Whether you’re a dedicated athlete or a weekend warrior, you are likely aware of the macronutrients required to improve your athletic performance. What many people don’t realize is the importance that micronutrients can also have.
While on their own, vitamins and minerals will not necessarily improve performance, however, a deficiency could cause a decline. Vitamins and minerals are essential for various metabolic processes throughout the body. When it comes to exercise, they regulate many chemical reactions such as energy metabolism, oxygen transfer, and tissue repair.
While some evidence suggests that people with higher activity levels may have greater vitamin and mineral needs, there are no existing guidelines that are specific to athletes. It is known that moderate to vigorous activity can cause a greater loss of some nutrients. However, if calorie intake is adequate, then vitamin and mineral requirements are not much different than modestly active people. Still, some athletes will have increased nutrient requirements if they have excessive losses in their sweat or urine.1
Here are some of the vitamins and minerals that are important for those that are physically active:
The B vitamins are responsible for converting your food into energy. Therefore, they have a direct impact on your energy levels and metabolism. They also help the body create new blood cells, maintain cell health, and other bodily functions. Some important B vitamins for individuals who are active are vitamins B6 and B12, thiamin, riboflavin, and folate.
Sources: B vitamins can be found naturally in animal products, such as red meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy. They can also be found in leafy greens, legumes, and fortified foods such as cereals and nutritional yeast.
Vitamin C is commonly known to help reduce cold symptoms, however, it has also been found to reduce coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath in athletes during and after exercise. Additionally, in athletes specifically, it has been found to reduce the risk of getting the common cold. Vitamin C has also been found to protect against oxidative stress in endurance and ultra-endurance athletes.
Sources: Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables including oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, and kale.
Vitamin D can do more than just boost your mood - it can also help with your athletic performance. Vitamin D is a hormone that is produced in your skin from exposure to sunlight. You can also get Vitamin D from limited dietary sources. It is essential for bone health, immune health, and reducing muscle fatigue.3
Sources: While sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D, you can also get limited amounts from fortified milk, fatty fish, and eggs.
Another essential nutrient for energy production is iron. Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body, specifically helping red blood cells to carry oxygen to muscles. Exercise can cause a depletion of iron, which can cause fatigue and therefore impact physical performance.4
Sources: Oysters, turkey breast, fortified cereals, beef, beans, and spinach.
Many of you are well aware of the importance of calcium for your bone health, but did you know that calcium is also vital for nerve function and the release of hormones? Due to the fact that exercise is often a high-impact activity, having a strong foundation is essential. Calcium, along with vitamin D and vitamin K, is required for maintaining bone density.
Sources: Milk, yogurt, leafy greens, and fortified juices, and soymilk.
Electrolytes (Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium):
Some individuals tend to lose more electrolytes through their sweat than others, specifically sodium. Other important electrolytes that can be lost through sweat are potassium and magnesium. Potassium and sodium work together to maintain fluid balance, while magnesium helps maintain nerve and muscle function, among other things.
Sources: You can find sodium in pickles, salted nuts, and packaged snacks. Potassium can be found in potatoes, bananas, and avocados. Magnesium is in leafy greens, almonds, and whole grains. Additionally, there are various electrolyte replacement drinks that will contain a mixture of these electrolytes if you are losing high amounts of fluids.
Overall, there are no specific differences in recommendations of vitamins and minerals for more active individuals. However, there are specific nutrients that will be important to get an adequate amount of due to losses from exercise. Focusing on a variety of foods in your eating pattern is key, but it can be difficult to get in all the nutrients you need. Supplementation is always an option if variety is something you struggle with!
Summary: Didn’t have time to read the whole article? Here’s what you need to know! When it comes to nutrient needs for exercise, there are no specific recommendations aside from the general recommendations. However, there are certain nutrients that are commonly lost during exercise. It is important to get adequate amounts of B vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Iron, Calcium, and electrolytes.
Kohn, Contributors: Jill. “Vitamin and Mineral Needs of Athletes.” EatRight, https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/vitamin-and-mineral-needs-of-athletes.
Leicht, Laurel. “The 10 Nutrients Athletes Need Most.” Life by Daily Burn, 14 May 2021, https://dailyburn.com/life/health/nutrients-athletes-need-most/.
Society for Endocrinology. "Vitamin D replacement improves muscle efficiency." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130317221446.htm>.
4. Sharon R Akabas, Karen R Dolins, Micronutrient requirements of physically active women: what can we learn from iron?, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 81, Issue 5, May 2005, Pages 1246S–1251S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/81.5.1246