best multivitamins for athletes

Whether you are pushing yourself physically or mentally past the limit, you need the raw materials to maintain a sustained effort for the long haul. The body’s reserves can only maintain a high level of performance for so long before exhaustion, injuries, poor recovery, accelerated aging, and other health issues can hit. This is especially true as we all age. If you are someone that only knows one speed, this article is for you. 

When you are choosing the best multivitamins for your efforts, a cheap and poorly designed product is not going to do it. Even a higher quality standard multivitamin designed for the general public may not be enough. This is why there is a specific category for the best multivitamins for athletes and high performing executives. Please refer to our article on what makes a great multivitamin for a foundational understanding of the topic.

The Superhuman Demands of the Athlete and Executive

The demands placed on the mind and body through endurance training, high-intensity exercise and strength and conditioning are fundamentally stress. There is such thing as good stress that makes us stronger at the right dose and at the right frequency (refer to hormesis in another article), but too much of a good thing can be detrimental. 

Alternatively, the mental requirements to multi-task, focus, stay calm, perform in front of groups and put out fires in the office also taxes your entire physiology. We are better equipped to handle the physical stressors, but chronic psychological and emotional stressors can be far more detrimental in the long run. This is why it is imperative you follow the rules that govern the body. If you sleep less than everyone else, neglect nutrition and forgo the gym for the office, this is not a badge of honor. It is a recipe for you to get lapped by your competition. 

While some may argue the positive effects from multivitamins may be small or hardly noticeable with a highly trained healthy individual with solid diet and lifestyle habits, this perspective misses a crucial and unique reality of being a high-performing individual. The micro improvements may shave off milliseconds, and any physical or cognitive edge can be the difference between winning and losing, a gold medal or a new world record. For executives, every advantage has cumulative value; consider each small diverse addition compounding the health of your body’s portfolio over time.

What Vitamins and Minerals are the Most Crucial for Athletes?

The greatest deficiencies seen in athletes that can also be used as a baseline for executives include: (ref 1, 2, 3, 4):

In the case of the above major population sweeping deficiencies, a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral seem to cover your bases but fall short with D3 (depending on the individual), magnesium and calcium (based on the multi used). Iron is especially important for women. 

What are the Best Vitamins, Minerals, and Compounds For Athletes? 

This section outlines the most comprehensive research on the vitamins, minerals and compounds based on the systems they affect.  This can help you narrow down what is most important for you.

Please refer to other Health Beat articles for recommendations that include the best whey, collagen, fish oil, protein for athletes, fat for athletes, carbs for athletes and electrolytes.  

Adrenal and Thyroid Health (HPA Axis)

The Adrenal Fatigue and Thyroid Connection article outlines how burning the candle at both ends can get you stuck in a fatigue loop. A sluggish thyroid, exhausted cortisol, trouble sleeping, low carb and caloric deficit diets, and overtraining can all put you at risk of immune, adrenal and thyroid issues. Too much coffee and alcohol affect these functions, as does everyday stress.

Vitamins and Minerals: B6, B2, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, pantothenic acid, B-vitamins, zinc, selenium, copper, iodine and magnesium. 

Compounds: Taurine, ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, lion’s mane, Plant sterols/sterolins, ginsengs/American ginseng, Coleus Forskohlii, and mucuna pruriens.

Bone Health

Due to the increased exercise and/or the pressure to obtain an optimal training bodyweight, some female athletes may develop low energy availability or an eating disorder and subsequently amenorrhoea and a loss of bone mineral density. The three inter-related clinical disorders are referred to as the “female athlete triad.”

Elite athletes that may not use gravity to assist in developing bone density, like swimmers and cyclists may also have the highest risk of fractures and poor bone density and would benefit from weight lifting.  

The focus for females need to be iron, bone supporting vitamins, minerals and estrogen promoting (e.g. phytoestrogens) compounds for women.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Compounds: Vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, silicon, vitamin K1, K2, vitamin C, inositol, L-arginine and boron.

Phytoestrogens: Flax, hops, alfalfa / clover, licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), chaste berry, shatavari, mucuna puriens, ashwagandha, maca (may be stimulatory) royal Jelly, dang qui (Angelica gigas), and select plant lignans (hops, flax, licorice root, Norway spruce, soy).

Cardiovascular Health

For more in-depth reading on cardiovascular health, please see the following articles: The Diet Myths about Heart Disease and Strokes, How to Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally, and How to Interpret Your Cardiovascular Bloodwork

It is no mystery that stress increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Coronary artery calcification is significant in endurance athletes and oxidized LDL in athletes is a concern. The PON1 gene in the Nutrition Genome Report can help you see if you are more susceptible to oxidized LDL and strategies to prevent it, along with other genes helping you determine the best personalized foods for heart health. 

C-reactive protein and homocysteine in athletes tend to be elevated. Increased demand on methylation related to betaine loss and creatine need in muscles (creatine synthesis is very methyl group demanding). Choline is vital as a methyl donor and improves REM sleep and memory (preferably packaged with DHA, carotenoids, CoQ10, PS).

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C, K2, Vitamin E, D3, B-vitamins (in particular Folate, B6, B12), magnesium (taurate), calcium, selenium, and boron.

Compounds: CoQ10, garlic, blueberry, reishi, carotenoids, omega 3 fatty acids, polyphenols, other phytochemicals (pomegranate, grapefruit, black cumin seed oil, olive oil, resveratrol and pterostilbene containing concentrates), alpha-lipoic acid, nitric oxide boosting compounds (arginine, citrulline, glutathione), betaine, creatine, pycnogenol, cacao and grape seed extract.

Endurance

Vitamins and Minerals:  B6, magnesium malate, sodium bicarbonate and electrolytes.

Compounds: Ashwagandha, eleuthero, creatine, nitrates (e.g. beetroot), sources of arginine, nitric oxide supporters (pomegranate, apple cider vinegar), spirulina, cordyceps, reishi, Pine Bark (Pycnogenol), rosemary, garlic, ginkgo biloba, Kaempferia parviflora, gynostemma, astragalus, and green tea.

Detoxification

Chronic inflammation is across the board a bad thing. Low inflammation is linked to longevity and these strategies are applicable to athletic performance and executive performance. Increased toxic load in the modern world exercising with air pollution. DNA repair for DNA damage of athletic and heat stress.  

Increased sweating, metabolism, and utilization of fat stores (which tend to also store toxins) by athletes require very effective detoxification.  Sluggish detoxification may inhibit performance and recovery. 

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, E, methylfolate, folinic acid, B6, various B12 forms, B2 and niacin.

Compounds: Sulfur-containing compounds (broccoli sprouts, garlic), cysteine-containing compounds (NAC, whey), glycine containing foods (collagen, broth), melatonin, taurine, betaine, choline, holy basil, Chaga, reishi, cordyceps, cell membrane integrity (DHA, EPA, PS, PC, CoQ10, astaxanthin), chlorella, cilantro, reishi, plant phytochemicals (lycopene, lutein, resveratrol, pterostilbene, triterpenes), milk thistle, spirulina, schisandra, and Alpana Galangla.

Immunity

Numerous studies over the last 35 years report an increase in upper respiratory infection (URI) symptoms in athletes during periods of heavy training and competition. Challenges athletes face such as heavy exercise and life stress influence immune function (decrease by 15-70%) via activation of the HPA axis and the sympathetic nervous system and the resulting immunoregulatory hormones. Sleeping 8-9 hours a night is a MUST for immune function and recovery.

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin A (retinol), D3, vitamin C and zinc. 

Compounds: Medicinal mushrooms (ß-D-glucans), compounds to boost endogenous antioxidants (refer to above), various adaptogens to potentiate stress, colostrum, astragalus, Vicina roger (black ant), velvet deer/elk antler, humic acid (synergy with beta-glucans), and plant sterols/sterolins.

For rapid response to beating the cold or flu, refer to The Battle Tested Cold and Flu Remedies article.

Injury Prevention

Athletes have a greater strain on joints, tendons, and ligaments and some are genetically predisposed to more ligament ruptures and shoulder dislocations. 

Nutrients: Vitamin C, B6 and collagen.

Muscle Recovery

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C, B6, D3, A,  magnesium, selenium and pearl powder.

Testosterone supporting compounds / anabolic compounds, collagen, turmeric, ginger, cannabinoids, triterpenes, dandelion, glutathione, Montmorency cherry; lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin, citrulline, lycopene (watermelon, pomegranates, rose hips, tomatoes); EPA/DHA, nitrates, Shilajit, Schisandra, chaga, colostrum, beta-alanine, phytomelatonin, PQQ, P. vincina roger (black ant), Kaempferia parviflora, American Ginseng, Alpana Galangla, astaxanathin, bee products, green tea, Terminalia chebula, creatine, bromelain (Proteolytic Enzymes)

Speed

Vitamins and Minerals: Sodium bicarbonate and electrolytes.

Compounds: Ashwagandha, eleuthero root, carnosine precursors (beta-alanine), schizandra, creatine, American Ginseng and coffee.

Strength

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin D3, zinc, magnesium malate, selenium, boron, chromium, sodium bicarbonate, electrolytes, and trace minerals.

Compounds: Creatine, ashwagandha, eluthero root, carnosine precursors (beta-alanine), acetyl-L-Carnitine, betaine, whey, colostrum, spirulina, panax ginseng, schizandra, Shilajit, nitrates (e.g. beetroot), rosemary (ursolic acid), Kaempferia parviflora, american ginseng, and caffeine (from coffee, not isolated).

Testosterone (Men)

Testosterone promoting compounds for men (anabolic) ranked in order of our deemed best (effectiveness and safety):

Ashwangandha, cordyceps, Royal Jelly, bee Pollen and propolis (chrysin), mucuna puriens (synergistic with ashwagandha), maca, coleus forskohlii, saw palmetto, sarsaparilla, select plant lignans (PPAR alpha activators; enterlactone precursors;  testosterone to Dihydrotestosteron inhibitors), tribulus terrestris (promotes DHEA), eurycoma longifolia jack (contains squalene derivatives), bryonia laciniosa (preliminary research), and anacyclus Pyrethrum (preliminary research). 

What are the Best Vitamins, Minerals, and Compounds for Executives?

Energy (non-caffeine stimulants)

Vitamins and MInerals: B-vitamins, magnesium malate, Vitamin C and lithium.

Compounds: PQQ, CoQ10, fulvic acid, bee products, spirulina, stabilized arginine, acetyl-L-carnitine, Alpinia Galanga, cordyceps.

Stimulating Herbs: Maca, Eleuthero root, Panax ginseng (with cordyceps).

Detoxification

Executives often have more stress hormones circulating, disrupted sleep, poor air quality (office or major cities) and higher alcohol and caffeine consumption. Sluggish detoxification will also inhibit mental performance, recovery and lead to other health issues. 

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, E, methylfolate, folinic acid, B6, various B12 forms, B2 and niacin.

Compounds: Sulfur-containing compounds (broccoli sprouts, garlic), cysteine-containing compounds (NAC, whey), glycine containing foods (collagen, broth), melatonin, taurine, betaine, choline, holy basil, Chaga, reishi, cordyceps, cell membrane integrity (DHA, EPA, PS, PC, CoQ10, astaxanthin), chlorella, cilantro, reishi, plant phytochemicals (lycopene, lutein, resveratrol, pterostilbene, triterpenes), milk thistle, spirulina, schisandra, and Alpana Galangla.

Focus

Vitamins and Minerals: B-vitamins, D3, viamin C and magnesium.

Compounds: panax ginseng, alanylglutamine, gotu kola, phosphatidylserine, blueberry (anthocyanins, pterstilbene), fish oil (EPA/DHA), Lion’s mane, ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, acetyl-L-carnitine, bacopa monnieri, Alpana Galangal, coffee, green tea, theanine.

Memory

Vitamins and Minerals: D3, C, Bs, magnesium and lithium.

Compounds: Bacopa, panax ginseng, Cholinergics, Lion’s mane, acetyl-l-carnitine, whole coffee fruit extract powder (no caffeine), ginkgo biloba, PQQ and Alpana Galangal.

Reduced Stress Response

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C, selenium, zinc, iodine, and magnesium.

Compounds: Most adaptogens, holy basil, ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, shisandra, eluthero, ginsengs, acetyl-l-carnitine, Gynostemma pentaphyllum, shilajit, Chaga, coryceps, reishi and bee products. 

While most of the above botanicals are primarily HPA axis adaptogens, Rhodiola rosea is unique in that it is primarily a central nervous system adaptogen. 

Visual Acuity

If you are spending all day on your phone and computer, you need to take incredible care of your eyes. Research has estimated that we will eye disorders will double by 2050.

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, vitamin A and zinc.

Compounds: Carotenoids (Lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin), anthocyanins ( bilberry, blueberry, lingonberry), DHA and Panax ginseng. 

What to Look For in a Multivitamin for Athletes and Executives

Chose those that focus on potent, difficult to source ingredients vs. the standard grocery store affair. A tiny pinch of kale in your multivitamin isn’t going to change your life. Look for synergies, co-factors and active compounds in meaningful amounts. 

  • Extracts and/or concentrates are more stable and effective at lower doses
  • Dual extracts (water and alcohol); possibly supercritical CO2
  • Preferably full-spectrum extracts or extracts are supported by whole food concentrates to ensure whole food co-factors and natural checks and balances are built-in; more probably synergies as well (i.e. entourage effect)
  • Look for formulas that target synergies/additive effects with ingredients to give you better results for limited space.  Whole foods and botanicals provide synergies
  • Inclusion of bioavailability/absorption enhancers (fulvic acid and black pepper)
  • Contain fat for fat-soluble vitamins and compounds
  • Dosing range/research-backed; proper hormetic dosing range; additive effect or synergy between ingredients; acute vs. chronic
  • Mushrooms use hot water extracts and/or alcohol extracts
  • Multiple bioavailable forms preferred (B-vitamins especially); supported whole food forms and co-factors (e.g. iodine from kelp); trace minerals (saltwater concentrates, Shilajit, black ant)

What to Avoid in a Multivitamin for Athletes and Executives

  • Fillers
  • Too much fiber
  • Sugar
  • Poor forms of minerals
  • Poor forms of vitamins
  • Contamination
  • Heavy metals
  • Many isolated phytochemicals vs. whole food concentrates: More on this is found in our longevity article and turmeric article
  • Blends of simple food powders (these are too small to make any difference and are added for marketing)

The Best Multivitamins for Athletes and Executive Performance 

1. Primitive Scientific Multivitamin for Men and Primitive Scientific Multivitamin for Women 
(Athletes and Executives)

Price: $29.99 for 30 servings
Cost per serving: $1.00

Men’s Highlights

– All the correct forms of all vitamins and minerals for those looking for dosages found in food
– B12 in the form of methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin and adenosylcobalamin for optimal absorption at the right dosage
– 250mcg of lithium
-Contains vitamin K2
– Wild Alaskan dandelion blend and chicory root for prebiotics and digestive enzymes
– Wild Alaskan wild blueberry complex and broccoli sprouts
– Whole Food B-Vitamin Complex with Synergizers and Cofactors, including Royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis extract, shilajit and PQQ (this might be the most impressive part of the formulation)
– Brain and Eye Health blend that includes bacopa, DHA, Gota kola, bilberry, rosemary and astaxanthin
– Stress and Immunity blend that includes holy basil, wild Chaga dual extract, wild Alaskan rose hips, and dual extract of reishi
– Testosterone and Energy blend that includes ashwagandha, maca and cordyceps sinensis and militaris.

Women’s Highlights

– All the correct forms and dosages of all vitamins and minerals
– B12 in the form of methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin and adenosylcobalamin for optimal absorption at the right dosage
– 250mcg of lithium
– Wild Alaskan dandelion blend and chicory root for prebiotics and digestive enzymes
– Wild Alaskan wild blueberry complex and broccoli sprouts
– Whole Food B-Vitamin Complex with Synergizers and Cofactors, including Royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis extract, shilajit and PQQ (this might be the most impressive part of the formulation)
– Brain and Eye Health blend that includes bacopa, DHA, Gota kola, bilberry, rosemary and astaxanthin
– Stress and Immunity blend that includes holy basil, wild Chaga dual extract, wild Alaskan rose hips, and dual extract of reishi
– Healthy Hormones and Energy blend that includes ashwagandha, fennel seed powder, hops extract and cordyceps sinensis and militaris

Improvements

Currently getting NSF certification in January 2020 for professionally competing athletes

2. Pure Encapsulations Athletic Nutrients Multivitamin/Mineral Complex 

Price: $60.60 for 90 servings
Cost per serving: $1.49

Highlights

– Correct forms and dosages of most of the vitamins and minerals
– Supports stamina and buffers lactic acid with Kre-Alkalyn ph-balanced creatine; studied in endurance athletes and professional athletes. It contains other ATP cofactors including CoQ10 and alpha-ketoglutarate.
– Lessens muscle soreness and fatigue with NAC, alpha-lipoic acid and l- carnosine.
– In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, PowerGrape promoted plasma antioxidant capacity during competition and supported performance in athletes. Protects muscles from oxidative stress with green tea and polyphenols from mangosteen, açai, noni, pomegranate and quebracho extract.
– Pure Encapsulations products are free from wheat, gluten, egg, peanuts, magnesium stearate, hydrogenated fat, artificial sweeteners and colors, and other unnecessary excipients

Improvements

– Isolated form of beta carotene is used when it should be whole food based mixed carotenoids
– Missing vitamin K2 (see this article on K2 for athletic performance and brain benefits)
– B12 is way too high for most people
– Iodine, zinc, calcium, and magnesium is too low
– Vitamin E needs to be mixed tocopherols and at a lower dose
– Is not NSF certified for professionally competing athletes

3. Thorne Research Extra Nutrients with Nicotinamide Riboside (Niagen)
(Athletes, Executives, Elderly and Toxic Environments)

Price: $60.00 for 30 servings
Cost per serving: $2.00 per serving

Highlights

– Higher dosage of vitamins and minerals in the right forms for those who need it
– Contains vitamin K2 as MK-7
– 250mg of magnesium malate and 250mg of calcium malate
– 850mg of vitamin C
– 225mcg of iodine
– 3mg of boron, which is excellent for bone and hormone health
– 80mg of bilberry for eye health
– Lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, and lycopene
– Nicotinamide Riboside (Niagin), which is found in small amounts of milk, beer, and yeast. It has been found in research to support healthy aging, neurological support, brain/cognitive support, metabolic/weight support, and liver support and muscle support.

Improvements 

– B12 and biotin are excessively high, even for this formula
– 200mcg of selenium may be too high for some people

4. Pure Encapsulations Longevity Nutrients (Executives or Athletes over 60)

Cost: $52.00 for 60 servings
Cost per serving: $1.15 per serving

Highlights

– The higher dose of B-vitamins and other relevant nutrients that may be required for older populations
– Vitamin K2 as MK-7 for brain, oral and cardiovascular health (see this vitamin K2 article for more on MK-7)
– ChromeMate chromium polynicotinate and biotin are included for metabolic support
– Lutein and zeaxanthin for macular degeneration prevention (very important due to excessive screen time)
– Cognitive Pro Complex that includes bacopa, ginkgo, alpha-GPC, and turmeric
– Cardiovascular blend with red wine grape concentrate for resveratrol, grape seed extract and pomegranate
– Pure Encapsulations products are free from wheat, gluten, egg, peanuts, magnesium stearate, hydrogenated fat, artificial sweeteners and colors, and other unnecessary excipients

Improvements

– No calcium or magnesium. See this article for calcium and magnesium requirements and recommendations.
– A higher dose of zinc needed
– Vitamin E should contain mixed tocopherols and be at a lower dose

What to Read Next

Best and Worst Electrolyte Drinks
Best and Worst Whey Protein Powders
Whey Protein vs. Collagen: Which is Better?
The Best Fish Oil, Krill Oil, Cod Liver Oil and Salmon oil

Other Sources

Marriott, B. M. (Ed.). (1993). Nutritional Needs in hot environments: Applications for military personnel in field operations. National Academies Press.
 
Matter, M., Stittfall, T., Graves, J., Myburgh, K., Adams, B., Jacobs, P., & Noakes, T. D. (1987). The effect of iron and folate therapy on maximal exercise performance in female marathon runners with iron and folate deficiency. Clinical Science, 72(4), 415-422.
 
Molina-López, J., Molina, J. M., Chirosa, L. J., Florea, D. I., Sáez, L., & Planells, E. (2013). Effect of folic acid supplementation on homocysteine concentration and association with training in handball players. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 10.
 
Woolf, K., & Manore, M. M. (2006). B-vitamins and exercise: does exercise alter requirements? International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16(5), 453-484.