If you work out, do you need to take mineral supplements? Up to half of all athletes take some type of mineral supplement, usually as a multivitamin with minerals. But is it really necessary if you eat a healthy diet?
Why Minerals Are Important for Health
There are five essential minerals that you need in amounts of greater than 100 mg a day. These are referred to as major minerals and include potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Sodium and potassium serve as electrolytes, while calcium, phosphorus and magnesium help to strengthen bones and teeth, among other functions. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 chemical reactions in the body. It helps to stabilize the charge on ATP, the source of energy that drives cells. Therefore, it’s involved in energy metabolism.
There are also minerals you need in amounts of less than 100 mg a day. These are called trace minerals. They include zinc, iron, chromium, selenium, iodine, molybdenum, manganese and copper. Although you only need these minerals in small amounts, don’t mistake the small quantity for lack of importance. These minor minerals are essential components of proteins and molecules that carry out critical chemical reactions in the body.
Do Athletes Need Mineral Supplements?
With some exceptions, most athletes don’t need to take mineral supplements. Plus, there’s no evidence that a specific mineral boosts endurance or increases muscle growth. But there are certain situations where a mineral supplement might be warranted.
Vegetarian and vegan athletes that run are at higher risk for iron, calcium and zinc deficiencies because they avoid meat and dairy products. Even though these minerals are found in plant foods, they’re better absorbed from animal sources.
Athletes that restrict calories are also at higher risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If you eat a nutritious diet that contains an adequate amount of calories, you shouldn’t be at greater risk for a mineral deficiency even if you work out. The key is to eat a diversity of whole foods and not restrict calories excessively.
Young female athletes are at higher risk for iron deficiency because they lose iron through their monthly menstrual flow. Some women athletes also avoid meat and dairy and may be at risk for calcium and zinc deficiency due to inadequate intake.
The Risks of Taking Mineral Supplements
If you’re concerned about not getting enough vitamins and minerals from diet, take a multivitamin with minerals, but don’t take a single mineral supplement without doing your research. Supplementing with a single mineral can cause imbalances in other minerals. For example, if you take high supplemental doses of zinc, it interferes with the absorption of copper. This can lead to anemia since copper is involved in iron metabolism.
Supplementing with too much iron can be toxic. There’s even evidence that calcium supplements at doses commonly recommended may increase the risk of heart disease.
The Bottom Line?
There’s no evidence that healthy athletes who eat a nutritious diet with an adequate amount of calories will benefit from taking mineral supplements. In fact, taking isolated minerals in supplement form can be harmful. If you’re vegetarian, eat a low-calorie diet or have heavy periods, talk to your doctor about supplements. Otherwise, get your minerals by eating a healthy diet.
The Nutritionist. Robert Wildman. 2002.
Science Daily. “Study Adds Weight to Link Between Calcium Supplements and Heart Problems”