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Running coach Siobhan Rootes explains why it is crucial athletes optimise their micronutrient levels
If you take part in regular sports, when looking at dietary intake and fuelling, it’s common practice to focus on energy intake and “macro” nutrients, carbohydrate, protein and fat. These are certainly important and a major driving force behind how we perform but what about our micronutrients? Their name may infer that they are less important, however, despite the fact we need them in smaller amounts compared to macronutrients, micronutrients are vital to our performance and health.
Micronutrients are better known as vitamins and minerals. They are only needed in minute amounts but the body cannot synthesise them itself and therefore must be consumed through the diet. They are needed in almost every process in the body, such as immune function, bone health, blood clotting, energy production and fluid balance to name a few.
Therefore ensuring we consume adequate amount of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis is key to good health and performance. The micronutrient content of food is different you need a wide variety of food to meet your requirements. Marginal deficiencies may have little effect on the sedentary person but could have significant affect on an athlete. It is also possible that regular, intense exercise may result in an increase in micronutrient losses from the body making it important athletes meet their micronutrient requirement.
People that exercise regularly generally have an increased overall energy requirement. This means most have a higher dietary intake during the day to balance this increased energy expenditure so most will meet overall macro and micronutrient needs. However, this is not the case for all. If you skip meals or don’t have a good food group balance throughout the day you are at risk of not getting enough vitamins and minerals. If you ensure you are having varied 5-8 portions of fruit and vegetable a day (in a variety of different colours) and plenty of whole grains with each meal you will be well on your way to getting what you need.
If you are eating a well balanced, varied diet there is no reason why you should need a supplement. If you have a Medichecks blood test and you find you have low levels of a particular vitamin or mineral, initially you may want to try and increase those levels with a food first approach (unless advised by a health care professional otherwise). You may be advised to take a specific supplement to address that deficiency. If you are wanting to take a multivitamin (as some athletes do as a safety blanket), ensure it does not supply above 100% RDA levels of any particular nutrient. There is no point in exceeding these levels and it could even be dangerous. Excess water-soluble vitamins will simply be excreted but fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K) can build up and in rare cases cause toxic levels in the body.
In simple terms, if you meet your energy needs during the day with a balanced, varied diet you should meet your bodies micronutrients requirements. People that have to be more aware are those that struggle to meet their daily energy needs or thsoe why follow specific diets such as veganism. Having blood tests throughout the year at specific phases of your training cycles will ensure you are in balance and that you are providing your body with what it needs to perform and recover well.