Whether vitamin needs differ among athletic and sedentary individuals has been an intense area of debate. Coaches, athletes, and parents often search for ways to produce bigger, faster, and stronger athletes. In ancient Greece, this was accomplished by using paidotribes or gymnaste (trainers) and later by the advice of Celcus (24 AD).
Celcus has written eight books, which are beautifully detailed in matters of nutrition and exercise. Today, this brings sports nutritionists, trainers, physicians, and exercise physiologists to examine which dietary interventions might produce better performances without impairing health. Some may argue that the different nutritional needs of athletes, although debatable, promote health.
From a nutritional standpoint, the basis of health starts with obtaining adequate macronutrient and micronutrient intake. This nutrition is first from food sources, fortified foods second, and then if needed or warranted, from dietary supplements. In essence, the bottom line is whether athletes need a higher intake of any or all of the known vitamins and whether this translates into an improvement in performance or post-exercise recovery.
Vitamins, initially called vital amines, are organic molecules needed in minute quantities. No common molecular structure exists among vitamins. Vitamin intake is often ignored until a deficiency symptom presents itself. Thirteen different vitamins have been characterized and they are divided into two distinct classes, fat-and water-soluble vitamins. The fatsoluble vitamins are stored within the body’s adipose tissue; thus, deficiency symptoms do not occur readily. Water-soluble vitamins, most of which act as coenzymes, are not stored to any great extent. Thus, athletes must be cognizant of consuming a varied diet that provides these vitamins or resort to dietary supplementation.
The RDA for vitamin E is 12 IU for women and 15 IU for men. This level is adequate to prevent deficiency, but is a far cry from the levels shown to be protective in studies. Doses in clinical trials range from 100 to 1200 IU alpha-tocopherol per day. Supplements commonly provide 100-400 IU vitamin E. About 12 million Americans take vitamin E, with 400 IU per day as the most common dose.
Reports of adverse effects of vitamin E are rare. One study suggested an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke, but this has not been replicated. A study on older men did not show any negative side effects of up to 800 IU vitamin E per day for 4 months. The NOAEL (No Observed Adverse Effect Level) for vitamin E has been set at 1200 IU.