Micronutrients are one of the major groups of nutrients your body needs. These chemical elements or substances are essential in minute amounts to the growth and health of humans.
- Vitamins, which are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other functions.
- Minerals, which play an important role in growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes.
Many athletes’ diets are known for tracking macronutrients; proteins, carbohydrates and fats– yet micronutrients shouldn’t be left behind.
“Many micronutrients play key roles in energy metabolism,” concluded a University of Aberdeen study looking into the role of micronutrients in sport and physical activity.
They play an important role in energy production, oxygen transport, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function and protection of the body against oxidative damage, which occurs through exercise. They also assist with tissue growth and repair and recovery from exercise.
Ultimately, a healthy diet is paramount for good performance; food provides the energy we need to do anything and everything, and it gives us the nutrients we require to grow and repair after exercise.
Five micronutrients athletes should include in their diets
Micronutrients are called that because our bodies only need them in minuscule amounts. Yet, as tiny as the amounts are, the World Health Organisation warns the consequences of imbalances and deficiencies are severe.
“Although an adequate vitamin and mineral status is essential for normal health, marginal deficiency states may only be apparent when the metabolic rate is high,” the University of Aberdeen study concluded. “Prolonged strenuous exercise performed on a regular basis may also result in increased losses from the body or in an increased rate of turnover, resulting in the need for an increased dietary intake.”
The most important micronutrients for athletes to focus on are:
The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium helps build and maintain healthy bones.
It also ensures blood clots properly and plays an important role in muscle contraction, including our heartbeat.
Muscle cramps and osteoporosis are common symptoms of low calcium levels.
Iron might be one of the most important minerals consumed by athletes, as it is a key component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that ferries oxygen from your lungs to your muscles.
“If you’re short on iron, you risk starving your muscles of oxygen,” reads an Outside Online article titled How much iron is enough for endurance athletes?
It is quite rare for athletes to have a severe iron deficiency. The best way to know whether you have an iron deficiency is to get your hemoglobin, ferritin, and perhaps transferrin saturation tested.
Read more: 5 Healthy Foods to Combat Iron Deficiency
Zinc is very important for keeping your immune system strong and reducing your risk of cold and infectious disease. It also helps with growth and development and, most importantly, is essential for healing wounds.
In a nutshell, zinc helps with making new cells and enzymes, processing carbohydrate, fat and protein in food and wound healing.
A lack of zinc can make athletes more susceptible to disease and illness.
As well as being an electrolyte, magnesium plays a role in muscle and nerve function and the creation of ATP. It helps turn the food we eat into energy.
Magnesium is essential for healthy and efficient muscle contraction, cardiovascular function, neurotransmission, digestion, and healthy fluid balance.
Low blood levels of magnesium can result in muscle fatigue, as well as other signs and symptoms you can find out about here.
5. Vitamin D and Vitamin B
Vitamin D is beneficial for the absorption of calcium (helping build strong bones, especially necessary for athletes) and has a powerful effect on immunity and preventing illness.
B Vitamins aid with the release of energy from carbs, fats and proteins. They also play an important role in red blood cell production, which transport oxygen in our bodies, in turn aiding our aerobic capacity.
6. Vitamin C and Vitamin E
Increased metabolic rate during exercise increases oxygen consumption and exposes the cells to near constant oxidative stress and associated cell damage. Vitamin C and E are a form of antioxidant and they protect the body’s cells from the effects of these free radicals (molecules produced as a by-product of energy production).
Vitamins C and E help control muscle damage and fatigue, and are thought to improve aerobic capacity.
Nutrition is important throughout your training, not only during competition time; “the main role of nutrition may be to support consistent intensive training which will lead to improved performance,” concluded a study looking into nutritional goals and dietary strategies for athletes.
A balanced, healthy diet should prove all the micronutrients required by athletes.
- Brooke-Wells: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc
- micronutrients-for-athletes: Brenda Godinez on Unsplash