Proper nutrition is absolutely critical for achieving peak physical performance. Although most athletes are generally familiar with finding the right balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats), the need for micronutrients is often overlooked. Here are 5 nutrients you may be overlooking in your nutrition plan.
One of iron’s major functions is to support oxygen transportation throughout the body. The concept of fast moving oxygen during exercise may evoke obvious thoughts around why that would be critical to performance. But did you know iron also plays a role in energy metabolism? Iron is important for quickly breaking down carbohydrates, proteins and fats to release energy to your firing muscles, helping you to effectively use energy during exercise. Iron is a tricky mineral though and should be approached with caution if considering supplementation. There are individual variations and gender-specific factors that influence iron metabolism which could lead to iron toxicity if not monitored carefully.
Have you been told to take in electrolytes during times of prolonged exercise? Good – some advice is worth repeating! Sodium plays a key role in the body by regulating fluids both in and outside of cells, while also supporting muscle function. Without adequate sodium, maintaining proper hydration is compromised. During times of prolonged exercise where sweat loss is greater, sodium loss through sweat can be significant. The important piece here is that sodium intake should match sodium losses. Having an electrolyte beverage after a 20 minute workout won’t do much for athletic performance and may just add unnecessary calories to your day. However, an electrolyte beverage after a strenuous workout lasting more than 60 minutes where sweat was excessive can play a key role in hydration status and recovery.
3. Vitamin D
You are likely familiar with Vitamin D’s connection to bone health. From a young age, kids are encouraged to drink enough milk to ensure they grow up with strong bones. However, the many benefits of Vitamin D are not limited to the development of bones in our youth. Studies have shown Vitamin D is found in cardiac muscle and may influence oxygen uptake. Another research study found it can help increase muscle strength in athletes. Vitamin D may just be a nutrient worth a second look if you find yourself struggling with workouts.
Over the counter cold medicines have made zinc commonplace in any household. But what you may not know is that zinc is involved in numerous reactions in the body critical for things like wound healing, tissue growth, and tissue maintenance. Studies have also found that zinc has an influence in protein utilization and resting metabolic rate. So in addition to its many immune system benefits, zinc may also contribute to improved athletic performance.
Magnesium is a low profile nutrient that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Although under the radar, this powerful mineral plays a major role in regulating glucose levels in the brain, assisting in the maintenance of normal muscle contraction and relaxation, and blood pressure regulation. These functions are critical during exercise as you burn glucose for energy. To keep you functioning at your best, having adequate magnesium is important. Try adding a snack of almonds or cashews to your day – they are great sources of magnesium in the diet.
So how does your athletic nutrition plan stack up? If you feel you aren’t achieving your best during your latest workout, think about these key nutrients and ask yourself, did I get these in my diet today? It may be worth a second look.