Athletes need good nutrition and an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals to achieve peak performance and keep their bodies in optimal health. While some research indicates athletes may need more vitamins than sedentary individuals, according to the American Dietetic Association, no definitive guidelines recommend this practice. Vitamins help convert food to energy, and female athletes may have special nutritional needs because of hormones and menstruation.
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If you do not have enough iron, weakness and fatigue can occur, as well as lowered exercise capacity and shortness of breath. The University of California-San Diego reports that women endurance athletes, particularly runners, need up to 70 percent more iron than other women. Iron is lost through sweat, urine, feces and menstruation. Female athletes who experience amenorrhea, which is the loss of menstrual periods, may conserve iron stores. Vegetarian athletes are especially at risk of being iron deficient, since the primary source of iron is meat products. If an iron deficiency is significant, a physician may prescribe iron supplements. These supplements may cause constipation, but eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help minimize this side effect.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D help build strong bones and are beneficial for the heart. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and aids in bone remodeling. Dr. Christopher Jensen, a nutrition researcher at Powerbar.com, states that these two substances are usually deficient in diets, especially those of females, which can be problematic for female athletes. Athletes deficient in calcium are especially at risk for broken bones and multiple stress fractures. A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to muscle pain, fatigue, chronic pain and depression, according to the University of California-San Diego. Good sources of calcium and vitamin D include milk products, fortified cereals and seafood.
Many B vitamins can be obtained through a healthy and varied diet. B vitamins that athletes need include thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, since these are necessary for producing energy from food, according to Colorado State University. The American Dietetic Association adds that these vitamins also help with red blood cell production and aid in aerobic and anaerobic performance. B vitamins are not stored in the body because they are water soluble. Consequently, some female athletes may be deficient in riboflavin, reports Colorado State. This deficiency can be remedied by consuming milk and other dairy products, which also provide calcium.