Dr. Christy Alexon returns to the show to discuss the importance of vitamin supplementation for the hard-training individual. She focuses on three key vitamins and supplements -- Vitamin C, D, and probiotics for the gut -- which are often overlooked by otherwise macro-compliant lifters. Taking vitamins or probiotics doesn't just mean popping a pill, however, and Dr. Alexon recommends supplementing with natural foods first before turning to pharmacy-bought, OTC supplements.
Vitamin D - helps protect the immune system, manages inflammation, and even binds with cell nuclei to aid in gene expression. Since hard training is a stress and often creates an inflammatory response, Vitamin D is helpful in recovery. One study has even linked Vitamin D supplementation to greater muscle fiber growth.
The skin produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. 5-30min of sun exposure is enough to satisfy your daily needs depending on the skin surface area exposed, climate, and season. Still, many people (esp. those living in northern climates) do not get enough sun, so Dr. Christy recommends vitamin supplements as well. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 600 IU, 800 for older (70+) people, but you can supplement with as much as 2,000 IU. The safe upper limit for supplementation is 4,000 IU.
Probiotics - healthy gut flora is very important for nutrient absorption. We tend to think of food as a calories in = calories out proposition, but your gut health impacts the amount of calories and nutrients you can digest from the food you eat. Therefore, Dr. Christy recommends supplementing with probiotic foods, such as yogurt and fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, etc). Probiotic supplements are available as well, however they vary greatly in quality. She recommends Culturelle, though she prefers probiotics from natural foods.
Beware yogurt with lots of added sugar, as the bacteria count is typically lower and it’s not as healthy from a macro perspective. Greek yogurt and Siggi’s (Icelandic yogurt) can be found in low or no fat varieties, and are very high protein as well, so they are macro friendly.
The goal with probiotic supplementation is to consume as many strains of bacteria as you can, as biodiversity is a marker of good gut health. Just taking the probiotic is not enough, however. You have to feed the bacteria that you are eating. This requires “pre-biotics,” that is, fiber from beans and leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C - at this point, everyone knows they need Vitamin C, but few realize that this vitamin is easily oxidized. So that bottle of orange juice that’s been sitting in your fridge for 4 days… you’re not getting much Vitamin C from it. Certain vegetables like bell peppers have more Vitamin C than oranges even, but they must be consumed raw, without cutting them up. Leaving the cut vegetable out in the air for just 20min will destroy the vitamin, so Christy recommends you eat them whole instead, or supplement with a pill, 500mg 2x/day. Don’t over supplement though — high doses can cause osmotic diarrhea.
Like Vitamin D, Vitamin C prevents illnesses which may result from the added stress of training. Studies looking at elite athletes (with very strenuous training schedules) determined that Vitamin C reduced the likelihood of illnesses like upper respiratory infections. But once you have a cold, Vitamin C won’t help cure it.
Look for the USP seal on all vitamins, which indicates a third-party has verified the potency and ingredients.
Christy has a PhD in Nutrition and Wellness and currently works as both a Registered Dietician for Rennaisance Periodization and as a Clinical Associate Professor of Nutrition at the Arizona State College of Health Solutions where she teaches macronutrient metabolism. You can follow her on Instagram @drchristylynn.
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