The physiological roles and importance of vitamins and minerals is unknown to many.
Guys will rush to GNC to buy the latest super-advanced, muscle-maximizing pills and powders containing proprietary blends of fancy-sounding junk ingredients, but few of them will invest money in healthier foods or a multivitamin.
The recent popularity of the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet has made “eating junk and getting shredded” popular, with many advocates completely neglecting the NUTRITION side of dieting.
Well, the fact is that your body needs a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to perform the millions of physiological processes that keep you alive and well. This is a basic need, like protein, carbohydrates, fats, and water, and if it’s neglected, health and performance can be severely compromised.
In this article, I want to discuss what vitamins and minerals are, which are most important for your body and why, and how to ensure you’re giving your body what it needs.
So, let’s start with a simple definition of terms.
What Are Vitamins and Minerals, Exactly?
Vitamins are substances that living organisms need for their cells to function, grow, and develop correctly. Organisms can’t produce vitamins, and thus must obtain them from their diets or other sources such as the sun, or bacteria in the gut.
Certain vitamins are water-soluble, which means they dissolve easily in water, and are easily excreted through the urine (which is what the body does with excesses). There are 9 water-soluble vitamins: 8 B vitamins, and vitamin C.
Other vitamins are fat-soluble, which means they require dietary fats for absorption. Fat-soluble vitamins aren’t as easily eliminated in the body, and over-consumption (which is hard to do without supplementation) can lead to “vitamin poisoning,” or “hypervitaminosis,” as it’s known medically. There are 4 types of fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K.
Minerals are substances that contain no carbon (whereas vitamins do), and which form naturally in the Earth. Your body needs minerals for many different physiological functions, including building bones, making hormones, and regulating your heartbeat.
Examples of minerals your body needs are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. These are known as “macrominerals,” because your body needs relatively large amounts to function properly.
“Trace minerals,” on the other hand, are types of minerals that your body only needs small amounts of: iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.
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The Vitamins and Minerals Your Body Needs, and Why
Let’s now look at the most important vitamins and minerals for your body.
First, a quick explanation of acronyms:
RDA stands for Recommended Dietary Allowances, and this refers to the average daily intake required for good health. RDAs are established when scientific bodies such as the Institute of Medicine feel there is enough scientific data to make such prescriptions.
AI stands for adequate intake level, and this refers to a general recommendation on intake, and is used in the place of an RDA where none exists (usually due to a lack of scientific data).
UL stands for tolerable upper intake level, and this refers to the upper limit of daily intake generally considered safe for the average person. Keeping intake at or below UL dosages will prevent “overdosing” any vitamins or minerals, which can cause various health issues.
Before we talk specifics, you should also understand how vitamins and minerals are measured.
Larger doses are measured in milligrams (mg). A milligram is tiny: it’s 1/1000th of a gram, which is 1/1000 of a kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Smaller doses are measured in micrograms (mcg). A microgram is even tinier: it’s 1/1000th of a milligram.
Some vitamins, like vitamins D and A, are measured in IUs, or international units, a measurement that varies based on the substance and its effects in the body.
Alright, with all that out of way, let’s now take a look at the key vitamins and minerals (in no particular order). The “needs” dosages below are based on RDA and AI numbers established by the Institute of Medicine, and are for adults aged 18 and over.
Zinc is a trace element used in the creation of enzymes, proteins, and cells. It is also used to release vitamin A from the liver, and it boosts the immune system.
How Much Zinc Your Body Needs
Men: 11 mg per day
Women: 8 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Zinc
Beef (2 mg per ounce), oysters (13 mg per oyster), milk (2 mg per cup), turkey (1.5 mg per ounce), and cashews (1.5 mg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Zinc
40 mg per day
Biotin (Vitamin B7 or Vitamin H)
Like its other B vitamin brethren, biotin plays an important role in the growth of cells and the metabolism of food (the process whereby the body breaks the food we eat down into usable energy).
How Much BiotinYour Body Needs
30 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Biotin
Salmon (4-5 mcg per 3 ounces), whole grains (0.025-5 mcg per slice of bread), eggs (15-25 mcg per large egg), or avocados (2-5 mcg per avocado).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Biotin
Calcium is a macromineral involved in the development of bones and teeth, and also in muscle function, nerve communication, hormone production, muscle function, and blood pressure.
How Much Calcium Your Body Needs
1,000 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Calcium
Dairy (milk and yogurt both provide about 300 mg per cup, and cheddar cheese about 300 mg per 1.5 ounces), bok choy (80 mg per ½ cup), tofu (260 mg per ½ cup), rhubarb (175 mg per ½ cup), and spinach (115 mg per ½ cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Calcium
2,500 mg per day
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that prevents cellular damage and helps keep free radicals under control.
How Much Vitamin E Your Body Needs
15 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin E
Almonds (7.5 mg per ounce), olive oil (2 mg per tablespoon), avocados (3 mg per avocado), canola oil (2.5 mg per tablespoon), and hazelnuts (4 mg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin E
1,000 mg per day
Potassium is a macromineral that helps nerves and muscles communicate, and helps move fluids and nutrients into and waste products out of cells.
How Much Potassium Your Body Needs
4,700 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Potassium
Bananas (over 400 mg per medium banana), artichokes (340 mg per medium artichoke), plums (640 mg per ½ cup), baked potatoes (930 mg per medium potato), and raisins (600 mg per ½ cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Potassium
Sodium, which is part of sodium chloride, or table salt, is a macromineral essential for maintaining cellular fluid balance, nerve signaling, contracting the muscles, digestion of food, regulating blood pressure, and more.
Average sodium intake here in the United States is too high, due to regular consumption of foods like…
- Canned and pre-packaged foods (salt is used as a preservative)
- Deli meat (full of sodium)
- Table salt and spices and condiments (one teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium, and many spices and condiments are high in sodium)
- Sauces and salad dressings, many of which are high in sodium
- Cheese, which is often quite high in sodium.
An easy way to reduce sodium intake is to simply cut back on these types of foods.
How Much Sodium Your Body Needs
1,500 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Sodium
The best way to get sodium in your diet is to lightly salt your food, as only 2/3 of a teaspoon contains all you need
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Sodium
2,300 mg per day
Phosphorus is a macromineral that is used to build and protect bones and DNA, and is also involved in the metabolism of food and the transport of nutrients to organs.
How Much Phosphorus Your Body Needs
700 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Phosphorus
Dairy (milk contains 250 mg per cup, yogurt 400 mg per cup, and cheese over 130 mg per ounce), salmon (80 mg per ounce), eggs (100 mg per large egg), and chicken (50 mg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Phosphorus
4,000 mg per day
Although the chemical symbol for potassium is K, vitamin K isn’t the same.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for wound healing and bone development. The “K” actually stands for koagulation, the German word for coagulation, or clotting.
How Much Vitamin K Your Body Needs
Men: 120 mcg per day
Women: 90 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin K
Broccoli (220 mcg per cup), kale (550 mcg per cup), parsley (250 mcg per ¼ cup), and Swiss chard (300 mcg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin K
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin vital for general immunity, nervous system function, and bone density.
As you may know, our body can’t produce vitamin D without sun exposure. When our skin is exposed to the sun’s UVB rays, they interact with a form of cholesterol in the body to produce vitamin D. The more skin that is exposed to the sun, and the stronger its rays, the more vitamin D you produce.
How Much Vitamin D Your Body Needs
According to the Institute of Medicine, 600 IU per day is adequate for ages 1-70 (and 800 IU per day for 71+), but these numbers have been severely criticized by scientists that specialized in vitamin D research. They call attention to the over 125 peer-reviewed studies that indicate such recommendations are too low, and are likely to lead to vitamin D deficiencies.
A committee of the U.S. Endocrine Society recently convened to review the evidence, and concluded that 600-1,000 IU per day is adequate for ages 1-18, and 1,500-2,000 IU per day is adequate for ages 19+.
Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin D
It’s tough to get enough vitamin D from food alone, but good sources are salmon (150 IUs per ounce), canned tuna (50 IUs per ounce), and egg yolks (40 IUs per yolk).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin D
Overdosing isn’t likely to occur until intake skyrockets to 40,000 IU per day for several months, or 300,000 IU in a 24-hour period.
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Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps maintain healthy tissues, teeth, and gums; promotes wound healing; and boosts the immune system.
How Much Vitamin C Your Body Needs
Men: 90 mg per day
Women: 75 mg per day
(Smokers should add 35 mg per day)
Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin C
Oranges (50 mg per small orange), grapefruits (80 mg per medium fruit), strawberries (85 mg per cup), tomatoes (15 mg per medium tomato), red peppers (100 mg per ½ cup), and broccoli (50 mg per ½ cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin C
2,000 mg per day
Choline is a water-soluble B vitamin that is used to build acetylcholine, an essential neurotransmitter used for brain activities, muscle contraction, and food metabolism.
How Much Choline Your Body Needs
Men: 550 mg per day
Women: 425 mg per day
(Smokers should add 35 mg per day)
Good Dietary Sources of Choline
Eggs (125 mg per egg), milk (40 mg per cup), broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts (all about 60 mg per cup), and beef (20 mg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Choline
3,500 mg per day
Chromium is a trace mineral that is known to enhance the actions of insulin in the body, and also appears to be involved in the metabolism of food we eat.
How Much Chromium Your Body Needs
Men: 35 mcg per day
Women: 25 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Chromium
Broccoli (20 mcg per cup), potatoes (3 mcg per cup), garlic (3 mcg per teaspoon), and whole-wheat products like English muffins (4 mcg per muffin).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Chromium
Iodine is a trace mineral that the body needs to create thyroid hormones, which control the body’s metabolism, temperature, muscle function, and overall growth and development.
How Much Iodine Your Body Needs
150 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Iodine
Cod (30 mcg per ounce), shrimp (10 mcg per ounce), canned tuna (15 mcg per half can), milk (60 mcg per cup), baked potatoes (60 mcg per medium potato), and seaweed (over 18,000 mcg per ounce–yes, you read that right!).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Iodine
1,100 mcg per day
Molybdenum is a trace mineral involved in various bodily processes, possibly including the production of energy in the cells, development of the nervous system, and processing of waste in the kidneys.
How Much Molybdenum Your Body Needs
45 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Molybdenum
Legumes like black beans (130 mcg per cup), peanuts (40 mcg per cup), and split peas (150 mcg per cup), and nuts like almonds, chestnuts, and (all about 40 mcg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Molybdenum
2,000 mcg per day
Vitamin B6 is involved in over 100 biological processes in the body, mostly related to the metabolism of food and the production of hormones and red blood cells.
How Much Vitamin B6 Your Body Needs
1.3 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin B6
Salmon (.15 mg per ounce), chicken (.15 mg per ounce), bananas (.4 mg per medium banana), potatoes with the skin (.7 mg per medium potato), hazelnuts (.2 mg per ounce), and cooked spinach (.5 mg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin B6
100 mg per day
Iron is one of the most abundant metals on Earth, and in humans, is a vital part of proteins that transport oxygen, and also essential to cell growth.
How Much Iron Your Body Needs
Men: 8 mg per day
Women: 18 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Iron
Beef (about .8 mg per ounce), oysters (about 1 mg per medium oyster), raisins (.8 mg per small box), potatoes (2 mg per medium potato), cooked lentils (3 mg per half cup), tofu (2 mg per ¼ block), and cashews (2 mg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Iron
45 mg per day
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
Pantothenic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin and plays an important role in the metabolism of food and the development of the nervous system, certain hormones, red blood cells, and more.
How Much Pantothenic AcidYour Body Needs
5 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Pantothenic Acid
Chicken (.3 mg per ounce), eggs (.6 mg per large egg), whole grains (.2 mg per slice of whole wheat bread), mushrooms (.5 mg per half cup), sweet potato (0.9 mg per medium potato), avocados (2 mg per whole avocado), and yogurt (1.5 mg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Pantothenic Acid
Selenium is a trace mineral that is involved in maintaining reproductive health, the metabolism of thyroid hormones, the synthesis of DNA, and protecting the body from free radical damage and infection.
How Much Selenium Your Body Needs
55 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Selenium
Brazil nuts (550 mcg per six nuts), shrimp (3 mcg per shrimp), crabmeat (13 mcg per ounce), salmon (13 mcg per ounce), beef (5 mcg per ounce), and pork (10 mcg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Selenium
400 mcg per day
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for maintaining good vision, immune and reproductive health, and normal function of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.
How Much Vitamin A Your Body Needs
Men: 900 mcg per day
Women: 700 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin A
Kale (440 mcg per ½ cup), eggs (90 mcg per large egg), cod liver oil (1,350 mcg per teaspoon), carrots (540 mcg per ½ cup), sweet potatoes (950 mcg per ½ cup), cantaloupe (470 mcg per ½ a melon), mango (80 mcg per fruit), and butternut squash (570 mcg per ½ cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin A
3,000 mcg per day
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble B vitamin that helps keeps the nervous system and blood cells healthy, is involved in the production of DNA, and in the metabolism of food.
How Much Vitamin B12 Your Body Needs
2.4 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin B12
Clams (25 mcg per ounce), mussels (7 mcg per ounce), beef (.7 mcg per ounce), salmon (.8 mcg per ounce), eggs (.5 mcg per large egg), and milk (1 mcg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin B12
Copper is a trace mineral used for the creation of red blood cells and cellular energy, as well as for immune and nervous system function.
How Much Copper Your Body Needs
900 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Copper
Oysters (670 mcg per medium oyster), crabmeat (200 mcg per ounce), cashews (630 mcg per ounce), mushrooms (350 mcg per cup), and semisweet chocolate (200 mcg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Copper
10,000 mcg per day
Magnesium is a macromineral that, along with calcium, is involved in over 300 biological processes, including muscle contraction, protein synthesis, nerve function, blood clotting, and the regulation of blood pressure and building of healthy bones.
How Much Magnesium Your Body Needs
Men: 400 mg per day
Women: 310 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Magnesium
Oat bran (200 mg per cup), almonds (80 mg per ounce), brown rice (90 mg per cup), spinach (160 mg per cup), and bananas (30 mg per banana).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Magnesium
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Like other water-soluble B vitamins, niacin is essential for the conversion of food into cellular energy. It also helps maintain healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver and nervous system function.
How Much Niacin Your Body Needs
Men: 16 mg per day
Women: 14 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Niacin
Peanuts (4 mg per ounce), chicken (2 mg per ounce), salmon (3 mg per ounce), and coffee (.5 mg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Niacin
35 mg per day
Manganese is a trace mineral important for the metabolism of food, as well as the growth of bone.
How Much Manganese Your Body Needs
Men: 2.3 mg per day
Women: 1.8 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Manganese
Pineapples (1.5 mg per cup), pecans (1.3 mg per ounce), oatmeal (1.5 mg per cup), brown rice (2 mg per cup), and green tea (.5-1.5 mg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Manganese
11 mg per day
Folic Acid (Folate)
Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin that is vital for proper fetal development, and that plays an important role in the creation and proper functioning of cells.
How Much Folic Acid Your Body Needs
400 mcg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Folic Acid
Asparagus (20 mcg per spear), spinach (250 mcg per cup), lentils (350 per cup), white rice (180 mcg per cup), and broccoli (100 mcg per cup).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Folic Acid
1,000 mcg per day
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Riboflavin is a water-soluble B vitamin that helps convert food to energy, and maintain healthy hair, skin, muscles, eyes, as well as a healthy immune system and brain.
How Much Riboflavin Your Body Needs
Men: 1.3 mg per day
Women: 1.1 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Riboflavin
Milk (.3 mg per cup), almonds (.25 mg per ounce), cheddar cheese (.1 mg per ounce), eggs (.3 mg per large egg), almonds (1.5 mg per cup), and salmon (.4 mg per ounce).
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Riboflavin
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Thiamin is a water-soluble B vitamin that helps with the metabolism of food, and which also plays a role in nerve signaling and muscle contraction.
How Much Thiamin Your Body Needs
Men: 1.2 mg per day
Women: 1.1 mg per day
Good Dietary Sources of Thiamin
Milk (.10 mg per cup), lentils (0.4 mg per cup), cantaloupe (0.2 mg per fruit), pecans (.2 mg per ounce), sunflower seeds (.75 mg per cup), and pork (.3 mg per ounce)
Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Thiamin
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Is a Multivitamin Supplement Worth It?
Ideally, we’d get all of the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we eat, but this is easier said than done.
- First there’s the issue of the ever-declining quality of soil and food (even in the world of organic), which is making it harder to get adequate nutrition from our diets.
- Then there’s the fact that maintaining optimal levels of vitamin and mineral intake requires a bit of planned dietary diversity, which can be done, but can also be time-consuming.
Theoretically, then, a multivitamin is a no-brainer.
If you start looking at the ingredients lists of various multivitamin supplements on the market, though, you’ll quickly notice a couple things:
1. Most multivitamin supplements contain little more than vitamins and minerals, which are often improperly dosed–they’re too high in micronutrients we’re not likely to be deficient in and too low in those we are.
This type of formulation isn’t just inefficient and, in some ways, a waste of money–it can be harmful to your health as super-dosing certain types of ingredients like antioxidants sounds good in marketing pieces but doesn’t necessarily confer health benefits.
2. In the cases where additional ingredients are included, they’re often underwhelming.
Call me cynical but am I supposed to get excited over a 100 mg proprietary blend of fruit and vegetable powders? A few enzymes that may or may not even do anything? Some amino acids, which serve absolutely no purpose in this context? Substances to “detox” my liver?
3. Many multivitamin supplements contain a long list of ingredients that have no research to back the marketing claims.
The supplement industry loves to misuse science to sell and multivitamins, with their long lists of fancy ingredients, are perfect for pseudo-scientific chicanery.
The sad truth is the majority of multivitamins on the market contain little more than over- and under-dosed vitamins and minerals and a smattering of underdosed, unproven, or ineffective (and often all three!) ingredients thrown in to pad the ingredients list and make you think you’re getting a lot for your money.
While there have been a couple decent multivitamin supplements over the years and I’ve used and recommended them, they always fell short of what I really wanted to see in terms of ingredients and dosages.
Well, thanks to your support of my supplement line, LEGION, I’m finally able to just make the multivitamin I always wished someone else would make: TRIUMPH.
When I set out to create TRIUMPH, I wanted to focus on several key benefits particularly important to people living an active lifestyle:
- Improving physical performance of both resistance and endurance training.
- Improving overall physical health including heart health, blood flow and pressure, cholesterol profile, insulin sensitivity, and more.
- Improving mental health including memory, cognition, and overall sense of well-being.
- Alleviating the physical stress caused by regular, intense exercise, including aches, inflammation, and fatigue.
- Alleviating mental stress that leads to anxiety, depression, and various impairments of physical health.
- Enhancing immune function to help prevent disease and dysfunction.
- Increasing longevity and supporting our health as we age.
We then conducted an extensive scientific review of a wide variety of natural molecules known to meet those targets, and we carefully chose a handful that safely deliver consistent results on all four points given above. The result is the most potent multivitamin on the market built specifically for athletes in which every ingredient is backed by sound clinical research and included at clinically effective dosages.
TRIUMPH’s formulation does a lot more than plug potential holes in your diet: its unique combination of clinically effective ingredients improves general health and overall well-being, enhances physical and mental performance, and protects against disease.
What did you think about this guide to vitamins and minerals? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- Vieth, R. (1999). Vitamin D supplementation, 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, and safety. In American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 69, Issue 5, pp. 842–856). American Society for Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/69.5.842
- Holick, M. F., Binkley, N. C., Bischoff-Ferrari, H. A., Gordon, C. M., Hanley, D. A., Heaney, R. P., Murad, M. H., & Weaver, C. M. (2011). Evaluation, treatment, and prevention of vitamin D deficiency: An endocrine society clinical practice guideline. In Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (Vol. 96, Issue 7, pp. 1911–1930). J Clin Endocrinol Metab. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-0385
- Heaney, R. P., & Holick, M. F. (2011). Why the IOM recommendations for vitamin D are deficient. In Journal of Bone and Mineral Research (Vol. 26, Issue 3, pp. 455–457). J Bone Miner Res. https://doi.org/10.1002/jbmr.328
- Ross, A. C., Manson, J. A. E., Abrams, S. A., Aloia, J. F., Brannon, P. M., Clinton, S. K., Durazo-Arvizu, R. A., Gallagher, J. C., Gallo, R. L., Jones, G., Kovacs, C. S., Mayne, S. T., Rosen, C. J., & Shapses, S. A. (2011). The 2011 report on dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D from the Institute of Medicine: What clinicians need to know. In Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (Vol. 96, Issue 1, pp. 53–58). Endocrine Society. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2010-2704
- Holick, M. F. (2004). Vitamin D: Importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(3), 362–371. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/79.3.362
- Fukuwatari, T., & Shibata, K. (2008). Urinary water-soluble vitamins and their metabolite contents as nutritional markers for evaluating vitamin intakes in young Japanese women. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 54(3), 223–229. https://doi.org/10.3177/jnsv.54.223