Everyone needs to be ingesting a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals each day. Whether through a well-balanced diet or in supplemental pill or powder form, these micronutrients are essential for the proper functionality of our bodies. But one group of people, in particular, should be paying close attention to the nutrients they get each day: athletes.
Athletes are hard workers. They put immense amounts of pressure on their bodies while they train in their sports and rely on health, endurance and strength to maximize their performance. It’s very rare that you find an athlete eating a junk food-filled diet, because they understand that healthy food is essential.
However, many athletes spend a lot of time focusing on the major parts of their diets called macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates and fats—and not as much time on the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. These “micro” building blocks are key to achieving peak performance and should get ample attention when meal planning, as well.
Micronutrients help transform your food into fuel. You need a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals to metabolize and utilize the larger building blocks found in protein, carbs and fats.
Athletes, in particular, lose micronutrients very quickly while they sweat. This means that you need to be increasing your intake of all of the important vitamins and minerals if you’re very active, so you don’t end up with a deficiency.
The vitamins and minerals athletes should focus on
While all micronutrients are essential for a healthy body, athletes may need to focus on a few micronutrients in particular. Some nutrients are depleted much faster during exercise, while others are just needed in higher quantities to help boost performance and achieve optimal physical health.
If you’re an athlete, make sure to implement these critical micronutrients into your daily diet.
- Iron: Iron helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Without healthy levels of iron, your body won’t be able to work nearly as hard because it cannot get the oxygen it needs. Iron is especially important for endurance athletes who rely on that steady stream of oxygen to push their bodies forward. Working out also depletes your iron levels faster, meaning you need more of it more often to prevent anemia.
- Calcium: Like we were told as kids, calcium builds strong bone density, which is especially necessary for athletes in high-impact sports like running. In sports where stress fractures are common, increased calcium is a necessity to prevent injury. Deficiencies in calcium may lead to osteoporosis, which can make exercise painful, if not impossible.
- Vitamin D: Along with calcium, you should also be getting healthy amounts of vitamin D. Without it, your body won’t be able to absorb the calcium completely and it won’t go to good use. Vitamin D is also important for good muscle function.
- Potassium: Potassium contributes to proper muscle and heart contraction. It also helps restore fluid in the body, which is especially important for athletes who are sweating and need to refuel often. Low levels of potassium can lead to muscle cramps, weakness and dehydration.
- B Vitamins: B vitamins, including vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and biotin, all play a major role in energy production because they break down carbs. Without these, your body won’t get the energy it needs to sustain long-term physical exertion. They are also essential in repairing and building muscles and tissues, as well as in red blood cell function.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is essential for proper nerve and muscle function. Without enough of it, athletes may experience muscle cramps or spasms that hinder athletic performance, as well as severe fatigue. Athletes who have magnesium deficiencies are more prone to injury, too, which can be a setback at best or the end of your athletic career at worst.
All of these micronutrients can and should be obtained through healthy food choices. You can get all the nutrients you need by eating a well-balanced meal multiple times a day.
However, dietary restrictions, allergies and vegetarian or vegan lifestyles may make it difficult to achieve healthy levels of micronutrients. In these cases, it may be wise to get certain nutrients through a naturally formulated supplement. Make sure to ask your doctor before adding supplements to your daily routine.
And, of course, no number of vitamins and minerals will put you on the path to great health unless you are also taking care of your body in other ways. Sleep well each night, drink lots of water and listen to your body to prevent injury and overexertion.