There are a wide range of vitamins that the body needs to be able to function optimally. Several of these are considered of higher importance to those that partake in high-intensity sports such as squash, with deficiencies in heavily active persons not uncommon. This 2-part article takes a look at some of those that should be regarded as the most crucial, and discusses how best to fulfil those needs.
Vitamins (named with letters such as A, B, and C) and Minerals (such as sodium, calcium, and magnesium) are known as ‘micronutrients’.
These are essential to the body due to the numerous roles they fulfil in respect to growth, repair, and operation. There are a wide range of these substances that your body needs but that cannot be manufactured internally in sufficient amounts, and thus need to be taken in through the diet. They’re called ‘micronutrients’ because your body needs only tiny amounts of them in comparison to the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), but failing to get the quantities needed can cause breakdowns in optimal functioning.
This article focuses just on vitamins (organic compounds obtained from plants and animals), and in a future article, we’ll take a deeper look at minerals (inorganic compounds that originate in the earth).
Vitamins play a big part in ensuring that our bodies grow and function in the way that they should. There are 13 essential vitamins — vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate). All of these vitamins have different roles within the body to help keep it working properly.
Some vitamins help your system resist infections, some keep your nerves healthy, some aid your blood in clotting properly, while others help your body get energy from food. Other important roles of micronutrients include aiding in the production of oxygen-carrying proteins, maintenance of bone health, and supporting proper immune system function. They also aid the synthesis and repair of new muscle tissue, and help protect against oxidative stress.
Athletes in sports such as squash have high rates of energy metabolism, and therefore need their bodies to function at more intense levels – they thus tend to have higher micronutrient needs than non-athletes. Regular high-intensity exercise may also speed up the turnover and loss of vitamins and minerals from the body.
All that said, there needs to be caution in not being tempted to mega-dose on vitamins, thinking it will give an immediate performance boost – there needs to be a solid understanding of recommended intakes and safe dosages. Taking too much of a micronutrient will not help you play better; too high an intake can in fact cause harm by increasing the risk for toxicity (especially with the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K), as well as interfering with the absorption and function of other micronutrients or medications.
The key for healthy individuals is to figure out where there may be deficiencies, and come up with a dietary and supplement plan to rectify those problems rather than just consuming tons of pills every day. This doesn’t mean you have to forensically analyze all of the food that you eat, it’s just about being more aware of how dietary choices affect intake of different vitamins.
Ideally, it is better to get the nutrients you need from food rather than from a pill. For one reason, food content often has a synergistic effect when consumed as part of the diet which is difficult to duplicate by solely ingesting individual vitamins – an example of this is some types of iron that are difficult for the body to absorb and utilize when eaten alone, but when consumed with a food high in vitamin C the absorption is enhanced. In addition, vitamins from food are quite often more potent and come in more optimal ratios – quality food items will also usually contain other beneficial components, helping to get a more comprehensive spectrum of healthy nutrients.
It’s important then for athletes and highly active individuals to first and foremost get a base performance-eating plan in place, and use selected dietary supplements just to fill in any potential gaps. Many of the most common nutritional deficiencies seen in athletic populations, often also correlate with a deficiency in the quality of the overall calorific energy intake in their day to day diet – it is thus best to first identify and understand the barriers that stand in the way of meeting these vital overall dietary needs, and build a plan from there. Satisfying wider caloric need is essential for making gains in strength and performance goals, optimising overall energy levels, supporting immune system functioning, and maintaining hormonal balance; this cannot be swapped out and replaced with a supplement.
So with all this in mind, it can be somewhat difficult to isolate and label what the ‘most important’ vitamins are for squash players. There are particular vitamins that athlete’s systems have a greater need for however, and for which they can be at an increased risk of deficiency if needs are not adequately addressed.
In part 2 of this article (coming soon), we’ll take a look at exactly what those are.
B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director
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