Athletes are always looking for performance-enhancing nutrients. Without a doubt, you've heard people preach the gospel of using vitamins to improve performance. This is absolutely true. Unfortunately, this overemphasis on vitamins is usually to the downfall of minerals, which serve functions equally as important as the aforementioned class of nutrients.
Together, vitamins and minerals are collectively referred to as micronutrients, since they are required in much smaller quantities than the macronutrients, namely protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
Wondering which micronutrients are the most important to performance and overall health? There as just too many- so we will limit them to just the 5 most important ones.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the human diet, having important roles on the following:
Magnesium is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. It is an essential cofactor in the energy-producing Krebs cycle.
In addition to this, it plays a critical role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the human body, especially the production of ATP.
ATP is known as the molecular currency in the body since it is our source of energy. Therefore, a deficiency in magnesium would result in an ATP reduction and impaired energy production.
Increased Bone Density
Bone density is usually a measure of mineralization of the bone tissue, which indicates that calcium and phosphate are being sufficiently used to strengthen it. Magnesium plays an active role in bone health, as it is not stored indefinitely. It directs the storage of calcium but can itself be leached from the bone when it is needed for roles related to metabolism.
Magnesium is also necessary for promoting sleep. The mechanism by which this occurs is not fully understood, but it has been shown that a deficiency in magnesium will cause a person to be awakened prematurely from sleep.
In addition, magnesium also plays a role in serotonin production. Serotonin is known as the "feel-good" hormone in the body, and it regulates moods. Magnesium deficiencies have been shown to increase anxiety levels in people. Fortunately, supplementation of magnesium has been shown to decrease anxiety levels and improve sleep duration and quality.
Zinc is also one of the top 3 most important minerals in the human body, having essential roles to play.
Supporting The Immune System
Zinc supplements have been shown to promote immune function. Specifically, zinc is involved in leukocyte (white blood cell) development and the production of T helper cells, which are a subset that helps other white blood cells develop into specialized types.
In addition, epithelial cells in mucous membranes secrete a protein called secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA). sIgA is a main line of defense against viruses and bacteria since it coats mucous membranes to prevent them from infecting the body. Zinc ionizes these proteins, which allows them to be more effective in their role of protecting the body from infection.
Increasing Testosterone Production
Zinc supplementation is positively associated with testosterone production. Higher testosterone usually translates to superior athletic performance, as well as the growth of muscle cells and strength gains.
In addition to this, testosterone plays other important roles in male sexual health, with optimal levels needed for proper libido and spermatogenesis.
Consequently, dietary deficiencies in zinc may result in reduced testosterone production, decreased sex drive, and impaired reproductive health.
The mineral most people are familiar with since their childhood has to be calcium. Numerous ads on TV kept stressing the importance of kids drinking their milk to develop strong bones and teeth but there's so much more than calcium does.
May Increase Weight Loss
Calcium supplementation may be helpful for supporting weight loss. It is one of the minerals that has been shown to have a positive relationship with body fat, not just weight.
Specifically, calcium is associated not only with an increase in metabolic rate, but it decreases the storage of new fat. The exact mechanisms are not yet understood, but it is thought that calcium ions control several molecular pathways for fat metabolism.
It may also increase fatty acid oxidation and favors the metabolism of fat by increasing their entry into mitochondrial organelles for oxidation.
Supports Nerve And Muscle Health
As a hard training athlete, chances are you sweat a lot. This isn't a bad thing, except that you are likely to lose loads of trace minerals in sweat. Calcium, Zinc, Magnesium, and Potassium are just a few of the common ones.
Your bone already happens to be the store of 99% of the calcium in the body, but also has the potential to release calcium into the blood if needed. Muscle contraction might be impaired in the presence of a calcium deficit.
Another underrated, yet extremely important mineral is potassium, which serves as an important electrolyte that helps maintain fluid balance. And yet surprisingly, most adults do not meet the daily recommended amount of 4,700mg ( women) and 5,100mg (men).
The deficiency is not as black and white as other deficiencies may manifest, but subtle signs are noticed in performance, for example. Here are some of potassium's most important functions in the human body.
Promotes Cardiovascular Health
It's not news that many people with cardiovascular disease is advised to be cautious about the amount of sodium they consume each day. But what many doctors fail to advise patients on is the amount of potassium that needs to be consumed.
That is to say that the ratio of potassium to sodium is just as important- and possibly even more so, than the amount of sodium consumed. So for a diet that might be higher in sodium, increasing potassium intake might help to forge better cardiovascular control.
This also explains the major benefit of consuming more fruit and vegetables and making a conscious effort to reduce sodium- since those foods are greater in potassium levels.
Blood pressure will improve, and overall cardiac health.
The way potassium contributes to a positively functioning metabolism is by maintaining the pH balance of the body. Potassium is a key mineral that helps to regulate pH levels, as well as support nerve and muscle function.
But there's also a second way at play here- the fluid balance. As you may know, dehydration can be damaging to athletic performance- causing fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, impaired cognition, and much more.
If potassium levels are properly supported by eating a well balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, dehydration will be remediable by the increase in hydration that comes from nutrient consumption.
Potassium deficiency is not something you're likely to experience on the surface, but it's extremely helpful to be conscious of maintaining proper intake levels. That means not only more water consumption but also consuming foods that are high in potassium, like bananas and leafy greens.
In turn, by optimizing fluid balance metabolic processes are allowed to be fulfilled as necessary.
While iodine is considered a trace mineral, the role it plays in the human body is highly important. Still, over 70% of adults do not get enough iodine in their diets.
Are you surprised that we experience all that we do? You shouldn't be since poor dietary habits come back to haunt us.
If you are a hard training athlete, you may be even more at risk for not getting enough iodine, since it's a major nutrient used by the body to support various metabolic processes, and lost rapidly via sweat.
It is essential that you increase your daily consumption to help with the following:
Iodine is a necessary trace mineral involved in the body's primary metabolism driver- thyroid hormone. In general, it is almost always desirable to have a high-normal functioning thyroid gland, as this translates to enhanced muscle growth from more efficient nutrient breakdown, but also lower fat retention as well.
Supports Energy Levels
Iodine does not exert its benefits in a closed system- but as part of a larger network of other glands and systems. In particular, a relay between the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and thyroid play a significant role in thyroid activity.
Now you might be wondering just how important the output of the adrenal glands is for this process- which is why it's worth mentioning that not only do these hormones work together but there are secondary hormone systems that may affect the overall process as well.
Because of this secondary system, an athlete who experiences stress in training or competition may experience imbalances in the production of these hormones, which may lead to issues like thyroid dysfunction.
The result? Not getting enough iodine can cause an irregular metabolic activity level, leading to muscle tissue wasting and fat accumulation.
Enhances Innate Immunity
Innate immunity refers to our natural ability to defend against infection. Not only does it protect against inflammation, but also allows us to fight infections like the flu- no matter how many times we get exposed to it.
One invaluable role of optimal iodine levels is that they contribute considerably to our immune systems; not only through their effects on metabolism but also by helping our glands function correctly.
As noted before, there is a complex relationship that occurs between all these glands- so by taking some time to optimize the thyroid gland's activity, you also contribute positively to metabolic balance, as well as immune function.
In conjunction with selenium, they bolster the body's defense starting where many infections originate- in our gastrointestinal tract. Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT), acts as a sort of first-line immune recruitment center, storing B and T lymphocytes for fast action once pathogens have entered the GI tract.
Deficiency of Iodine suppresses this first line of defense, especially so in athletes that train hard but fail to consume/ supplement with enough Iodine.
Iron is a trace mineral located in nearly every cell in the human body, and hence possesses roles as a biological catalyst. Athletes require more iron than sedentary individuals because it's required to produce energy via metabolism.
There are two types of dietary iron: heme and non-heme sources. Heme iron can be found as part of hemoglobin in the blood, whereas non-heme iron can be found in plants.
The only problem is that the body cannot process/absorb these forms of iron unless they have been "released" from food. This is why heme iron is preferred.
Iron is important for the following:
Energy Production from Food
When you consume a meal with high iron content, it is then broken down into smaller molecules that are used as tools to produce energy via the Krebs Cycle.
Without sufficient iron levels, this pathway cannot be completed and results in lower energy production by the body- anything from fatigue to an inability to maintain muscle mass.
The Krebs Cycle is often referred to as the "Energy Cycle" because it's responsible for transforming food into energy that can be used by our muscles; but only if the necessary tools are available.
Supporting The Adrenal Glands
Iron plays an important role in supporting the production of adrenal hormones like cortisol, which is released in response to stress to help us fight or flight. Proper adrenal function is required for healthy testosterone levels, so it's important that athletes support this process via adequate dietary intake of iron.
Promoting Liver Function
The liver plays an instrumental role in the production of blood cells and proteins- which are essential for athletic endurance and recovery. Keeping liver health is especially important for athletes, as it allows the body to maintain optimal levels of blood sugar- which are essential for managing stress and preventing inflammation...
Athletes should consider iron supplementation, but only after consulting with a physician first.
Iron is better absorbed with fat (just like magnesium) and is often stored in the body for later use, which makes it easier to get iron-deficiency under control.
One way athletes can make sure they are getting enough Iron is by consuming organ meats like liver, but this should always be done in moderation because of its high content of vitamin A (which is stored in the liver).
Blood Cell Production
Iron is necessary for the formation of blood cells, which are needed for oxygen transport throughout the body via hemoglobin. Iron deficiency leads to lower levels of RBCs (Red Blood Cells) and this results to lower oxygen delivery to the tissue.
Iron deficiency anemia can often be remedied with the use of iron supplements. Always be sure to find your iron status before self-medicating to minimize adverse effects.
The Dreaded D- Deficiency
Not surprisingly, mineral deficiencies are very common. Sometimes, as a result of a poor diet, deficiencies occur for a number of key nutrients including magnesium and potassium as well as iodine- all simultaneously.
Since these minerals are essential for nerve function as well as optimal blood flow, deficiency can provide some unwanted complications that you probably don't want to deal with.
For example, low levels of potassium or magnesium can be associated with higher rates of injury because of the way they affect the production of enzymes during intense physical activity.
In addition, magnesium deficiency has been shown to influence cardiovascular function in a way that can increase an athlete's risk of a heart attack.
Low levels of magnesium may also be associated with increased rates of insomnia and fatigue- both factors that are no bueno when it comes to high-level physical performance.
Daily Mineral Requirements For Athletes
If you are a hard training athlete, your mineral requirements will generally be higher than the average person. This is because you will be exerting yourself more, which can strip your body of its nutrient stores faster.
The effects of exercise on the absorption capabilities of the small intestines may also decrease an athlete's ability to process minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium; making it harder for their bodies to replenish these stores.
For instance, if you train in a hot climate zone, you will lose more electrolyte minerals in sweat than someone who resides and trains in a colder zone.
A good reference point to aim for daily looks like this:
Potassium- athletes need between 4,700mg- 5,800mg per day. This is more than the amount of potassium that an average person needs each day to account for the loss in sweat.
One important note- be very careful with potassium supplementation. You should strive to get yours from food sources (juicing is an excellent option in this case).
Iodine- about 0.4- 0.8mg daily. The upper limit is to account for pre-existing deficiencies and loss in sweat. You should not exceed this amount unless so directed by your physician.
Magnesium- 400mg- 600mg. Consumption up to 800mg daily can safely be consumed by athletes such as endurance athletes, but the laxative effect is more likely to manifest.
Calcium- between 1200mg and 1,500mg daily. This should cover you to support healthy muscle function, improve bone density and support dental health.
Zinc- about 15mg from diet and about 30mg from dietary supplements is a fair mix. This can vary depending on your dietary patterns as well.
Iron- female athletes need 18mg to replace the lost iron during menstruation; males should aim for around 10-15 mg daily. Higher dosages may be required depending on the specific sports discipline.
Getting Your Mineral Fix
Supplements might seem like the easier solution to solve cases of deficiency, but this isn't always the case with minerals.
For instance, calcium absorption is poor without Vitamin D, Iron struggles without Vitamin C, and depending on the type of magnesium supplement you get, as much as 50% might not be absorbed.
This is exactly why using minerals from Whole Food Sources trumps a basic pill unless you are able to get them from supplements made from whole foods, such as Brickhouse Nutrition Fortify.
Although minerals are required in amounts so small that they are hardly considered significant, they still play a crucial role as cofactors in many of the body's enzymatic reactions.
The deficiency of most of them is slow to manifest and sometimes creep up so subtly that the observed effects aren't alarming. But make no mistake, if you wish to achieve the pinnacle of performance, you must optimize your intake.
Take Fortify, and eat a diet rich in highly nutritious food and you have a solid plan for health and success.