Why You Can Leave the Vitamins and Other Potions at the Store

Breakfast at Lava Java on Alii Drive is hard to beat.
Breakfast at Lava Java on Alii Drive is hard to beat.

The title of this piece comes from an article by Valerie Ross in Men's Journal magazine.  I feel it goes hand in hand with the blog post I put up previously, Why I Say You Shouldn't Bother With Supplements.  We seem to be at a cross roads in athletic performance asking for data or evidence to support the things we do, or those we choose not to.  It seems like every week some tri "expert" is touting the supposed benefits of yet another mystery drug recently uncovered from the ancient Incas, the bark off some Chinese tree or perhaps harvested from the depths of the Marianas Trench.  With respect to what goes into our mouths, we owe much of this current self examination to two doubters if you will, Paul Offit, MD, author of Do You Believe in Magic? and The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine as well as tri’s own Matt Fitzgerald who penned Diet Cults.  


Both of these investigators challenged what we think we know about what we put into our bodies and the expected results.  We triathletes are a gullible group for certain.  This author included for sure!  We tend to jump on whatever cult or band wagon comes along, if at least on the surface, it sounds like it might help us.   Take the rage in California juice cleanses as one example, said to purge us of contaminants like a belly full of little Roto Rooters.  (Don't you just hate it when those old contaminants hang around?  Like those creatures in the movie Ghostbusters I imagine.)  But then along comes Sports Nutritionist Kim Mueller who writes "There are no benefits to cleanses consisting of only juice or other liquid concoctions" on Ironman.com.  Oh well, so much for them little Roto Rooters.


According to the Huffington Post, upwards of 40% of us take multivitamins. Because we always have.  Or because it seems like a good idea.  Mom wouldn't steer us wrong, would she?   Interestingly, HP notes that most of the folks who do are educated, make a reasonable income, eat well and "already get the nutrients they need from their diets."  In fact, Regan Bailey, a nutritional epidemiologist with the National Institutes of Health, the big guys, points out, "It's almost like the people who are taking them aren't the people who need them."  Fitness writer Matt Fitzgerald, also not a supporter of supplements or super foods, encourages us to become what he labels as agnostic healthy eaters patterned after the world's healthiest group of people, elite endurance athletes.  Fitzgerald writes that "Diet cults are unnecessary to the maximum attainment of health."  In other words, he writes that there are no forbidden foods, although some are food choices are encouraged more than others.  Rather than blindly follow the recommendations of the past, like massive doses of vitamin C which for many years was believed to be the preferred way to ward off common colds, etc. simply ask for evidence of effectiveness of the product before you put something new in your mouth.  And not just some anecdotal evidence that athlete ABC has used this substance and dropped his or her PR by 10%.


Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling convinced the world that 1000 mg or more of vitamin C taken daily would rid us of the common cold and may even be effective against cancer.  However, according to Stephen Barrett, M.D. "at least 16 well-designed double blind studies have shown that supplementation with vitamin C does not prevent colds and at best may slightly reduce the symptoms of a cold."


The bottom line for now seems to be that the government still supports the use of folic acid if you're thinking of getting pregnant and iron if you are assuming you can't get enough of this from your diet while pregnant.  The jury is out on calcium, helpful in some but not all.  And I'll bet you'd find wide support for a little extra vitamin D which we're supposed to get from the sun but don't.  Especially in winter.  Lastly, a whole passel of us are magnesium deficient but I'll let you talk that one over with your health care provider.


So for now leave those multivits on the shelf, become a Fitzgerald agnostic healthy eater and give yourself the best shot at great performance.  And when some tri expert tells you how triple your libido by consuming some special root from Nigeria or Asia, as Cuba Gooding, Jr. says in Jerry Maguire, "Show Me The Money."  Show me the evidence-based recommendations.