Essential Vitamins & Nutrients Every Athlete Should Know About
There are all kinds of athletes in this world; some athletes perform on big stages at high levels, while others enjoy exercise and sport at a more leisurely level. Some athletes will learn to succeed at all kinds of sports and skill sets, while others will stick to a few that they know and love. When it comes to athletes, each one is different but the fact remains: No athlete can rely purely on their talent to be successful.
Even if an athlete is training multiple times a day, they’ll still need to maintain their health if they want to continue their athletic career safely and successfully. Having good health is a huge component of performing at our very best, and achieving it requires a few things including a healthy diet, lots of sleep, the proper sport equipment and the right vitamins and nutrients.
If you’re an athlete hoping to improve your overall success, then looking at ways to improve your health is a good place to start. The following are the essential vitamins and nutrients that every athlete should know about.
VITAMINS VS NUTRIENTS
Vitamins are organic compounds that the body requires in small doses. An organic compound is classified as a vitamin, if there are symptoms that occur in the body without that compound. Vitamins are referred to as water-soluble and fat-soluble, which means that before they are absorbed by the body they must first be dissolved by water or fat.
Vitamins cannot be created by the body, which means we are responsible for providing our bodies with healthy doses of each. For the most part, vitamins are found within the food we eat, or within supplements. They are essential for normal growth and nutrition, including helping with the healthy growth of teeth, bones and the formation of blood cells.
When it comes to nutrients, the scope is much more broad. Nutrients are required for nourishment of the body, and there are six main categories which include carbohydrates, vitamins, fats, proteins, water and minerals.
To break these categories down further, nutrients are also divided into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients, with water being left in its own category. Macronutrients include carbs, fats and proteins that are larger and able to fuel our bodies to perform.
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals because they are much smaller; however, they are just as important as macronutrients. Nutrients are important to the body for a number of vital reasons. Not only do they provide us with energy for our daily activities, but they also provide our bodies with the energy to perform necessary biochemical reactions.
Additionally, nutrients are used to help build and maintain body structures like our organs, bones and tissues. They also help to regulate vital body functions that include sweating, metabolism, thyroid function and more.
While vitamins are in fact a sub-category of nutrients, it is important that athletes include a variety of vitamins in their daily diet, as well as other nutrients. Lacking in one or the other can cause deficiencies that will have a serious effect on overall performance and health, so they’re both equally important to include.
ESSENTIAL VITAMINS AND NUTRIENTS FOR ATHLETES
Athletes who are training, practicing and performing on a constant basis are going to be losing a lot of the vitamins and nutrients that they need. A lot of the minerals in our bodies are lost through sweat, which means it’s important for athletes to keep replenishing their bodies to maintain peak performance. The following are the essential vitamins and nutrients athletes will need to maintain in order to stay healthy and performing at their best.
A healthy, strong skeleton is the base of any healthy athlete’s body. Those who struggle with bone density are at a much higher risk of injury, so it’s important to provide the body with nutrients that help to maintain a solid bone structure. Whether it’s a track and field athlete pounding the pavement or a hockey player taking hard hits, weak bones create the potential for breaks, fractures and other painful stresses that can take months to repair.
To fight weak bone density, calcium is a must-have for athletes. Our bodies are continuously removing tiny amounts of calcium from our bones every day, so the body needs to be able to replace this loss in a bone remodeling process. Bones that are not refilled with calcium can begin to weaken and break down, becoming more prone to breaking.
For those athletes who are in their early and late teenage years, this is the time to store up on calcium. By the time an individual is a young adult, the body will no longer be able to add to the calcium storage; adults are only able to maintain their amounts.
There are a lot of calcium-rich foods you can choose from to maintain your levels, including milk, broccoli and cheese.
Even though iron is essential to the proper functioning of the body, it is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies we have. Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, which is a substance that is found in our red blood cells. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen in these red blood cells from the lungs, to all of the other parts of the body.
Without having the proper amount of oxygen pumping through the body, individuals can become extremely fatigued in a short amount of time. Not only does fatigue mean that performance is sacrificed, but it can also affect proper brain and immune system functioning.
Athletes should know about iron, because it will help to ensure that the body is getting the right amount of oxygen, and it will help all of the muscles in the body to perform more efficiently. Some of the foods to consider for iron supplementation include red meat spinach, eggs, broccoli, kale and kidney beans.
In order for the body to function efficiently, it should be getting at least 100 milligrams of potassium on a daily basis. Potassium is a key player in a wide range of functions, including helping to preserve muscle mass and bone mineral density, lowering blood pressure and regulating the body’s fluid balance.
Potassium works alongside sodium within our cells, in order to help our muscles and nerves work to the best of their ability. To do this, both potassium and sodium ions generate a controlled current to create electric signals, making them vital to our bodies’ electrical systems. This electrical system is what fires muscle contractions and nerve signals, and what allows the heart to beat on its own.
When it comes to athletes, the electrical system is what helps with proper recovery. After a hard workout, athletes will often provide their system with more potassium to maintain their fuel levels and recover more quickly. Those individuals who are performing in strenuous workouts or games should have a source of potassium at-hand to re-fuel effectively and avoid tight muscles and straining.
Examples of potassium include avocados, sweet potatoes, bananas, squash, spinach and salmon.
Athletes should know about Vitamin B, because it encompasses so many of the essential vitamins our bodies need to function efficiently. Vitamin B includes thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), B6, biotin (B7), B12 and folic acid.
The body uses these elements to convert the foods we eat into energy, which as a result helps with our movements and performance. All of the components that make up vitamin B come from different foods. A deficiency in vitamin B can cause fatigue and confusion, immune system issues and anemia.
Athletes who are low in vitamin B will often notice that they are fatigued near the end of a workout or unable to complete their regular training. Foods such as eggs, lentils, black beans, spinach and mushrooms are great sources of vitamin B, which can help to improve overall performance and give athletes that last bit of energy in their activities.
Vitamin C provides a plethora of help to our bodies, which is why it is vital to our daily diets. This vitamin is commonly found in fruits and vegetables, citruses especially, so it can be fairly easy for athletes to maintain levels if they’re incorporating meals from all of the main food groups.
Vitamin C is water-soluble and a powerful antioxidant, which helps to absorb iron, protect against heart disease and repair and regenerate tissues. This vitamin may also help to prevent the growth of certain cancers, by fighting free radicals and neutralizing nitrates that can be responsible for certain forms of cancer.
Athletes should also know about vitamin C because of its ability to help deter illnesses and fight the common cold. Having a clean bill of health during cold and flu season is vital to maintaining a regular training schedule, so athletes should ensure that their vitamin C levels are high. For those who are training in the winter, it’s also helpful to know that this vitamin can help to reduce coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath which is helpful both for athletes with asthma and those training outdoors.
Examples of foods high in vitamin C include peppers, kale, kiwi, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits and tomatoes.
Within the cells of the body, magnesium helps with hundreds of functions that the body needs to perform. It is the second-most abundant element inside our cells and our body requires large amounts of it on a daily basis. The body needs to maintain around 25 grams of magnesium, as its main function is to regulate cells in hundreds of chemical reactions.
One of the chemical reactions that this mineral is a part of, is energy metabolism. This reaction helps to maintain high levels of energy, which is why it is so important for athletes to include magnesium in their diets. Without it, athletes would struggle with fatigue, muscle and nerve function, normal heart rhythm and even bone density.
Magnesium deficiencies can make it incredibly difficult for athletes to perform at their peak levels, with a shortage of this mineral causing weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, abnormal heart rhythms and seizures. To ensure top performance, athletes might consider increasing their intake of foods such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, almonds and black beans.
Athletes who are performing in high-endurance activities may need to consider increasing their salt intake. While it seems that more often than not professionals are advising to lower our sodium intake, athletes who are sweating heavily or performing in hot temperatures will need to consider raising their levels during these times.
When we sweat, many of us can often taste the flavor of salt, or the sting of salt as it is being secreted from our pores. Those athletes who are salty sweaters are losing high levels of sodium, and it can become an issue if they’re only replenishing with water. Without being restocked properly, individuals may experience sodium deficiencies that can result in nausea, headaches, fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps and more.
To curve the loss of sodium, it is suggested that athletes keep salt packets with them, or snack on salty food items that include pretzels, salted nuts and electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade.
Zinc is an essential mineral that can be found in both foods and in dietary supplements. It is recommended that women consume 8 milligrams per day, while men consume 11 milligrams per day. This mineral can help with fertility, wound healing, memory and immune function.
Deficient levels of zinc in the body can cause athletes to lose both their energy and their endurance during performance. Much of this has to do with the fact that less zinc also means less oxygen, so athletes will often struggle with their breathing and fatigue during high-endurance activities.
To maintain your levels of zinc, consider adding these foods to your diet: Red meat, quinoa, seeds, yogurt, mushrooms, spinach and chicken.
Having too little or too much of any one vitamin or mineral can be detrimental to your health, so it’s important to understand how to balance them safely within your body. If you’re hoping to improve your overall performance as an athlete, be sure to consider these essential vitamins and nutrients that can have a huge impact on your overall success.