Many active individuals rely on multivitamins to make up for unhealthy eating habits, to boost performance or for nutritional insurance to reduce risk for injury or sickness. For example, an athlete suffering from a nutrient deficiency or health issue may seek supplementation to resume optimal health. Individual vitamin and mineral supplements may be useful when a specifically identified nutrient hole exists in your diet, and food won’t fill the gap. However, multivitamins contain varying amounts of nutrients and are not well-regulated.

Occurring in many different forms, like tablets, liquids, powders, bars and capsules, commonly sought-after vitamin and mineral supplements include iron, B12, vitamin D, calcium, multivitamins and antioxidants like vitamin C, E, turmeric and Q10. Poorly regulated, some supplements may be problematic to health and performance. As an example, in a review of the Journal of Physiology, there’s no strong evidence to support antioxidant supplementation, like C and E, will improve performance or health. Furthermore, high-dose antioxidants may prevent important training adaptations such as creating new muscle mitochondria, muscle growth and improving insulin sensitivity.

Regardless of the reason for use, many supplements contain multiple ingredients, making it difficult to know or predict the efficacy and safety of your desired product. With much concern of supplements containing banned substances (which will cause an athlete to fail a drug test), it’s best to obtain your vitamins and minerals from food – just like nature intended you to eat. Therefore, your first line of defense in boosting health is to choose real food. A “plate not pill” approach not only saves you money, but it’s a practical way to optimize health and performance.

Supplementing in certain situations may be necessary if you fall into any of the following categories: 

  • Dieting/intentional undereating
  • Vegan/Vegetarian
  • Lactose intolerant
  • Food allergies
  • Crohn’s or Celiac disease 
  • Limited sunshine
  • Extended periods of traveling 
  • Considering pregnancy/Pregnant
  • Elderly 

To find the right supplement:

  • Test don’t guess. Get your blood tested to determine the right individual nutrient (and how much you need) for a true nutrient deficiency. 
  • Choose 100% DV – more is not better. 
  • Review supplements in advance – what are the benefits and risks?
  • Store supplements in a cool, dry place. 
  • Check the expiration date – buy and use before expiration. 
  • Check the seal of approval:, NSF Internationals, and U.S. Pharmacopeia are independent organizations that test to see if the ingredients on the label are in the container and the product is up to their standards. Buyer beware: they don’t test to see if the supplement has a particular health effect or is safe.
  • Choose nationally recognized brands. 
  • Make sure you take the right amount.