You can get the recommended intake of most nutrients (except possibly iron) by eating 1,500 calories of a variety of foods. This amount will not only prevent nutrition deficiencies but also reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease.
According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC 2004), the best way to get all the needed vitamins, minerals, and protein is to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. Although taking a general multivitamin is unlikely to be harmful, the IOC recommends against taking high doses of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and manganese because they might have negative effects on the body's immune system.
Keep in mind that the more you exercise, the more you eat. Compared with inactive people with smaller appetites, most athletes consume more calories and therefore more vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies are more likely to occur in a sedentary person who eats very little, such as an elderly grandparent, than in an active person who eats hefty portions.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies do not develop overnight but over the course of months or years, such as can happen in a person with anorexia or someone who eats an inadequate vegetarian diet. Your body actually stores some vitamins in stockpiles (A, D, E, and K—the fat-soluble vitamins) and others in smaller amounts (B and C—the water-soluble vitamins). Most healthy people have enough vitamin C stored in the liver to last six weeks. One day of suboptimal eating will not result in a nutritionally depleted body.
Paul, a triathlete, had heard that exercise increases harmful free radicals (particles that can cause oxidative damage and cancer). He was told to take supplements of cancer-protective antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and selenium. Little did he realize that high doses of antioxidants can sometimes turn into prooxidants. This is another reason the best way to get antioxidants is from food, because food contains them in the right amounts (as well as other nutrients the body needs).
By eating a variety of wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy foods, you can consume the vitamins and minerals you need. As a bonus, many of today's foods (including energy bars and breakfast cereals) are highly fortified, so many active people actually consume far more vitamins and minerals than they realize, further negating the need to take supplemental pills. For the most part, the people who take vitamins are health conscious, eat well, and do not need a supplement.
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