The micronutrients of vitamins and minerals play a major role in our bodies. They are essential to all our bodily functions and are found in tiny amounts in the foods that we eat. To consume the optimum amount of vitamins and minerals we need to be eating good quality whole foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, coincidentally enough all the foods that mother nature has provided us with. We do not consume the right amount of micronutrients if we live off processed foods, takeaway foods or cheap produce.
Vitamins and Minerals offer no energy value, our energy comes from the macronutrients of Protein, Cabohydrate and Fats. The role that these micronutrients play varies from extracting energy from foods, to promoting the growth of cells, nerves, muscle and bone.
This article is written to give you an understanding and importance of some of the vitamins and minerals, especially in how they relate to the demands of exercise, especially high intense exercise.
Zinc and Magnesium
Zinc and Magnesium are two extremely important minerals. They both have a vast role to play within our bodies and even though we can get adequate amounts with good nutrition and supplementation, high intense exercise actually excretes these vital micronutrients. Therefore it is essential that we maintain adequate levels.
Growth and Repair of Muscle Tissue
- Aids growth, repair and building of muscle tissue. Therefore benefiting the gains that we want to achieve through overload, and speeds up recovery by aiding DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), the micro tears in muscles caused by resistance training.
Boosts our Immune System
- Increases white blood cells that fight infections. Exercise stresses the body and increases the amount of damaging free radicals in our body, our immune system helps the body to recover to a state of homeostasis.
Essential for Constant Energy, Fat Burning Properties
- Assists in energy production, converting food to fuel instead of adding to fat stores. Also essential in making insulin, stabilising blood sugar levels.
Testosterone Booster, leading to better and quicker results
- Zinc has a key role in Testosterone production. This hormone is essential for improvements in strength and muscle mass
- White marks on the finger nails
- Lack of appetite or appetite control
- Lack of resistance to infection
- Poor growth, including hair growth
- Poor mental and emotional state, tendency to depression
- Beef, lamb, pork, chicken
- Wheatgerm, Spinach
- Pumpkin seeds, nuts, beans
- A massive stress reducer, vital to the extreme demands that exercise can place on our bodies. Aids the para-sympathetic nervous system to bring all systems back to a state of homeostasis, our bodies ability to function under no stress.
- Aids sleep by relaxing the body
- Lowers cortisol levels, stress induced hormone that can lead to excess fat storage.
Growth and Repair
- Helps us to sleep better. This aids growth and repair as this can be done effectively during sleep.
- Improves protein synthesis post workout, enabling strength gains and muscle growth.
- Regulates neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune and hormonal functions.
- Improves testosterone levels leading to greater gains in muscle strength and hypertrophy.
Essential for Energy Release
- Directly involved with ATP recycling within mitochondria, allowing us to
- Metabolises glycogen, fats and proteins.
Stronger and Healthier Immune and Digestive System
- Decreases systemic inflammation. Inflammation caused by stress will disrupt repair and recovery. Decreasing the inflammation will allow quicker recovery, cardiovascular health and a healthier digestive system.
- Supports a healthy immune system, helping to fight infections, illness and free radicals caused from exercise.
- Improves testosterone levels
Insulin Sensitivity – Can affect fat loss
- Low levels of magnesium can affect how carbohydrates are metabolised. Magnesium is necessary to allow insulin to move glucose into our glycogen stores. If levels are low this can not happen and levels of glucose and insulin are elevated, excess glucose will get stored as fat, excess insulin can cause diabetes.
- Works with Calcium and Vitamin D to increase bone density.
- Feeling stressed and can’t sleep, take magnesium!!
- Muscle weakness, tremors or spasms
- Insomnia, nervousness, depression
- Lack of appetite
- Dark leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish, especially mackerel
- Beans and Lentils
- Whole grains, brown rice
Zinc and Magnesium Supplements (ZMA)
Increases growth compounds, and enhances strength. Generates a better energy recycle and deals with the stresses of exercise. Take as a ZMA supplement along with good nutrition and a good multivitamin, or even be more specific and take as two separate supplements, magnesium at night is good!
We are all taught that Calcium is essential for strong bones, this of course is true, but it is also essential for many other important roles in our bodies. When it comes to activity we need calcium in our blood stream to be able to contract our muscles….
- Essential for muscle contraction. Adequate levels of calcium in the blood is necessary for ongoing muscle contraction ensuring the cross bridges between the protein filaments of Actin and Myosin are made.
- Relieves aching muscles. Calcium ensures not only the connection of actin and myosin but also the unlinking, allowing the muscle to relax.
- Essential for bone growth and strong bones. A deficiency in calcium can cause week, brittle bones and aching bones.
- Promotes a healthy heart by maintain a regular heartbeat by conducting the hearts electrical signal and by contracting the cardiac muscle.
- Promotes a healthy nervous system, conducts the signal between the nerve and the muscle.
- Helps balance the Acid – Alkaline levels of the body. Acid = Stress, Alkaline = Relax
- Muscle cramps or tremors
- Insomnia, nervousness
- Joint pain, arthritis
- Dark leafy vegetables
- Low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese
Sodium and Potassium
These two minerals have to work with each other to keep our bodies fluid levels in a state of balance, and they also play a major part in muscle contraction and relaxation.
- Maintains the bodies water balance, preventing dehydration by drawing fluid out of our cells and into our blood stream
- Necessary for muscle contracting, including cardiac muscle. Sodium must flood to muscle from the sodium-potassium pump to allow it to contract. Too much sodium and not enough potassium can cause muscle cramps.
- Utilised in energy production
- Helps move nutrients into cells
- Muscle cramps
- Heat exhaustion
- Nausea, vomitting
- Cottage cheese
- Red kidney beans
- Moves nutrients into cells and waste products out.
- Works with sodium to maintain fluid levels in the body.
- Relaxes muscles, again by working with sodium in the sodium potassium pump. Sodium contracts the muscle, potassium needs to flood the muscle to allow it to relax.
- Helps secrete insulin to control blood sugar levels for constant energy
- Involved in metabolism
- Promotes healthy nerves, muscles and maintains heart functioning
- Stimulates gut movement for proper elimination
- Rapid heart beat
- Muscle weakness
- Pins and needles
- Nausea, vomitting,
- Irratability, confusion
- Dark leafy vegetables
A deficiency in Iron can make you feel, tired, lethargic, irritable , lack of concentration and even muscle fatigue. This is because iron is the chief component for Haemoglobin, protein molecules that carry oxygen around our bodies.
- Heamoglobin, transports oxygen and carbon dioxide
- Energy production
- Loss of appetite
- Pale skin
- Mussels, oysters
- Nuts and seeds
- Beef and lamb
- Beans, pulses and whole grains
- Green leafy vegetables
Energy Production and Metabolises Macronutrients
Focusing mainly on the effects of B6 and B12, the B vitamins are responsible for energy production, breaking down carbohydrate into glucose for energy.
B vitamins metabolise fats to be stored in our fat cells, but also metabolise fats to be used as energy when required.
Metabolises proteins and stores as amino acids.
Growth and Repair
B vitamins assists in the building and repair of muscle tissue and the Central Nervous System (CNS).
Increases Oxygen Delivery Around The Body
Required for the production of red blood cells, therefore transferring more oxygen around the body. A necessary role for all athletes, especially endurance athletes.
B vitamins are an essential supplement for athletes.
- Depression, nervousness
- Muscle tremors, cramps
- Lack of energy
- Chickpeas, red kidney beans
- Broccoli, asparagus
Antioxidant. Strengthens our immune system to fight off free radicals and disease. Essential for night vision and keeps our skin healthy.
- Mouth ulcers
- Poor night vision
- Sweet potato
- Spinach, broccoli
Antioxidant. Strengthens our immune system to fight off free radicals and disease. Makes collagen which keeps our bones, skin and joints firm and strong. Also assists in turning food to energy and helps make anti-stress hormones.
- Frequent colds
- Lack of energy
- Red peppers
- Oranges, Kiwi
- Broccoli, Sprouts
The role of vitamin D is to promote calcium levels in the blood stream, leading to greater bone density and assisting in maintaining homeostasis of the CNS and skeletal muscle.
- Joint pain, stiffness
- Back ache
Antioxidant. Vitamin E protects our bodies against free radicals and disease. Essential for skin health, promotes smooth muscle growth (arteries and veins) and prevents Low Density Lipoproteins clogging up our arteries.
- Exhaustion after light exercise
- Varicose veins
- Sunflower seeds
Controls blood clotting, assist in bone formation and fights cardiovascular disease.
- Haemorrhage (easy bleeding)
- Green, leafy vegetables – Kale, spinach
Nutritional intake that is not balanced, that has been processed and that is not whole foods will not give you optimum amounts of vitamins and minerals and deficiencies will become noticeable. I am sure that some individuals reading this may even be able to relate to a symptom or two, for example – lethargy or fatigue through lack of iron, or symptoms of stress and inability to sleep through lack of magnesium.
For each of the vitamins and minerals, I have listed only a few food sources. As you can see these sources are all naturally occurring whole foods, not processed foods or refined starches. Eat as mother nature has intended, and fuel your body with the foods it was designed to digest, metabolise and utilise.
Along with a well balanced nutritional intake, supplement this with a good vitamin and mineral. This is vital for athletes and trained individuals, as they will not only require higher amounts, they will also become depleted in vitamin and minerals. Athletes and trained individuals may also want to consider supplementing even further, i.e. taking on a B Vitamin supplement, or Zinc and Magnesium for example.
Nutriton and supplementation is important for our health and well being, yet vital for training performance and recovery.