Sports Nutrition: Facts on Vitamins and Minerals

group of people playing hockeyVitamins and minerals play an important role in sport performance. Read on for more information about how iron, B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D and vitamins A, C and E help you to play sports at your best.

Why is iron important when you play sports? 

Iron is a mineral that you need to carry oxygen throughout your body and to your muscles when you play sports. Without enough iron, you can become tired and your muscles may not work at their full potential.

Where can I get iron? 

Iron is found in:

  • Meat, poultry and fish 
  • Beans, peas and lentils
  • Whole grain and enriched breads and pastas
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Dried fruits, nuts and seeds
  • Tofu and
  • Egg 

The iron found in animal products like meat, poultry and fish is absorbed best.  Iron from plant sources is not as well absorbed, but foods rich in vitamin C like citrus fruit and juices, strawberries, bell peppers or broccoli help your body absorb the iron.

Do I need more iron if I play sports?

You may need more iron if you are:

  • a vegetarian who does not eat meat, fish and poultry 
  • an endurance athlete, who regularly does intense exercise 

Low iron can be quite common, especially among women, adolescents and vegetarians who play high intensity sports. These groups should get iron levels checked regularly by their doctor.

If your iron is low, you may need to need to take iron supplements. It is also important to eat iron-rich foods every day. Speak to your health care professional before taking iron supplements.

Read more about how much iron you need and how to ensure you are getting enough.

Why are B vitamins important when you play sports? 

B vitamins include vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, folate and vitamin B12. B vitamins help to:

  • Convert food into energy that you need to play sports
  • Make proteins to build and repair your muscles 
  • Make red blood cells which give oxygen to your muscles 

Where can I get B vitamins? 

Following Canada’s Food Guide will provide you with all your B-vitamins. Try the foods below to get B vitamins:  

  • Vegetables and Fruit have folate. Try asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, corn, green peas, romaine lettuce, cooked spinach, oranges and orange juice, cooked edamame beans, avocado, papaya and canned pineapple juice.  
  • Grain Products have vitamin B1, B2, B3 and folate. Try enriched breads, cereals, pasta and wheat germ
  • Milk and Alternatives have vitamin B2 and vitamin B12. Try milk, cheese, yogurt and fortified soy beverages.
  • Meat and Alternatives have vitamin B2, B3, B6, B12 and folate. Try fish, lean meats, poultry, nuts, seeds, eggs and soy foods. Try to add more plant foods (e.g. nuts, beans, soy) from this group. 

Are you at risk for low vitamin B12?

Vegetarians and older adults over the age of 50 may be at risk for low vitamin B12.  

If your doctor or healthcare provider tells you that you are low in vitamin B12, you may need to take a supplement. This can be in the form of a vitamin tablet or an injection into your muscle. Both forms of the B12 supplement can increase vitamin B12 levels in your blood. 

Read more about vitamin B12.

Why is calcium and vitamin D important when you play sports? 

Calcium is a nutrient that helps you build and maintain strong bones. When you don’t get enough calcium, your bones have a higher risk of becoming weak and are more likely to break.  

Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium and vitamin D work together to help you maintain healthy bones. Vitamin D also helps your muscles work properly.

Where can I get vitamin D?

You can find vitamin D in:

  • Cow’s milk 
  • Fortified soy and rice beverages 
  • Fortified orange juice 
  • Fatty fish like salmon and sardines 
  • Margarine 
  • Egg yolks 
  • Fortified yogurts (check the label) 

Where can I get calcium?

You can find calcium in:

  • Cow’s milk (including chocolate milk, condensed, evaporated and powdered milk) 
  • Yogurt 
  • Cheese 
  • Kefir 
  • Buttermilk 
  • Goat’s milk 
  • Fortified soy beverage, yogurt and cheese 
  • Fortified rice and almond beverages 
  • Fortified orange juice 
  • Tofu set with calcium 
  • Canned sardines and salmon with bones 
  • Anchovies 
  • Almonds 

Find out more about calcium and vitamin D and how much you need.

Why are Vitamins A, C, and E important when you play sports? 

Vitamins A, C, and E are “antioxidant” vitamins. Antioxidant help reduce muscle damage and speed up recovery after you play sports. 

Where can I get vitamins A, C and E?

A well-balanced eating plan with a variety of plant foods will provide you with vitamins A, C and E. 

  • The best sources of vitamin C are vegetables and fruit such as oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes and broccoli.
  • Animal foods like liver, milk, salmon and eggs are rich in vitamin A. Dark green and orange vegetables and fruit are rich in carotenoids which can be turned into vitamin A in our bodies.
  • Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, avocado, vegetable oils and wheat germ.  Some dark leafy greens and fish are also sources of vitamin E.

Bottom line 

If you play sports, a healthy eating plan based on Canada’s Food Guide is important to help you get the vitamins and minerals you need and perform your best. Eat a variety of foods rich in iron, B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D and vitamins A, C and E. Speak to your health care provider before taking a vitamin and/or mineral supplement.

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Last Update – February 7, 2019

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