Why are Micronutrients Essential for Athletes?
While most people know that athletes need to eat a balanced diet and consume plenty of protein to build muscle and improve performance, they don’t realize that micronutrients are just as essential for athletes as macronutrients.
Micronutrients are nutrients that the body needs in small amounts to function properly. They include vitamins and minerals that are critical in everything from immune function to energy levels.
These nutrients are necessary for a healthy person with a normal exercise and activity level, but when it comes to athletes, the importance of certain micronutrients increases. Let’s look at micronutrients from an athletic perspective:
What are micronutrients from an athletic perspective?
You’re always looking for ways to up your performance as an athlete. One way to do this is by ensuring you get enough nutrients, including micronutrients and macronutrients. Jack Lalane, a former American nutritionist and athlete, said it best, “Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together, and you’ve got a kingdom.”
While all nutrients are important, athletes need to pay special attention to micronutrients because of the increased stressors placed on their bodies. Intense, frequent, or prolonged training depletes the body of nutrients, so getting enough from food is key, and sometimes, supplements can help compensate for the losses. Micronutrients play fundamental roles in many body processes, including cell growth, energy production, and immune function.
Micronutrient Benefits for Athletes
One key way to optimize your performance, endurance, strength, and recovery is to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs to function at its best. And while macronutrients provide the body with energy, micronutrients are responsible for various functions, such as:
- Boosting and supporting immune functions
- Regulating metabolism
- Maintaining fluid balance
- Building and repairing muscle tissue
- Enabling proper nerve and muscle function
- Synthesizing energy from macronutrients
- Protecting against free radicals
- Upkeeping electrolyte balance
- Hormones production
- Getting rid of waste
The role of micronutrients for vegan or vegetarian athletes
There has been a rise in plant-based (vegan) and vegetarian diets in the athlete sphere over the last decade. There are many discussions as to whether these athletes are getting enough nutrients or if these diets make them susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies. While studies suggest that plant-based diets can result in the reduction of dietary intake of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, iron, and iodine, due to their decreased bioavailability in plants, proper planning and education around individual energy requirements will ensure that there are no shortfalls in daily micronutrient requirements.
Food first is the best way to gain and meet daily micronutrient requirements. Foods high in micronutrients for plant-based diets include:
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (e.g., Quinoa)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Yeast extracts (great source of Vitamin B12)
Suppose you are looking for further insight into the effectiveness of your current dietary nutrient intake. In that case, an at-home nutrition test kit can be a quick and easy way to gain actionable results from a real medical team. BioStarks nutritional kit is convenient, tests for 34 biomarkers that are specific to nutritional status, and can provide insight into shortfalls in diet or provide peace of mind.
Which micronutrients are essential for athletes?
Intense training can lead to some micronutrient deficiencies, impacting performance and recovery. Because of this, the following list is a few micronutrients essential for athletes:
- Iron is a mineral that is essential for carrying oxygen to the muscles. It’s found in food like meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and fortified cereals. And iron deficiency can occur with or without anemia, which impairs muscle function and limits muscle work capacity. Iron deficiency is often characterized by fatigue, lactic acid build-up, and decreased performance.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is interestingly classified as both a nutrient that we eat and a hormone that is produced by the body. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for bone health and other vital body functions. Sun exposure is our primary source of vitamin D. Dietary vitamin D is also found in fortified milk, fatty fish, eggs, and some mushrooms, but it is only in small amounts. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to poor immune function, compromised bone health, and muscle repair.
- Calcium. Calcium is a mineral that is essential for bone growth, maintenance, and repair. Calcium also plays an important role in the regulation of muscle contractions, blood clotting, and nerve conduction. It’s found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and canned fish with bones. A deficiency can lead to bone fragility and a higher risk of fractures.
- Magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including muscle contraction and relaxation. It’s found in dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. A deficiency can lead to muscle cramps, weakness, and fatigue. Endurance athletes that have a magnesium deficiency will experience a decreased performance as oxygen requirements have increased.
- Antioxidants. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, and some fatty acids, play an important role in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage. Prolonged and strenuous exercise has been shown to increase an individual’s daily Vitamin C requirements. They’re found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, and whole grains. A deficiency can lead to cell damage. It is important not to exceed the paper limit for any antioxidants as higher doses have proven to be pro-oxidative
- Other important micronutrients that are essential to athletes include B vitamins and zinc.
How can athletes make sure they’re getting enough micronutrients?
Athletes have higher nutrient needs than sedentary people as they experience an increased need for energy production, increased oxidative stress, and increased oxygen needs. Because many athletes are deficient in one or more micronutrients, leading to fatigue, impaired performance, and increased risk of injury.
That’s why we don’t take the topic of micronutrients lightly. Without them, you may cause yourself tons of pain and health problems in the long term.
Eating a varied and balanced diet is the best way to get all the micronutrients you need. However, even if you’re eating a healthy diet, you may still be deficient in specific nutrients. This may be because of the type of exercise you are doing (the more strenuous, prolonged), the more energy required.
Supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement can also help fill in any gaps in your diet and ensure you get all the micronutrients you need. Please consult your health care professional to ensure proper supplementation.
Micronutrients are essential for athletes for many reasons
The CDC did a systemic review and meta-analysis with 23 studies, claiming that out of 2313 athletes (76% male), 56% had insufficient vitamin D levels. With statistics like these, it never hurts to check out micronutrient levels.
Especially since there are many more vitamins to look out for to help us produce energy, build muscle, regulate metabolism, support the immune system, and the list can go on! Despite this, finding these micronutrients and vitamin deficiencies can be challenging.
Are you concerned you are deficient in one or more vitamins or minerals but don’t know where to start? Look no further than Biostarks. We have a comprehensive micronutrient testing kit that goes above and beyond checking your nutrients. Decode your health with our test kit today!