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Top 5 Supplements for Athletic Women
Reprinted with permission from Taste for Life magazine, July 2005
The more active you are, the greater your need for certain nutrients
by Christopher R. Mohr, MS, RD
MORE THAN 35,000 dietary supplements stock the shelves these days. While no supplement can offer the benefits that you receive from consuming nutrient-rich foods, some supplements are better than others.
It’s important to keep in mind that physically active women may have needs different from those of the average couch potato. “Athletes and active people are constantly stressing their bodies, which subsequently may increase their needs of certain nutrients,” says Marjorie Geiser, RD, a private-practice dietitian and National Strength & Conditioning Association–certified personal trainer in Running Springs, California.
Here are 10 supplements you should consider:
Multivitamin/Mineral. All adults should take a daily multivitamin, according to a recent report from researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The multivitamin you choose does not need to be anything fancy. Most multis sold today contain the important vitamins and minerals needed by the human body. Consult our annual vitamin and mineral chart for specifics.
Calcium. Most multis can’t provide enough of this bone-building mineral because calcium is too big an element to share the space with other vitamins and minerals in one pill. Calcium is particularly important for women, who need to consume adequate amounts in order to prevent osteoporosis as they get older. The dietary reference intake (DRI) for women in the 19–50 age range is 1,000 mg per day. Those over age 50 need 1,200 mg a day. Look for a supplement that contains at least half as much magnesium as calcium.
Folic Acid. This is vitally important during childbearing years, as it reduces the risk of neural tube defects in babies. Plus, as men and women age, intake of folic acid reduces levels of homocysteine in the body, which, when elevated, has been linked to cardiovascular disease. Look for a multivitamin/mineral with the recommended daily allowance of 400 micrograms of folic acid (folate). If you are or could become pregnant, take 600 micrograms daily. Consider taking a separate supplement if your multivitamin/mineral does not contain these recommended amounts of folic acid.
Meal Replacement Powders (MRP) and Meal Replacement Bars. When eating on the run, choose a healthy, low-fat MRP or bar over fast food. Many offer an outstanding nutritional profile. Look for bars that contain quality ingredients, such as whole grains, and that are low in sugar. Avoid any that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Make a shake with MRP and some frozen fruit for a nutritional powerhouse.
Selenium. When you exercise, oxidative stress, which may cause cancer, builds up in the body. Experts recommend consuming antioxidants in order to fight back. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant, acting as a defense against oxidative stress. Studies have demonstrated that 200 micrograms per day may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Seafood, meats, and whole grains are also excellent sources of selenium.
Fish Oil. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower lipid (blood fat, such as triglycerides) levels. Elevated lipids increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s why the American Heart Association recommends eating fish, especially fatty fish, a few times a week. In addition to consuming fish, you may also take one to two grams of omega 3–rich fish oil with food daily. Fish oil is available in both capsule and liquid forms.
Vitamin E. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce cancer-causing oxidative stress, which is elevated with exercise. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to get the recommended dose of vitamin E solely from food (unless you live on almonds and wheat germ). So look for 200 to 400 IUs of mixed tocopherols (a fancy word for vitamin E) in your multi. Choose a supplement that says “d-alpha tocopherol” on the label.
Flaxseed Oil. Like fish oil, flaxseed oil contains an essential fat the body cannot produce by itself. You can use it in its liquid form in homemade salad dressings—or add some to your favorite smoothie recipe. Remember, though, that flaxseed oil is not a good choice for cooking. This nutritious oil is also available in capsules; strive to consume approximately one tablespoon a day.
Whey Protein. Since it’s quickly absorbed, whey protein can enhance recovery after a workout. When you exercise, you break down protein, so it’s important to replace it as fast as possible. Whey protein also may help boost your immune system. You can mix whey protein powder into your favorite post-workout beverage. Attempt to consume around 20 grams per day, which is equivalent to about one scoop of most powders.
Vitamin C. While vitamin C is easy to consume because it is abundantly found in fruits, juices, and some vegetables, most people don’t eat anywhere close to the recommended nine servings of fruits and veggies per day. It may help to take 250 to 500 mg on a regular basis since most multivitamins/minerals don’t contain this much vitamin C. Keep in mind that no supplement can replace a quality diet. Talk with your healthcare provider before making any supplement part of your daily regimen, especially if you are currently taking any medication that could interact with supplements or activate any allergies you may have.
Christopher R. Mohr, MS, RD, is a PhD candidate in exercise physiology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is assisting with several projects related to the prevention and treatment of overweight.