You have probably heard someone saying “If you exercise, it doesn’t matter what you eat”? When instead, the opposite is true… The more you exercise, the higher are your body’s nutrient needs! Saying it doesn’t matter is like saying that a Ferrari can run on peanut butter. We have highlighted some important things from a micronutrient point of view.
Minerals and vitamins are essential for a number of processes in the body, including those which are accelerated during exercise. It’s those such as muscle contraction, oxygen transport, immune functions, energy metabolism, antioxidant activity, muscle recovery and bone health. Since these processes are increased during physical activity, more micronutrients are needed for proper functioning of the body and top performance. We’ve listed the most important ones for you and provided a small description on why they are or become important.
The primary minerals that are crucial for physical performance are iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. It is not just important to know that they are crucial; many minerals are lost during exercise through sweat. So you should include it in your diet and supplements.
Remember strong Popeye and his obsession with spinach? Okay, today we know that this cartoon series was developed based on a miscalculation of the iron content in spinach. However, it points out the importance of iron for your muscles. In fact, this mineral is essential to help red blood cells carry oxygen through blood to your muscles. Iron deficiency can therefore impair muscle function and can decrease your endurance during exercise.
Get more from: Lean meat, oysters, octopus, tofu, spinach, beans and lentils.
You probably know the importance of calcium for growth, maintenance and repair of your bones. And strong bones are vital for any high-impact exercise. However, what is equally important, is that Calcium is needed to trigger muscle contraction. This is a biochemical process referred to as the calcium cycle. It causes your muscles to contract and relax due to rapidly changing concentrations of calcium in your muscle cells. Without enough calcium you may experience muscular symptoms, such as muscle cramps.
Get more from: Dairy products, nuts/seeds, sardines, spinach, kale, broccoli and dried figs.
Magnesium is involved in a number of processes that affect muscle function, such as glucose and fat breakdown and energy production. During exercise, you have an increased magnesium loss through sweat and urine which makes you vulnerable to an inadequate magnesium status. This can result in impaired endurance performance.
Main sources: Spinach, avocado, quinoa, nuts/seeds, cereals, dark chocolate and banana.
Zinc is a mineral that is lost in very high amounts through sweat and urine, so the more you exercise, the more you need. This trace mineral is required for a proper energy metabolism in your muscle and for building, growing and repairing of muscle tissue. Therefore, low zinc status can negatively affect health and physical performance.
Get more from: Beef, oysters, cheese, spinach, pumpkin seeds and chickpeas.
Also, vitamins are important to keep your performance at its peak. Especially, water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins need regular replacement to replenish exercise-induced losses through sweat and urine.
Antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, E, β-Carotene and Selenium
The antioxidant-exercise hypothesis is like this: exercise more – breathe more – oxidize more – produce more oxidative stress on the muscles in the form of free radicals. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function.
Antioxidant nutrients are important for protecting your cells from these free radicals and thus can help to avoid muscle tissue damage.
Get more from: Fruits (especially berries and citrus fruits), vegetables and nuts/seeds.
B-Vitamins: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, Folate and Vitamin B12
This group of vitamins is responsible for breaking down protein and energy depots in the muscle (“glycogen”). This is to fuel your body with energy during exercise. Low levels of these vitamins might make you perform worse during high intensity exercise.
B-vitamins are common in many foods, so if you are eating a varied diet, you’re in good shape!
Get more from: Chicken, pork, mussels, tuna, potato, mushrooms, edamame beans, dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, dairy products, eggs, pasta and much more.
Vitamin D is best known for its role to help the body absorbing calcium from food, which is essential for healthy bones. However, it has become increasingly clear that Vitamin D is important for muscle strength and for your physical performance as well.
Get more from: Oily fish such as salmon, tuna and UV-B light (sun).
Omega-3 fatty acids
The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are well known for their cardioprotective health effects. But in recent years, they have been increasingly suggested to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage, increase energy production and improve exercise performance and other exercise-related physical processes.
Get more from: Algae and oily fish – especially tuna, sardines, salmon, mackerel and herring.
Do you want to know if you get enough? Take our online test to define your personal needs.