It is often asked, “Do Vitamins Work?”
The simple answer is, “Of course they work.” An absolute deficiency of any of the 13 essential vitamins or essential trace elements is incompatible with life.
What is generally meant by that question is, “Am I going to realize benefits in my health and in my physical and mental performance by taking vitamins?”
And the answer to that question is also yes. But it requires a more complex answer. It also depends on what you choose to take.
Runners and other endurance athletes who dedicate their lifestyle to wellness and training are more likely to consume a healthy diet than the average person. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein is likely to provide many essential vitamins and minerals.
We are all, however, subject to a ubiquitous food supply that is highly processed, nutritionally incomplete, and high in saturated fats and preservatives. As a result, constant vigilance is necessary to select and maintain a diet rich in nutrients. And we are not always successful in that endeavor.
Sub-clinical deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals, which are not severe enough to cause disease, are extremely common and can adversely affect health and performance, particularly in athletes. Iron deficiency and B vitamin deficiency anemias are well described among even elite athletes.
Furthermore, just as athletic training requires additional calories for energy production, it also requires additional vitamins and minerals for the increased metabolic activity associated with exercise and recovery.
Although anti-oxidants and herbal supplements are not vitamins by strict scientific definition, there is a wealth of nearly incontrovertible scientific evidence that they provide beneficial effects on health, wellness, and mental and physical performance. These nutrients are not typically in our diet and must be taken as supplements, and when taken in a carefully selected combination, synergistic effects may be realized.
So, “Do Vitamins Work?”
Most scientists, athletes, and coaches will agree that taking a daily, high quality, targeted nutritional supplement that contains the appropriate vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and micro-nutrients is an essential part of the complete lifestyle of an endurance athlete.
Scott W. Tunis, MD FACS is a Board Certified and active Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, with over 35 years of experience performing more than 50,000 procedures. Dr. Tunis is also a multiple US patent holder, an NIH protocol compliant vitamin clinical trial Principal Investigator, and a life-long recreational runner.