MICRONUTRIENTS IN THE ATHLETIC DIET
The number of people who exercise, and their understanding of the role of nutrition in sports performance, is increasing. In addition, people are tending to stay active for longer. The body needs carbohydrates, protein, fats (especially polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids), vitamins and minerals in order to function properly. Prolonged exercise performed on a regular basis may result in increased micronutrient losses from the body or in an increased rate of turnover, resulting in the need for an increased dietary intake.
Sports performance can require additional hydration and energy before and during physical activity, as well as a sufficient intake of the nutrients required to support recovery afterwards. Many micronutrients play key roles in energy metabolism and, during strenuous physical activity, the rate of energy turnover in skeletal muscle may increase to up to 100 times the resting rate. 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. An increased food intake to meet these requirements will generally increase intake of dietary micro-nutrients. Athletes may need to pay particular attention to their intake of several micronutrients.
Micronutrients are only required in small amounts and are essential for optimal health. Micronutrients play an important role in energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function, and protection of body against oxidative damage. They assist with synthesis and repair of muscle tissue during recovery from exercise and injury. Exercise stresses many of the metabolic pathways where micronutrients are required, and exercise training may result in muscle biochemical adaptations that increase micronutrient needs. Severe consequences may result if these needs are not met leading to deficiencies.
Vitamins are organic compounds in food and must be attained from food. There are 13 vitamins essential for health. Vitamins are divided into 2 groups water soluble vitamins and fat soluble vitamins.
WATER SOLUBLE VITAMINS
Water soluble vitamins include B complex and vitamin C which must be consumed daily since they are not stored in the body. The amount needed by the body is absorbed and the rest is excreted by the body. Below is a summary of their function and sources that we can include in the diet.
FAT SOLUBLE VITAMINS
Fat soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D , E and K. They travel with fat and can be stored in the body. Hence there is a higher probability of having vitamin toxicity if consumed over the limit.
VITAMINS AS ATHLETIC REQUIREMENTS
For athletes, the most important vitamins are the B complex, C, D and E. B vitamins are all about energy production, building muscle and forming the oxygen carrying red blood cells. Vitamin C is a major part of the collagen found in most body tissue and is a potent anti-oxidant. It has also been shown to blunt the muscle wasting effects of cortisol. Vitamin D is necessary for absorption of calcium and thus helps build the strong bones especially necessary for an athlete. Vitamin E is another great antioxidant and helps prevent muscle breakdown with exercise. Muscle building minerals include calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, while all athletes need the electrolyte minerals sodium, potassium and magnesium.
MINERALS & TRACE ELEMENTS
Minerals are required in small amounts and are essential for normal body function. The primary minerals low in the diets of athletes, especially female athletes, is calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Low intakes of these minerals are often due to energy restriction or avoidance of animal products. Below are the list of the major minerals in the body.
MINERALS AND THE ATHLETIC DIET
Sufficient amount required to keep athletes healthy and strong. Certain athletes are more prone to deficiencies. Generally athletes should be able to meet requirements through a balanced diet and it is important to know that supplementation in excess of requirements proves no advantage.
Inadequate calcium intake increases the risk of low bone mineral density and stress fractures. Optimal calcium nutrition for bone health is particularly important for athletes in weight-controlled sports. Experts may recommend they take supplements of calcium combined with vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis. Inadequate magnesium intake has been reported for weight-conscious athletes such as wrestlers, dancers and gymnasts. This mineral is particularly important because it is involved in many metabolic processes, and a deficiency may lead to muscle cramps and decreased muscle performance.
Iron is essential for carrying oxygen to the working muscles, and an inadequate intake, coupled with injuries and menstruation, can produce iron deficiency. Correcting iron deficiency anemia through supplementation may improve performance. Endurance athletes with normal hemoglobin status who want to increase their red blood cell and hemoglobin levels are thought to potentially benefit from iron supplementation. Poor zinc status may result in decreased heart and lung function, as well as reduced strength and endurance. Chromium may support the action of insulin at the cellular level and thereby stimulate glucose uptake by muscle.
Getting the right nutrition at the right time will enhance your workout leading to increases in muscle strength, speed, power and endurance. Not just what is the ‘right nutrition’ to maximize exercise benefits? It needs to supply energy for exercise and provide muscles with the raw ingredients needed to grow and repair while enhancing performance. Stay tune for our next article on sport supplements.
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- Williams M. H. Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Minerals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005; 2(1):43–49.
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