The number of people who exercise, and their understanding of the role of nutrition in fitness, is increasing day by day. People know the importance of proteins and fats but are less aware about the micro-nutrients. Nutrition today is no longer only about protein, carbohydrates and fats.Nutrition science reveals new insights about the measurable benefits of micro-nutrients.
Prolonged exercise on a regular basis may lead to increased micro-nutrient losses from the body, resulting in the need for an increased intake of micro-nutrients through dietary sources.
Micro-nutrients play key roles in energy metabolism and, during strenuous physical activity. However an adequate mineral and vitamin status is essential for normal health, it becomes all the more crucial to pay extra attention on intake of several micro-nutrients, when exercising.
Relationship between Micro-nutrients and Physical Fitness
Exercise activates a finely orchestrated interaction of the body’s physical systems to build the required skeletal muscle contractions. To perform this efficiently, the human body needs:
- Water, fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration and replenish essential salts and minerals lost during sweating.
- Proteins, carbohydrates and fats to provide adequate energy needed to fuel the exercise and maintain the body weight.
- Micro-nutrients – minerals and vitamins for their roles in production of energy, synthesis of haemoglobin, muscle strength and bone health, protection against oxidative damage, immune function; repair and maintenance of lean body mass.
‘Nutrition Today is about Vitamins & Minerals’
Levels of minerals and trace elements – primarily iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and chromium – are generally to be low in the diets of many due to primary focus on protein and carbohydrates. Inadequate calcium intake increases the risk of low bone mineral density and stress fractures. Magnesium is involved in metabolic processes, and its deficiency may lead to decreased muscle performance and muscle cramps. Iron is essential for carrying oxygen to the working muscles, and an inadequate intake, coupled with menstruation and injuries, can lead to iron deficiency. Poor zinc status may result in decreased heart and lung function, as well as reduced strength and endurance. Chromium is known to support the action of insulin at the cellular level and thereby stimulates glucose uptake by muscle.
Sources of these minerals are listed below:
- Iron: Chicken (Especially in liver), Lentils, beans, spinach. To improve the absorption of iron, eat it along with a good sources of vitamin C — such as gooseberry, oranges, broccoli, or strawberries.
- Calcium: sesame seeds, finger millet (ragi), almonds, spinach, chia seeds.
- Zinc: Yogurt, chickpeas, cashews, mushrooms and spinach.
- Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, beans, avocados, bananas and dried fruits.
- Chromium: Whole grains, Brown rice, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Green beans,Cereals,Corn, Potatoes, and fresh vegetables.
They participate in energy production and metabolism of amino acids. Since routine exercise increases the turnover and loss of these micronutrients, requirement for physically active individuals is as much as twice the amount currently recommended for the general population. Intense training mainly affects thiamin (vitamin B1) concentration in the blood.
Dried beans and other legumes, orange juice and liver are good sources of B-Complex vitamins.
This sunshine vitamin acts directly on the muscles to increase the protein synthesis. Good Vitamin D status is associated with physical performance and muscle strength, and vitamin D intake has been shown to improve muscle function. A high percentage of people are vitamin D deficient these days due to less exposure to sunlight.
When taken through dietary sources sunlight promotes the synthesis of vitamin D through skin. It is advised to spend more time exercising in the sun than working out in a gym.
Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene protects the cells against oxidative damage which can be caused from exercise. Exercise increases oxidation and may require higher amounts of antioxidants to prevent free radical damage. Increased dietary intake of vitamin E and C may strengthen the antioxidant defence system. In addition, antioxidant intake reduces muscle soreness after exercise.
Inadequate intake of micro-nutrients or an increased need by the body may lead to tiredness while you are on a workout routine. It is also clear that we don’t only need carbohydrates, proteins and fats to get a physically fit body but also several minerals and trace elements for energy generation. Whether they are micronutrients or macronutrients, major minerals or vitamins, they each have a unique role. Deficiency of any nutrient will impact your wellbeing. Best protection against nutrient imbalances is to eat a balanced diet.