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Which Supplements Do You Really Need

Posted 6/14/2016 by UHBlog

Powders, pills and shakes, oh my! Make an informed decision to supplement your diet. Ask us.

Which Supplements Do You Really Need?

As an athlete, you’re bombarded with ads for vitamins and supplements to keep your body on its A-game. How do you sort the frivolous from the necessary and supplement the gaps in your diet?

When it comes to supplements, registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Jamieson-Petonic has two words. “Food first,” she says. “Supplement later if needed.”

A nutrient-rich diet is key, but quantity is just as important as quality.

“Not only do you need to eat enough to grow and develop, but you need to eat enough to make up the energy lost in exercise,” says Jamieson-Petonic.

Athletes have higher nutritional needs that don’t always get met because of their busy schedules, she says, and adjustments in their diet can help. According to Jamieson-Petonic, athletes tend to be deficient in these five vitamins and nutrients:

  1. Calcium. You stop building bone in your early 20s, so it’s important to get enough calcium. Female athletes are particularly at risk for stress fractures from calcium deficiency.
    “My female athletes need approximately three to four cups of milk or yogurt per day, and they just aren’t getting it,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “Think calcium-fortified milk, yogurt, soy or almond milk and orange juice for calcium.”
  2. Iron. Lean red meat, beans and dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of iron.
    “Female athletes with a monthly menstrual cycle should be especially aware of the iron they are losing,” she says.
  3. Vitamin D. “If you live north of Atlanta, you probably have low vitamin D,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “Vitamin D is in sardines, salmon, flax and walnuts, but not many athletes eat enough of those foods.”
    Even one cup of vitamin D-fortified milk has only 100 of the 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D you need each day. She recommends getting your vitamin D levels checked at your next doctor’s appointment.
  4. Omega 3 Fatty Acids. The American Heart Association recommends a few servings of fish each week, but if you’re not eating that much fish, omega 3 supplements are a good idea, Jamieson-Petonic says.
  5. Probiotics. This healthy bacteria helps normalize your digestive track.
    “Foods with added probiotics are great, but with the acidity of your stomach, a lot of the bacteria is already broken down before it reaches your small intestine,” she says. “Probiotics supplements may be another option to get these healthy bacteria to the small intestine.”

Although supplementing gaps in your diet can improve your athletic performance, beware of “overdosing” on supplements. Jamieson-Petonic is willing to bet that you’re already getting more protein than you need.

“Athletes don’t realize that they get protein from cereal, rice and pasta," she says. "We can’t store protein. Once your body gets what it needs, it eliminates the rest through urine or stores it as fat, not muscle.”

Similarly, if you megadose on water-soluble vitamins – such as vitamins B and C – your body will excrete the excess when you pee.

Even though supplements aren’t FDA regulated, Jamieson-Petonic recommends buying those with a USP label that are quality-tested.

“ is a good website to check a supplement’s accuracy,” she says.

For individualized advice to determine which supplements would benefit you most, contact a registered dietitian. To make an appointment with UH’s Medical Nutrition Service, call 216-844-1499.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals. You can request an appointment with Jamieson-Petonic or any other University Hospitals health care professional online.

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