor (for whatever reason) then a multivitamin could be a good idea.

This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing choice. You could adopt a strategy whereby you only take multivitamins when your diet is poor (planned or otherwise). For example, in the off season you go away on holiday and know that, even with the best intentions, your choices are going to be a long way from ideal. Another example would be if you were travelling abroad with your club, where you know your food choices could be limited.

“But don’t footballers have a greater need for vitamins and minerals because of their activity levels?”

This may be the case, however, higher activity levels means you have higher energy needs and thus should consume greater quantities of food. Providing the majority of your intake is varied and nutrient rich, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, this shouldn’t be an issue.

However, with this in mind, it may be worth considering a multivitamin during times when you have a restricted energy intake. This would include times when you are dieting and therefore in a calorie deficit (for many this could include pre-season). Potentially this may also apply to congested periods of the season, for example, playing twice a week where you may be struggling to consume enough calories from nutrient rich foods to match your expenditure.

One of the problems with supplementation is that we’re constantly led to believe that more is better. This isn’t always the case, especially with regards to vitamins and minerals. Many micronutrients can actually be bad for us, or even toxic, when taken in large amounts. This leads us on to the next point – the idea of mega dosing.

Whilst taking a standard multivitamin alongside a regular diet is unlikely to do you any harm, it has become increasingly common to take supplements containing vitamins and minerals far in excess of the recommended daily intake.

Add to that other foods and supplements fortified with vitamins and minerals (e.g. breakfast cereals and protein bars), the popularity of extra supplements such as “greens” drinks, and players supplementing individual vitamins/minerals (e.g. ZMA, B-vitamins, etc.) on top of a multivitamin, you can easily find yourself not only exceeding the recommended daily intakes, but fast approaching and going over safe upper limits.

There is also research to suggest that high doses of antioxidant supplementation could interfere with/blunt the body’s adaptation to training. Put simply, taking high doses of some vitamins and minerals may actually hinder the very results you are seeking to achieve.

So, it’s important to be aware of all the different products you are consuming and whether they contain added vitamins and minerals. The bottom line is if you are genuinely concerned that you may be deficient in a particular vitamin/mineral then you should see a suitably trained healthcare professional for testing, and then supplement for the deficiency under their guidance. We suggest your first port of call should be your club medical team or your GP.

If you are going to take multivitamins, we recommend taking a ‘standard’ dose version (not a ‘mega’ or ‘high’ version) such as the ones below:

In a nutshell
  • If your diet is already varied and nutrient rich, you probably don’t need to take one.
  • You might consider a multivitamin when:
    • Your diet is poor or restricted.
    • You have restricted energy intake (e.g. dieting during preseason).
    • You have particularly congested periods of the season (e.g. two games per week) and you are struggling to consume enough calories from nutrient rich foods to match your energy requirements.
  • Be aware that more is not always better.
  • Be aware of the different supplements and foodstuffs you are consuming that contain added vitamins and minerals.
  • If you are concerned that you are deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, discuss with the club medical team or your GP and supplement under their guidance.
  • If you do decide to take a multivitamin, stick to ‘standard’ versions and avoid the ‘high’ or ‘mega’ dosage versions.

Why not also check out our footballers quick guide to supplements.