Nutritional supplements for climbers
Almost £300 million a year is spent on vitamin, mineral and food supplements in the UK but are they necessary? This article studies; natural and unprocessed foods compared to pills and potions, which nutrients are particularly useful for climbers and tips on choosing multivitamin supplements.
You work hard, you play hard and you want to get the most out of your body. You want to take care of your health and eat well, but can vitamin and mineral supplements give you that extra edge?
Energy and Vitamin B
Taking too much of a single mineral in particular, can interfere with the absorption of other minerals and may cause a nutritional imbalance
Any type of energy expenditure means that you need a good supply of the B group vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin and niacin). These are involved with energy release from the food you eat, and also with protein metabolism for muscle repair. The more energy you expend, the more you need a regular supply of the B vitamins. Whether by it's coincidence or by nature's design, these vitamins are found in the starchy carbohydrate foods (wholewheat bread, porridge oats, muesli, green leafy vegetables, soya beans, lentils) that you should already be eating plenty of. Milk and Marmite are also good sources of the B vitamins.
Iron is also involved with energy release. Tiredness and fatigue are the early symptoms of iron deficiency. Although you may eat plenty of iron rich foods (wholemeal bread, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, dried apricots, raisins), iron is notoriously difficult to absorb. If you are a tea addict then beware!
Vital Vitamin C Glue
Strong, 'builders brew' tea contains large quantities of tannin, which reacts with iron in your gut and prevents its absorption. Phosphoric acid in cola drinks (diet or regular) has the same effect. The good news is that absorption of iron is greatly enhanced if you eat foods with vitamin C in the same meal or snack as iron containing foods. So wholemeal toast with orange juice (rather than strong tea) is a great combination.
Vitamin C is another nutrient that climbers need in regular supply. It is needed for the manufacture of collagen, the 'cement' in our skin, bones and gums - so it literally holds you together. Again, fresh fruit and vegetables and 100% fruit juices (all supply vitamin C), should already be part of your eating habits.
There is evidence that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals compared with non-organic produce. The best way to get vitamins and minerals is to eat as much fresh food as possible, straight out of the ground. Order fresh foods from a local organic box scheme.
Unfortunately the produce in supermarkets (imported and stored for many months) is not always as 'fresh' as it implies and the nutrient content is likely to be less as a result. In this situation, it can be useful to supplement with vitamin and mineral pills. However, these are supplements, not replacements for eating well. A combination of junk food and handfuls of pills doesn't even come close to the energy boosting and long-term health benefits of eating real foods.
Top tips for choosing a multi-supplement:
Strong, 'builders brew' tea contains large quantities of tannin, which reacts with iron in your gut and prevents its absorption
- Buy a multivitamin and mineral supplement. In nature these are found in combinations and work together in the body. Taking too much of a single mineral in particular, can interfere with the absorption of other minerals and may cause a nutritional imbalance.
- Be guided by price - you get what you pay for. All supplements require fillers and binders. Cheap supplements tend to use fillers, which are pressed into a hard pill, which then doesn't disintegrate in your gut. If the tablet doesn't break down, it cannot release the nutrients and the supplement is useless!
- 'Time release' capsules break down well in the gut
- Look for the word 'chelated' - this means that minerals, such as iron, are protected and are absorbed well
- Avoid supplements with colourings, flavourings and artificial sweeteners - especially the large tablets that make a fizzy drink when added to water, which have excessive amounts.
- Most gel capsules are made from gelatin - which is unsuitable for vegetarians. Check for vegetable coatings - silica, zein and Brazil wax
- Some supplements contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. The only way to avoid these is to buy organic supplements.