Every active person wants to know if they’re eating the right diet. Generally, those who work out or play sport tend to focus on macronutrients such as carbohydrate and protein. Micronutrients which consist of vitamins and minerals are often overlooked. These essential nutrients may be small but they’re critical to peak performance and strong immunity. This week I focus on the extra elements you need to perform at your best.
Regular exercisers have higher rates of energy metabolism and require more micronutrients. Exercise stresses metabolic pathways where vitamins and minerals are utilized and may result in biochemical adaptations that increase micronutrient needs. Routine exercise may also speed up the turnover and loss of vitamins and minerals from the body.
Iron is critical if you exercise regularly because it helps the body use and carry oxygen to active muscles. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia, fatigue, low motivation and can increase your risk of getting sick. The best sources of iron are meat, poultry and fish. Beans, lentils, seeds, soy, whole grain or fortified cereals, breads and pastas also contain iron, but it’s not as well absorbed.
B vitamins are crucial for energy release; building and repairing tissues and healthy red blood cells. Eat plenty of whole grains and fortified grain products, meat, fish, poultry, milk products, legumes and vegetables such as mushrooms, potatoes and leafy greens. Vitamin B12 is only found in foods of animal origin such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk products or fortified products such as soy meat substitutes.
There are a variety of antioxidants that help protect your immune system and reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. Exercisers should consume beta-carotene which is found in brightly coloured vegetable. Carrots, apricots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes are good sources. Vitamin E is another important antioxidant which is found in vegetable oils, avocado, wheat germ, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin C is depleted easily through prolonged exercise so eat plenty of fruit such as citrus, and strawberries and vegetables like capsicum, tomatoes and broccoli. Selenium is an antioxidant that’s often forgotten by athletes and those who work hard at the gym. It’s found in meat, fish and poultry, milk and milk alternatives such as cheese and yogurt, wholegrains, mushrooms, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones, teeth, muscles, nerves, hormone function and immune function. Calcium’s found in milk and milk alternatives such as yogurt, cheese and fortified plant-based beverages such as soy. You can also get calcium from dark green vegetables such as kale and also fish with soft bones like canned salmon and sardines.
Vitamin D is found in a limited number of foods. Only egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna naturally contain good amounts of vitamin D. Cow’s milk and
margarine are fortified with vitamin D. Other food sources include fortified plant-based beverages, fortified orange juice and some yogurts and cheeses.
Nutrient dense foods should always be the focus of any regular exerciser. Vitamin and mineral supplements haven’t been shown to have the beneficial effect that whole foods have for athletes. In some instances, supplements may be dangerous for athletes to consume. Choose food first.
Eating the right micronutrients can make or break a gym session. Focus on a variety of fruits and vegetables particularly dark leafy greens, wholegrains, nuts, legumes and lean meat. Eat them raw or cooked lightly to preserve their vitamin and mineral content. Eating foods that pack a vitamin punch will enhance your performance and prevent illness. Remember, you can’t out train a poor diet.