Multivitamins are a great idea, one pill that fixes all your vitamin and mineral deficiencies - sounds good, right?
I remember many years ago when I first got into training and started being health conscious, I was walking down the health aisle and knocked a multivitamin into my shopping trolly. I mean, I was doing everything else right, and it seemed only natural to plug a few holes in my diet.
Now, fast forward a few years; I am older and a bit wiser. Was I wasting my money back then? Or was I simply barking up the wrong tree, and should have been investing my money on one of those expensive horse pill multivitamins from a supplement store?
What Is A Multivitamin?
I am sure everyone knows what a multivitamin is, but let us re-cap: a 'multivitamin' is a catchall term, given to supplements, which usually come in pill or tablet form and contain a combination of essential vitamins and minerals. These are taken daily with the intention of filling any nutritional deficiencies that one may have present in their diet.
The above sounds great in theory, but what's good in theory, isn't always good in practice.
Too Little, Too Less
The biggest problems with the majority of multivitamins is the dose, or in this case, the lack of it. This problem is consistent across the board, especially with the major brands found in supermarkets and chemists.
In part, this is due to brands using the bare minimum of nutrients in their products, and not the 'optimal' dosages. This can be attributable to them basing the doses on the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). The issue with doing this is, the RDI's set out by health organisations are not aimed at making people necessarily healthier but are more so the minimum recommendations for the sedentary population to avoid certain disease.
To illustrate this point, let's take Vitamin D for example. The RDI for vitamin D is 400 - 800 IU and you'll find the dosages found in most multivitamins will fall somewhere in this range. However, the optimal dose is determined to be around 1000 - 2000 IU per day. As you can see, this means that multivitamins, for the most part, are majorly underdosed. The above is just one example, but you'll find this is consistent as you go through the nutritional label on the back of any multivitamin you find on the shelf of a supermarket or chemist.
On the flip side, another issue with multivitamins is that they are too broad. As mentioned previously, they contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals, and these are taken with the intention to rectify any deficiencies that one may have in their diet.
Now, the issue with this is, if you have a reasonably balanced diet, and eat a variety of foods, many of the vitamins and minerals contained in these products will be of no use for you, as you may not be deficient in them.
Targeted Supplementation - The Answer!
As stated before, the problem with multivitamins being they are underdosed for the most part and most of what is in them, you aren't deficient in any way. This doesn't mean they are completely useless, in fact, if you had a terrible diet and added a multivitamin to the mix, well it would be a little less terrible. But there is a much better way to go about things and the answer is: targeted supplementation.
Targeted supplementation means, to simply go straight to the source and start supplementing with vitamins and minerals that you may be deficient in, individually. This approach assures two things:
1) You get the correct dose of what you may be deficient in
2) You can choose the right source (most multivitamins use cheap, inferior sources in their products ie most use 'magnesium oxide' as the source of magnesium. This is poorly absorbed).
But I guess this begs the question: how do you know what to take? Athletes tend to have different deficiencies in vitamins and minerals than the average population. These commonly include, but are not limited to (I have also provided some dosage recommendations):
Dosage: Anywhere between 1,000 - 2,000 IU per day
Dosage: (vitamin K is complicated as it has many forms): read here: https://examine.com/supplements/Vitamin+K/#howtotake.
Dosage: generally 200-400mg (can vary on form supplemented, I like 'magnesium citrate').
Dosage: anywhere from 5-45mg.
Dosage: somewhere between 500mg - 1,300mg depending on age and diet.
So, Multivitamins - Do You Need them?
The answer is, probably not. If you have a terrible diet, the run-of-the-mill multivitamin from a supermarket or chemist would make it a little less terrible. But, it would still be underdosed in many of the vitamins and minerals you would need.
If you eat a balanced diet, the run-of-the-mill multivitamin would be essentially a waste of money. You would be best off looking at targeted supplementation.
This is not to say that all multivitamins are bad, and some of the large ''horse pill'' ones found at your local supplements store can still be good, but it involves some detective work on your behalf ensuring they have the correct dosages and use good quality sources.