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Nutrition is one of the primary factors in fun and successful endurance bike rides. Cyclists need to maximize efficiency and reduce fatigue, but also often want to get in many of the other health benefits associated with sport (weight loss, etc.). One thing that no one needs in their diet is magic. And today’s magical topic is vitamins.
There is plenty of evidence that vitamins are important for health. For instance, they aid in metabolizing our food — without them, the body cannot absorb nutrients (hence diseases like scurvy and rickets). That fact has led many to grant them divine powers of healing. But the fact is: too many vitamins (through non-medically supervised supplementation) can cause disease and disorder.
That was the finding of two studies reported on in the New York Times:
In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1994, 29,000 Finnish men, all smokers, had been given daily vitamin E, beta carotene, both or a placebo. The study found that those who had taken beta carotene for five to eight years were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease.
Two years later the same journal published another study on vitamin supplements. In it, 18,000 people who were at an increased risk of lung cancer because of asbestos exposure or smoking received a combination of vitamin A and beta carotene, or a placebo. Investigators stopped the study when they found that the risk of death from lung cancer for those who took the vitamins was 46 percent higher.
Offit, “Don’t Take your Vitamins,” New York Times (June 2013).
The craze in vitamin supplementation ostensibly started in the ’70s when Linus Pauling decided to wander out of his field of expertise and advocate for high-dose vitamin C supplementation. However, his ideas were proven wrong, but not until millions were wasted on unnecessary vitamins.
The conclusion here is: get the facts about supplements before you take them. Don’t self-medicate and don’t break the bank. Eat a well-balanced diet, high in protein, full of fresh vegetables and fruit, and a decreasing amount of fat and sugar. Get enough calories for the amount you exercise. And visit your physician regularly for checkups and for diagnoses and treatment of unexplained conditions.