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January 27

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Do I need a multivitamin? Your guide to vitamin supplements and exercise

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When the topic of nutrition comes up, I get asked a lot "Do I need a multivitamin?" Well, how do you know if you should take a vitamin supplement? Who might benefit from taking one?

Read on to find out plus be sure to check out my easy-to-follow multivitamin infographic.

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I get it. You train hard because you want to look good and feel great.

Regular exercise places additional demands on your body. Your required intake for many vitamins is likely to be higher than for the general population.

Depending on where you are in the world, recommendations for vitamin and mineral intake have different terms. For example, you might know them as RDAs, RNIs, AI, SUL, EAR, NRVs, etc.

Essentially, these acronyms represent the same thing. How much of each your body needs on any given day. Now the individual recommendations may vary from country to country but that's not important for now.

The national guidelines aim to keep everyone healthy with suitable intakes of vitamins and minerals.

Failing to meet suitable intake may leave you lacking in energy and susceptible to minor infections and illnesses.

How many vitamins and minerals do I need?

For illustration, I'll use the UK's RDA system as an example.

The Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs) listed on food and supplement labels are estimates of nutrient requirements set. They are set by government nutritional regulatory bodies. Ideally, their intention is to cover the needs of the majority of a population.

It's important to realise the amounts are shown to prevent deficiency symptoms. Also, they'll allow for a little storage and aim to cover differences from one person to the next.

They are not targets though. Instead, they are more of a guide so that you can check you are getting enough nutrients.

As mentioned earlier, each country will have its own system and estimates for nutritional guidelines.

What the research says about taking multivitamin supplements

So, to answer the question "How do I know if I need a multivitamin supplement?" let's look at what the experts say.

According to the Harvard Medical School, the below situations indicate where a multivitamin may be beneficial.

  • Where you are dieting and eating fewer than 1500 kcal (6276 kJ) per day. Restricting your food intake means you are more likely to miss out on certain nutrients.
  • When your diet relies heavily on processed or fast foods. These are generally high in saturated fat, sugar and salt. Likewise, they offer little in the way of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
  • If you regularly skip meals. Firstly, it's likely you will have a restricted food intake - see the first point above. Secondly, you are also more likely to eat high calorific snacks. These are likely to be low in vitamins and minerals - see point number 2 above.
  • You regularly fail to eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Fruit and veg are great sources of all kinds of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. If you don't eat them regularly, you're missing out.
  • When you have a food intolerance or allergy. Where you have to avoid certain foods, it may be harder for you to get some nutrients that you need.
  • If you are vegan. While not impossible, it's more difficult to get enough vitamin B12, calcium and iron from a purely plant-based diet.
  • Pregnancy. Always follow the advice of your midwife or doctor but generally, they'll advise taking folic acid as a minimum.
Infographic showing when taking a multivitamin may benefit you, according to Harvard Medical School

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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