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Micronutrients for Athletes

Tanner Batten | tanner@paradigmsport.com

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In the last two articles we discussed the basics of energy balance, caloric intake, and ideal macronutrient ratios for different goals.  If you haven’t read them already you can check them out; The Calorie and Energy Balance Relationship, Demystifying Macronutrients.  Once calories and macros are set for your goals, you will want to take a look at micronutrient consumption.  Rather than break down every detail of where each vitamin and mineral is found and what they do in the body, let's focus on what athletes should know about micronutrients.  

Why do we need them?
They are Essential. Although they do not provide energy, vitamins and minerals are necessary for our survival.  They are compounds that our bodies cannot get without food.  They are active in nearly every physiological process and help keep us healthy. For example, vitamins are crucial for growth and immunity, while minerals help build our bones and teeth.  Without micronutrients our bodies would not be able to utilize the energy we consume through food. Too little or too much of one can inhibit fat loss, and leave you sick and rundown.

How much do we need? 
Athletes Need More of Them. Many factors determine someone’s micronutrient needs, but one of the most important is their activity level and intensity.  Activity level and intensity not only dictates a person’s caloric needs, but their micronutrient needs as well.  Athletes who regularly engage in intense exercise (Team Training or Personal Training session) need more calories, and in turn micronutrients, than someone who is sedentary.  Without adequate nutrition to support their training, an athlete won’t be able to recover in between training sessions.    

Where do they come from?
They Are Best From a Variety of Whole Food Sources. With higher caloric needs it is easy to turn to bars, powders, and supplements to meet energy needs.  These may meet your calorie goals, but will leave you lacking in vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are best absorbed and utilized when consumed through REAL food.  Whole food sources have been minimally processed and are as close as possible to their natural state.  The more refinement or processing a food has to go through, the more micronutrients it will lose. This is why a whole grain such as quinoa will provide much more nutrition than bread or pasta that has been processed and had a few nutrients added back in.  Instead, choose colorful fruits and veggies. These are some of the most nutrient-dense foods and provide a lot of vitamins and minerals for very few calories. Shoot to eat a variety of colors to ensure you are getting all the micronutrients you need.  

Are supplements necessary?
Sometimes Supplementation is Necessary. Whole food sources may provide the most bang for your buck, but sometimes supplementation is necessary.  A few examples of this are: an athlete with a poor diet, a pregnant woman, a person with an injury or illness, or someone with a specific vitamin or mineral deficiency.  All of these people could benefit from supplementation.  Many athletes fall into the first category and simply struggle to get all they need through their diet.  This is either because they eat too much of the same thing or simply don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables.  For these people a multivitamin can be a cheap and easy solution to a big problem.  Although it is not a magic bullet, it can help them feel better and eliminate any small deficiencies that may have been holding them back.  

At first glance, micronutrients can seem like a very complex topic. The good news is that a varied diet of whole foods will help you reach your body composition goals and meet your micronutrient needs.  If you want to take your nutrition to the next level or have questions about micronutrients, set up a nutrition consult at the front desk!

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