Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that are important for the health and wellbeing of your body. These substances can best be thought of as biological sparkplugs that are essential for every reaction that happens in your body. If a car has no sparkplugs, the engine will not run. If your body is lacking in vitamins and minerals, it won’t work properly either.
All vitamins and minerals are important for health but some are even more important for exercisers. In this article you will learn what vitamins and minerals you need to get plenty of if you want to maximize your physical performance and improve your ability to recover from your workouts.
Remember though, no vitamin, mineral or sports supplement is a miracle in a pill – you still need to train hard, eat well and sleep properly if you want to get the most from your workouts. Try to get these micronutrients from eating a balanced, healthy and varied diet. If anything, consider supplements are the dusting of snow on top of your mountain of good exercise, recovery and nutritional habits and not a replacement for hard work and a healthy lifestyle.
Vitamins come from plants or animals that have eaten plants. Small amounts of vitamin K are also produced by the bacteria in your gut. Vitamins are either water or fat soluble. Vitamins B and C are water soluble and need to be consumed very day as you have no way to store them whereas vitamins A,D, E and K are fat soluble and don’t have to be eaten daily as any excess can be stored for later use.
Vitamin B Complex
There are several B vitamins that make up what is often called the B-complex. B-complex vitamins are important for the conversion of carbohydrates to energy, help with the process of red blood cell manufacture and renewal, they may also help fight fatigue and can help speed up the recovery process.
Food sources: dairy, eggs, meat, fish, shellfish, soy products, dark green vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, blackstrap molasses, nutritional yeast.
Vitamin C can help minimize post-exercise muscle soreness, increases blood flow, can reduce cortisol production, decrease your exercising heart rate, reduce your rate of perceived exertion during strenuous exercise and reduce fatigue. It is also important for preventing post-exercise immune system suppression – something that can be problematic for hard training endurance athletes.
Food sources: Citrus fruit, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, Brussels sprouts
Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D has been shown to help with fat burning, muscle growth and repair, improve insulin sensitivity and secretion, elevate testosterone levels resulting in increased muscle mass and strength and increase bone mass by activating calcium carrier proteins.
Food sources: Oily fish, fortified milk and cereals.
Nuts, seeds and vegetable oils are convenient sources of vitamin E. This vitamin is a powerful anti-oxidant which can help mop up the damage caused by hard exercise. Less cellular damage means a faster recovery from exercise and less muscle soreness.
Food sources: whole grains, nuts, leafy green vegetables, vegetables oils.
Vitamin K is known to help with weight management by increasing insulin sensitivity and preventing spikes in blood glucose which can interfere with fat burning. It also helps keep bones strong and is important for the general health and oxygen-carrying ability of your blood.
Food sources: Eggs, milk, cabbage, broccoli, dairy leafy greens.
Minerals are derived from the soil in which plants grow. The plants absorb the minerals and we then eat the plants and get our minerals “second hand”.
Minerals can be homeostatic or structural or, sometimes both. A homeostatic mineral is one that is involved in chemical reactions within the body where as a structural mineral actually makes up parts of your body. Iron is a good example of a homeostatic mineral whereas calcium, present in large quantities in your bones and also essential for muscle contractions, is both structural and homeostatic.
Calcium is essential for muscle contractions. In fact, if you have no calcium you will die so your body will steal calcium from your bones to ensure you have enough calcium to keep your muscles working. Hard exercise can deplete calcium so it’s important to consume adequate amounts of this easy to come by mineral.
Food sources: Dairy, salmon, leafy green vegetables
Your blood uses red blood cells to transport oxygenated blood from your lungs to your working muscles. Iron helps ensure your red blood cells are fully up to this task.
Low iron can cause anemia which is characterized by weakness and fatigue and caused by an inability to transport sufficient oxygen to the working tissues.
Food sources: Red meat, poultry, eggs, fortified bread, green vegetables.
Zinc is one of the most essential minerals for exercisers. It is integral in the production and regulation of the hormone testosterone. It is an important player in the immune system, helps regulate insulin and insulin growth factor-1 production, prevents the decline of thyroid hormones normally associated with age, aids iron absorption and even increase reaction time.
Zinc is commonly found in sea food and foods often considered as aphrodisiacs as it has a noteworthy affect on libido because of its ability to stimulate testosterone production.
Food sources: Meat, shellfish, whole grains, legumes.
In many ways, magnesium is similar to zinc as it can help you control your blood glucose levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and secretion. In addition, magnesium can improve sleep quality and duration which means you will recover better from your workouts.
Magnesium has also been reported to increase aerobic endurance in triathletes and also increase oxygenated blood flow to muscles. It also plays an important role in both bone and muscle strength.
Food sources: Legumes, seeds, broccoli, spinach.
Sodium, chloride, and potassium
These minerals, collectively called electrolytes and sometimes incorrectly but simplistically labelled as salts, are lost when you sweat so replacing this minerals is important for both performance and recovery. Too few electrolytes can create fluid imbalances, inhibit muscular contractions and may result in cramp. These minerals are commonly included in sports, energy and hydration drinks.
Food sources of potassium: vegetables, legumes, milk, fruits, grains.
Other Recovery Supplements
There are a number other substances that can play a role in helping performance and aiding recovery…
Coenzyme Q10 is a molecule that exists in the cell’s mitochondria and has a critical role in producing energy.
CoQ10 is also linked to a decrease in general fatigue, increased oxygenated blood flow, reduction in the rating of perceived exertion, minor increases in testosterone production, a reduction in exercise-induced muscle damage, increased VO2 max scores and an improvement in general wellbeing.
Food sources: oily fish, organ meats, whole grains.
Creatine is an important chemical for muscular contractions as it is part of the energy-yielding molecule adenosine tri-phosphate or ATP.
Supplementing with creatine can improve work capacity, speed up recovery between sets and workouts, increase muscle cell size, increase strength, increase lean body weight, improve anaerobic power and may also elevate testosterone levels. Creatine is one of the most researched sports supplements around.
Food sources: red meat, fish.
Caffeine is a compound that works as a stimulant by mimicking and blocking a molecule that induces sleepiness and fatigue known as adenosine.
This most common of recreational drugs can also increase aerobic and anaerobic power, reduce fatigue, enhance focus, reduce rating of perceived exertion, marginally increase testosterone, speed up reaction time, enhance fat burning and increase general blood flow. A strong cup of coffee before a workout can give your whole training session a boost!
Food sources: cup of coffee.
Vitamins, minerals and similar substances can have a marked effect on your physical performance and your ability to recover after your workouts. While you should strive to obtain these substances form your diet whenever possible, selective supplementation may be necessary if there are dietary deficiencies or more than the RDA (recommended daily allowance) is required.
Always consider your long term health alongside the short term benefits of supplementing your diet with vitamins, minerals and similar substances and remember You Can’t Out-Supplement A Bad Diet. Supplements should always be added to an already good diet and not taken to prop up a bad diet.