Micronutrients: What They Are and the Types We Need to Support Our Training
Micronutrients include both vitamins and minerals and are nutrient powerhouses. They play a key role in immune function, protect the body against exercise-induced oxidative stress, and ensure we can consistently push through those long workouts (oxygen transport and metabolism). Nutritionist Kim Bowman has outlined a few key vitamins and minerals to be mindful of while pushing through C28 to ensure you make the most out of both training and recovery.
Why are micronutrients important for training?
Rigorous training sessions are needed for adaptation to occur, but they do put a great deal of stress on our bodies. Quality nutrition and adequate micronutrient intake is extremely important to ensure our body can effectively recover, repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Additionally, consistent training leads to a large loss of fluids through sweat, which increases the turnover of vitamins and minerals. These need to be replenished in order to continue to train at a high intensity and recover efficiently.
What are some key vitamins to support training?
Vitamin B Complex
Adequate intake of the vitamin B complex, including B2 riboflavin and B12, is extremely important for energy production and muscle recovery. These nutrients help release energy from macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) and are also involved in red blood cell production, which ensures our body can obtain the oxygen it needs to sustain training intensity. Foods rich in B Vitamins include whole grains, fish, beans, lentils, broccoli, and spinach.
Antioxidants: Vitamins C and E
Both vitamin C and vitamin E are key antioxidants in reducing exercise-induced oxidative stress to minimize inflammation in the body. Long periods of training can put an added strain on our immune system. Vitamin C and E are critical for ensuring our immune system response is retained while our body is under additional physical stress from training.
Foods rich in Vitamin C include strawberries, oranges, kale, and broccoli. Food sources of Vitamin E include olive oil and many nuts and seeds, including brazil nuts, walnuts, and sunflower seeds.
What are some key minerals to support training?
It’s no surprise that calcium is essential for our bones, but it is also required for our muscle function. Regular, repeated bouts of weight-bearing training can put a great deal of stress on our bone tissue and lead to low bone mineral density. Therefore, obtaining adequate calcium—either through our diet or supplementation—is key for the growth and maintenance of bone tissue and regulation of muscle contraction to ensure we can sustain our training at a high intensity.
Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, such as milk and yogurt. For those who prefer non-dairy, calcium is found in beans and lentils, seeds (chia and sesame), as well as many leafy greens (spinach and kale).
This powerhouse nutrient is key for the efficient transport of oxygen throughout our body, including to our working muscles. Iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies among athletes, particularly for females. For those following a plant-based diet and engaging in training every day, it’s important to consume iron-rich plant-based foods or consult a dietician or physician about supplementation.
Foods rich in iron include red meat, turkey and tuna fish, as well as plant-based sources like lentils, spinach, beans, tofu, chickpeas, and a number of nuts and seeds (cashews and chia seeds).
Our metabolism is essential in ensuring we can burn calories at an efficient rate. Magnesium plays a key role in our metabolic health while also regulating cardiovascular, immune, and hormonal functions. Without sufficient magnesium in our diet, aerobic exercise becomes much more challenging due to the added oxygen requirements that occur if magnesium levels are too low. Foods rich in magnesium include black beans, spinach, and several nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, almonds, and cashews.
Aside from these vitamins and minerals, there are a number of essential nutrients that your body needs to sustain high-intensity training. For example, sodium, chloride, and potassium are electrolytes that play a vital role in ensuring the body replenishes lost fluids to prevent dehydration.
*The information in this article is for educational content. If you are concerned about a specific vitamin or mineral deficiency you should consult a health care practitioner for additional advice.*
Haymes E. Iron. In: Driskell J, Wolinsky I, editors. Sports Nutrition. Vitamins and Trace Elements. New York (NY): CRC/Taylor & Francis; 2006. p. 203-16.
Carr, A.C.; Maggini, S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients 2017, 9, 1211.