This is the 2nd post of my new series, Ask the Registered Dietitian where I answer nutrition questions from readers like you. If you missed my first one, check it out here.
Q. Do I need to take dietary (or nutritional) supplements like a multivitamin while training for a marathon?
A. Firstly, I want to state I am not an expert in sports nutrition, however, I have enough nutrition knowledge to respond to this question in general. Also, I could write a book regarding dietary supplements, but I am only giving a brief overview here to respond to the question above.
This question was asked of me recently by a fellow runner in addition to whether she should be taking an iron supplement. Of course, talk with your physician before taking any dietary supplements.
Here is a little background on dietary supplements. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates dietary supplements as food. This means they only monitor the ingredients on the issue of safety for human use, not the effectiveness of the ingredients or supplements (versus drugs which are tested for safety in addition to effectiveness to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent a disease). Supplements sold before 1994 however, are not required to be reviewed for safety since it’s assumed they are safe based on the length of time they have been consumed by humans. Also the FDA does not approve dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness until AFTER they are marketed to consumers. It is not until after the supplement is marketed and sold to consumers that the FDA has authority to prove that the product is not safe and then they can remove it from the market at that time.
Dietary supplements are meant to “supplement” the diet. A much preferred method of obtaining all the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs is eat foods with those nutrients through a well-balanced diet. If you know that certain nutrients are missing in your diet or you have a selective diet, then a multivitamin and mineral supplement may be a good choice. Just keep in mind that it’s meant to “supplement” a healthy, varied diet not make up for eating an unhealthy diet.
Regarding nutrient-specific supplements like iron, I would suggest talking with your physician before taking an additional supplements, particularly if you do not have any clinical symptoms or lab tests done to confirm low levels of specific vitamins or minerals.
Have any nutrition questions? Feel free to comment below or email me at chocolateslopes (at) gmail (dot) com.
This Ask the Registered Dietitian: Dietary Supplement Use post first appeared on Chocolate Slopes.