Ask the expert: What kind of vitamins are good for hs athletes to use?

Ask the expert: What kind of supplements/vitamins are good for high school athletes to use? I always struggled with low iron as a runner and was hard to find a good supplement to help with the issues. 

Do you have a question to ask an expert. Email with details for consideration.

Great question, thanks for asking.  Vitamin supplementation is always a question posed by those asking their bodies to perform at a high level.  So when you have an off-day, bad performance or are feeling run-down, one of the first considerations is nutritional.  And with exhaustion, the issue of iron levels arises.

Obviously, good nutrition (adequate Calories obtained through a whole-food, varied plant-based diet) is one of the key components to peak performance.  And most doctors and sport nutritionists are going to suggest that athletes get their nutrients from foods rather than supplements.  So a well-balanced, healthy diet should get just as much attention as your physical training does.

Before supplementing your diet with vitamins, one of the first things an athlete might want to do is to objectively evaluate their training, their diet and their sleep (adequate rest).

The first thing that comes to mind is:  Have you started or changed any medications?  Have you changed your diet?  How are you sleeping?  Medications, diet and sleep may give some hints about the energy level.

Other considerations are also important.  For example, without supplementation, vegans are deficient in B-12 and the B vitamins play a role in RBC production.  Vitamin C helps boost iron absorption while calcium can inhibit iron absorption.

Before you start taking iron supplements, I would suggest a blood test that includes hemoglobin, hematocrit, iron and serum ferritin (iron and serum ferritin are different).  Getting your hemoglobin, hematocrit, iron and serum ferritin regularly throughout your training is part of figuring out what “normal” is for you.  You will also want to keep in mind that what is “normal” for the average person may not be adequate for someone stressing their body daily with hard running.

Finally, while low iron levels can have a negative impact on performance, taking an iron supplement can cause one to feel sick and can be dangerous (iron overload).  We always suggest that a runner check with their physician before taking an iron supplement. Hopefully your doctor knows that you are a distance runner and can guide you appropriately.

Good luck with your training and racing.

M. Scott Murr, Ed.D.
Health Sciences Department
Furman University

Murr is a member of the Health Sciences Department faculty at Furman University. A competitive endurance athlete who has competed in numerous marathons, duathlons, and triathlons, Scott is an eleven-time Ironman Triathlon finisher. Murr also works with Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training